Archive for Grace

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned At Dinner

Family having a big dinner together at home

I enjoyed daily family dinners as a child. Well, most of the time I enjoyed family dinners. Sometimes tensions and disagreements cast a shadow over the meal. But I still remember family dinners with great fondness. My wife and I did our best to keep the tradition of family dinners alive in our own family. Looking back, I realize that everything I really need to learn I learned at family dinners. Let me share a few of those lessons with you.

  • Come to the table when you are called. Opportunity does not wait. At the very least, it grows cold. So, when opportunity calls, respond. Come to the table or you might miss out.
  • Always begin by giving thanks for the blessings you received and the people who make those blessings possible.
  • You do not always get what you want or even like. Give thanks anyway. Not everyone is fortunate enough to receive such an abundance; and many people contributed to the raising, harvesting, transporting, selling, purchasing, and preparing that made this blessing possible. Be grateful.
  • Share. There are others at the table with you. Keep them in mind. Take some for yourself and joyfully pass it along to the others. Share.
  • Take only what you know you are going to eat. No need to be greedy. If you want more after you finish what you have, you can have more. Each time you get more, take only what you will use.
  • Remember, there is always enough to go around when each person remains considerate and mindful of everyone else.
  • Wait your turn. Your favorite dish will make it to you even if you have to wait a bit.
  • Serve one another. Sometimes the dishes are too hot to pass. In such cases, everyone patiently passes their plate to the person nearest the hot dish. That person scoops the food onto each person’s plate while carefully assuring they receive the amount desired. It is an exciting privilege to be deemed mature enough to serve and an honor to be served.
  • Practice patience. Wait for everyone to get their food before you begin. We are a family, a community. It is polite to wait for everyone before you “dig in.” After all, we are eating dinner together. Enjoy it together. 
  • Just because you are upset about something does not give you the right to ruin dinner for everyone else. Remain polite and kind, even if you are upset with the person sitting next to you.  
  • Enjoy the conversation. Don’t simple “shovel food into your mouth.” Be curious about the other people present. Learn about their day. Converse. (As a bonus, this will also increase your children’s vocabulary.)
  • Ask for what you need rather than reaching impolitely in front of everyone and so intruding into their space and disrupting their composure.
  • Dessert is coming…but only to those who are grateful for the gift they received, gracious to receive even what was not perfectly prepared, and well-mannered.

Eating as a family proves much greater than simply filling our stomachs with needed nutrients.  It is a microcosm of the larger community. Indeed, family dinners teach us everything we need to know to live a life of honor, grace, and celebration in our world.

*Titled with a “shout out” to Robert Fulghum who wrote the excellent book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

3 Elements of a Healthy Marriage

Healthy marriages face challenges. Any time two different people from two different backgrounds with two unique sets of values and communication nuances work to become one unit (a marriage), you are bond to have some conflict. Fortunately, challenges and conflict do not cancel out a healthy marriage. In fact, challenges and conflict present wonderful opportunities to grow more intimate as a couple…as long as the couple handles them with grace. How can couples handle challenges and conflicts with the grace that brings intimacy? Here are 3 suggestions.

  • Embrace the Conflict. Conflict happens. You might as well accept it. In fact, turn toward the conflict. Recognize the moment of conflict as an opportunity to learn about your spouse. Listen carefully to their point of view and you will discover amazing things about your spouse. You will discover that wrapped inside the conflict and your spouse’s emotions is a treasure chest overflowing with information about their values, fears, hopes, and dreams. 
  • Accept the 69. Gottman found that couples who returned to his “love lab” as part of ongoing research would often have the same disagreements they had even five years ago. In fact, his research revealed that about two thirds of all conflicts are unsolvable. They represent differences of personality and style. You could address them with anger and impatience…but that will not change anything. It will not strengthen your relationship. And, the conflict will remain. So, what can you do? Healthy couples do not avoid the conflict or disagreement. They learn to manage them differently, with honor and grace. For instance, they learn to use humor and repair statements during their disagreements forge strong marriages. They also believe and practice point number 3 below.
  • You Need Two Honest Voices to Forge a Strong Marriage. That means couples need to talk about hard feelings, frustrations, and conflicts as well as the celebrations and joys. (Because it ruins a marriage to Shut Up and Put Up.) No matter the content of the conversation, we must remain respectful and kind, even when we might disagree. We must listen, especially when we disagree. When handled with care and love, healthy relationships can handle two opinions. When both people remain open, both people feel accepted. When both people listen, both people feel heard. In the process, both people learn and grow more intimate with one another. Their love grows as they resolve their solvable disagreements  and as they learn to accept their unsolvable conflicts with grace and love.

Yes. Healthy marriages face challenges. Healthy marriages embrace those challenges because you need two honest voices to forge a strong marriage.

The #1 Goal of Marital Arguments

Have you ever thought about the #1 goal of marital arguments? At first glance, you may think the goal is “to win. To make my spouse understand or see it my way.” But that is NOT the most important goal, the one we desire most. Let me ask the question differently. Do you want to make your spouse “see it your way” if it means damaging (or worse yet, destroying) your marriage? For most disagreements (at least 99% of them), the answer is “no.” We don’t want “to win” an argument with our spouse at the expense of our relationship. You may have had an experience like this in your marriage though. You disagree with your spouse and, after exchanging a few heated words, you “prove your point.” Your spouse concedes. They give in. They say you are right. You walk away knowing you “won the argument,” but feeling dissatisfied, disconnected from the one you love. In fact, you’re probably thinking about how to repair the relationship, how to reconnect and feel close again. No, we do not want to win at any cost.

If the #1 goal of any marital argument is not to win, what is it? The #1 goal of any marital argument is to connect in a way that makes both people feel safe and secure. You have probably had this experience too. You and your spouse have the same disagreement mentioned above. You even exchange a few heated words about it. But, somehow, when all is said and done, you feel closer, more connected. You’re not really sure who “won,” but you know you understand your spouse better than you did before the argument and your spouse understands you better as well. You feel connected…and as though you have both “won.”

How do you achieve this #1 goal of any marital argument?

  • First, see your spouse. Look at them. Don’t just look at the issue, the frustration or the anger of the moment. Look at your spouse. Soften your gaze. Recognize your spouse. We all long to be seen. Give your spouse the gift of being seen by you.
  • Pay attention to your spouse’s emotions. Do they look and sound angry, frustrated, hopeless, happy, passionate…. Accept their emotion. When your spouse reveals their emotions, they are opening themselves up like a book for you to learn about them and their priorities. Read this precious book carefully, lovingly. Do not just glance at the book. Get curious and read between the lines. Look deeply to find the priority behind the emotion. It may have little to do with the disagreement you are having and more to do with their sense of security and safety.
  • Accept that your spouse may have a valid point of view. Many issues have more than one valid perspective. Much like the group of blind men trying to describe the elephant, you and your spouse may both have valid perspectives, even though they differ. See your spouse as the intelligent, loving person you married and accept that they may have something important to add to the issue, something important for you to hear and know.   
  • Graciously delay voicing your own point of view until you understand your spouse’s point of view. Lovingly defer your desire to be proven correct until you can understand how your spouse’s perspective seems right to them. This takes patience…a patient delay of your own right to be heard. Such patience is an act of love for “love is patient” (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4).
  • Listen. Listen carefully. Listen intently. Listen sincerely. Listen completely. Listen until you understand your spouse’s perspective and they know you understand their perspective. Listen.

As you practice these 5 actions, you will find a growing emotional connection with your spouse. You will also find arguments resolve more easily and more quickly. Hmmmm, a more intimate connection with the added bonus of a quicker resolution? Now that is a great goal for marital arguments!

“As For Me & My House…”

Are you tired of all the infighting we see in the world around us? The divisive comments and constant accusations? The incivility and contempt we witness in the news, on social media, and even in the public square?  I know I am…and it frightens me a little bit. After all, “civility, politeness, it’s like cement in a society: binds it together. And when we lose it, then I think we all feel lesser and slightly dirty because of it” (Jeremy Irons). I do “feel lesser and slightly dirty” as I witness rudeness, disrespect, and coarseness in the world around me. At times, I fear the cement of our civility is weakening and beginning to crack rather than holding us together. I worry that if we do nothing, civility will remain a mere tool in the hand of those who attempt to manipulate us…an illusion without true substance. And “when civility is illusory, war is inevitable” (Steve Maraboli).

However, I also have hope. I am optimistic that we can make a change…and it begins with each of us and our families. It begins when we value civility and practice it in our own lives and in the lives of our families. With that in mind, let me offer some practical ways you can practice civility in your life and in your family life and so begin a swell of civility in our society.

  • Practice politeness with gusto. Practicing politeness includes saying small phrases like “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “I’m sorry” with all sincerity. Politeness involves “looking out for the other guy.” Polite people ask other people what they can do to help, how they can serve, and then they follow through by doing what is requested. A polite person holds the door open for “the other guy” and shares the last of the goodies with “the other guy.” Politeness compels us to think about other people. It urges us to let people know we respect them through our words and actions. Practice politeness with gusto in your home with family and outside your home with everyone you meet. Let you children witness your politeness.
  • Celebrate your differences. Each of your family members are unique. They have unique tastes, abilities, weaknesses, and fears. Those differences add to the beauty of our families. They help us achieve more. They provide opportunities to practice grace and so grow as individuals. They allow us to practice humility as we accept one another’s strengths. Honor the differences within your family. Celebrate those differences. It’s a practice of civility and love.
  • Practice radical kindness. Kindness is a warrior. It takes great strength to truly practice kindness. It begins by replacing any negative thoughts about those in your life (directly in your life or indirectly influencing your life) with thoughts of kindness. Next, do something kind for those people in your life, those in your family and those outside your family. When you truly need address some difference of opinion or inappropriate behaviors, do so with kindness. Kindness is contagious as well. As you practice kindness, those around you will catch it as well. Practice kindness…and watch others pass it forward.
  • Listen. Listen intently and sincerely. Listen to understand what the other person intends. Listen to learn the background and the context of what the other is saying. Listen. No name calling. No quick rebuttal. No proving them wrong. No counterargument. Just listen. Bear witness to their world. Understand them deeply. Then, when you understand them, respond with radical kindness…especially when you disagree or believe them wrong.

As we practice these skills in our homes and teach our families to practice these skills outside our home, we will build a groundswell of civility. We need that in our society today for “civility isn’t just some optional value in a multicultural, multistate democratic republic. Civility is the key to civilization” (Van Jones). So, I’m going to work at practicing civility in my house and in my world. I hope you will join me. But, if not, “as for me and my house….”

4 Simple Words

Four simple words can help strengthen your marriage, especially if your partner’s history makes them feel insecure in relationships. It’s true. Sometimes our family history or our history of previous romantic relationships creates a relational insecurity in us. This insecurity may “pop up” when even a subtle action, word, facial expression, or event is perceived as threatening the relationship. It may be unclear to you why your partner suddenly feels insecure. But you can glean a hint that they might feel insecure in relationship by their actions.

  • If they need constant reassurance and praise, their relationship history may be contributing to a sense of insecurity in relationships.
  • If, when you compliment them, they consistently dismiss, minimize, or doubt the compliment, they may have a history that contributes to insecurity in relationships.
  • If they express concern that they can never live up to your expectations, even when you have told them you love them no matter what, they may feel insecure in relationships.
  • If they often wonder if “you really know” them, even though you’ve shared time and conversation together, they may feel insecure.

Their insecurity may have little to do with you. It may have everything to do with their history of relationships—their relationship to the family they grew up in or their relationships with previous romantic partners. Even though the insecurity may have little to do with you and your feelings toward your partner, there is still something you can do to help increase satisfaction and security in their relationship to you…and it only takes 4 simple words.

These four words do not make up a compliment. Compliments actually trigger self-doubt and increased insecurity in people who feel insecure in the relationship. No, rather than compliment, use four simple words to show genuine interest in your partner. In a series of studies, a show of genuine interest led to increased satisfaction and security in the relationship. Which leads me to the 4 simple words that can strengthen your relationship: “How was your day?” That’s it. Four simple words, “How was your day?” Then, after you ask, listen. Show genuine concern. That’s all it took to increase satisfaction and security in relationships in a series of survey studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, especially for someone who feels some insecurity.

So, “put on your listening ears” and ask, “How was your day?” Pay attention to the answer and get curious. Show a genuine interest in their answer. It’s the most important way to show how much you really care.

Sacrifice is Necessary in Marriage…BUT It’s Not All the Same

Marital happiness and stability require sacrifice. In fact, you have to Give It Up to Lift Up Your Marriage. An act of sacrifice communicates value to your spouse and commitment to your marriage. Acts of sacrifice promote a sense of security, safety, and peace in your spouse (The Lost Art of Sacrifice).  BUT, not all sacrifice is the same. The difference, according to a study published in 2019, is not in the sacrifice but in the eye of the beholder. Specifically, the authors of this study concluded that “perceiving a partner’s sacrifice had no effect on appreciation [gratitude and respect for spouse] or relationship satisfaction when the recipient held strong sacrifice expectations” (italics added).  

What? An expectation of sacrifice can hinder our appreciation of the sacrifice and the one sacrificing? Hold on a second. Wait…let’s look a little closer.

If we have a strong expectation that our partner should sacrifice for us, many of their sacrificial acts will be considered minimal. They will not meet our standard. After all, their sacrifice was expected. We assumed they would do it. We deserved it. We had it coming because they are our spouse. It only right that our spouse “give it up” for us. That’s what they’re supposed to do in marriage. In a sense, we feel entitled to such sacrifice. We don’t see our partner as “giving it up” for our marriage, but as offering what I’m entitled to in a marriage anyway. It’s hard to find gratitude and respect in that sense of entitled expectation.

On the other hand, if we have a low expectation that our partner will sacrifice for our marriage, then any act of sacrifice is appreciated. We have confidence in our spouse’s desire to strengthen the relationship, but we are pleased to see their actions communicating that desire. We trust our spouse to support our marriage, but we stand amazed at how much they are willing to give up to make our marriage stronger. We recognize that our spouse is a flawed human being and admire their intent to express their love through sacrifice. Not expecting this sacrifice, we receive it as a gift, a grace, an expression of love.

Let me add one more caveat as I think about this study…just a thought about expectations of sacrifice in marriage. Perhaps we need to change our focus. Rather than focus on my expectation about my partner’s willingness to sacrifice, I need to focus on my willingness to sacrifice for my partner. After all, we are not called to look out for our own personal interests (AKA—how much my partner should sacrifice for me) but also for the interests of others (AKA—how much I will sacrifice for my partner). This shift in thinking changes everything. Anything my spouse does is over and above any expectation I have about their sacrifice for me because my expectation is focused on my willingness to sacrifice for them. I’m not even focused on their level of sacrifice. I’m focused on my desire to sacrifice for the one I love.  

Now imagine if my spouse and I both hold this perspective. I will sacrifice to live up to my expectation about how much I desire to sacrifice for my spouse. My spouse, focused on her own desire to strengthen our marriage through sacrifice, will focus on her desire to sacrifice for me. As we do, we are both filled with joy because of our partner’s sacrifices, the sacrifices we never expected. We create an upward cycle of gratitude, respect and marital satisfaction by carrying out our expectation of how “my” desire to sacrifice for our marriage. Now that sounds like the kind of marriage I’m talking about!

Easter While “Sheltered at Home”?

Many families have very active Easter weekend full of social gatherings and celebrations: Good Friday services, preparation for family gatherings, Sunrise services, Easter services, and large extended gatherings with family and friends. For Christians, this is am especially meaningful time of the year, a true “holy-day.” This year, however, is going to feel different. But don’t let those differences ruin your Easter. Don’t let Easter slip away without recalling what makes Easter such a special day for us. Be creative and make this Easter special, even as you “shelter-at-home.” Here are some tips to help us all remember the celebration of Easter.

  • Celebrate the Holy Week with creative calendars marking the events of each day during the Holy Week. Here’s one idea for doing a creative calendar.
  • Make resurrection cookies on Saturday night. It is a wonderful way to teach our children about the crucifixion & resurrection while having fun. And, you can enjoy the cookies on Easter Sunday.
  • Sit down with your family and watch the live streaming of your congregation’s Good Friday service and Easter morning service. If your congregation does not have a live stream, watch the live stream of another congregation’s service.
  • Read the story of Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Or, watch the movie (link).  Although we have a little bit of Peter, Susan, and Lucy in all of us, talk about how we are all like Edmund as well. Enjoy the realization of what Aslan’s sacrifice meant for Edmund…and what Jesus’ sacrifice means for us.
  • Watch The Passion of Christ by Mel Gibson. Use caution in watching this movie as a family though. It is very graphic. Consider if your children are ready for such a graphic depiction of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • Have a family Easter egg hunt. Easter is still a celebration of new life and the finding of peace and joy in the work of God in Christ.
  • Enjoy a family Easter meal. Easter allows us to become part of the family of God. Celebrate family with a meal. Make it a feast of celebration.
  • As you enjoy your day together, play some classic Easter music in the background. Handel’s Messiah and hymns such as Christ the Lord is Risen Today come to mind. To help out, here is one playlist of Easter songs from YouTube you might like. Easter Songs and Hymns Playlist (Resurrection Theme)
  • I almost forgot….How could I? My daughters would kill me. Watch this video of “It’s Friday But Sunday’s Coming.”

Don’t let the differences of this year take away your Easter joy. Celebrate. Enjoy your Easter.

What are some of the creative ways you are celebrating Easter this year?

Daily Questions to Strengthen Your Marriage & Family

Building a stronger, more intimate marriage is as simple as asking the right questions…and then responding to the answers you’re given. Asking the right questions can also build a stronger family. With that in mind, let me share 10 questions you can ask your spouse, children, or parents to strengthen your family and marriage today.

  1. How can I help you today?
  2. What can I do to serve you today?
  3. What can I do to help you right now?
  4. How can I show my spouse (child, parent) love today?
  5. What can I do to bring joy into my spouse’s (child’s, parent’s) life today?
  6. What can I tell my spouse (child, parent) ‘thank you’ for today?
  7. What can I do or say today so my spouse (child, parent) will know how much I adore them?
  8. Is there anything for which I need to apologize to my spouse (child, parent) today?
  9. What can I say to make my spouse (child, parent) feel special today?
  10. And last, but not least… How can I pray for you?

Don’t Let Your Marriage Buckle Under “Social Distancing”

The corona virus pandemic has led to a call for “social distancing.”  But, don’t let the current pandemic or the call for “social distancing” exacerbate any marital issues that might already exist in your home. In fact, if you already experience “social” or “emotional distance” in your marriage, you’re probably struggling even more to navigate these stressful times. Fortunately, there is no better time than now to correct any emotional distance in your marriage and start to practice emotional connection. Here are six great ways to start building emotional connection in your marriage.

  • Talk with one another. Take time every day to sit down over a cup of coffee and have a conversation. Talk about your experiences of the current crisis, fears of anxieties you might be experiencing. Talk about how you will work together to navigate the current crisis. Enjoy simple small talk as well. Talk like you did when you were dating. Joke a little. Read a book together and talk about it. Talk about your plans for the coming years. Talk your hopes and dreams for the future. Each of these will move you toward a deeper emotional connection with your spouse. (This might be a great time to take A 30-Day Marriage Challenge.)
  • Listen to your spouse. While you converse with your spouse, intentionally and sincerely listen. Listen to hear the intent of their message, the meaning beneath the words.  Listen to understand their perspective and emotions. Ask questions to clarify what they mean. In so doing, you will learn more about your spouse and their emotions. (Learn more about The Art of Listening here.)
  • As you listen and talk, look at your spouse. I don’t mean glance at their face now and again. Really look at them. Notice their eye color and the twinkle in their eye. Notice the shape and features of their face. Pay attention to their facial expressions and their gestures. Look deeply into their eyes to notice the emotions they feel as they talk. There is power in seeing and being seen by one another.
  • Tell your spouse “I love you.” Tell them with words and actions. Whisper it in their ear. Let them see it in your eyes when you look at them. Say it by remembering what they like and don’t like. Show it in your actions by doing a chore they dislike. Love them by expressing gratitude and remaining polite.
  • Give one another a good night hug and kiss (as long as neither is sick, of course).  Don’t just give a quick hug. Dwell in the hug. Make it an “oxytocin hug.”  Give a generous kiss goodnight, not just a simple peck on the cheek.
  • Recall your story. Talk about the time you first met, your favorite dates, and your vacations. Remember the struggles you have overcome together—whether they be as simple as putting up a tent in the rain or dealing with the death of a loved one. The “story of us” is a great emotional connection. (And your children will love it, too.)

These six practices will help you build emotional connection. No matter what is going on in the world around you, keep practicing them and enjoy a growing emotional connection in your marriage.

PS–may we can begin talking about “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing.” Then we can focus on maintaining “social connection” while keeping a safe “physical distance.”

Learn to Complain Well

Complaining can easily become a habit that traps us in a cycle of finding even more reasons to complain. That cycle is bad for our mood, our health, and even our brain… UNLESS we learn to complain well!

Complaining well has a different purpose and outcome than simply complaining. Simply complaining traps us in the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity that feeds negative expectations and attracts even more negative experiences. How can we complain well and break out of this cycle of complaining? Here are 3 tips to help you do just that.

First, determine what you can and cannot control. Rather than complain and worry about what lies outside your control, focus on what you can control. You cannot control what other people do or say. You can control your response to other people. You cannot control the weather. You can control how you dress for the weather. Notice, those areas we can control tend to evolve around ourselves, not others. Focus on those areas you can control and take action to make a change.

Second, practice gratitude and appreciation. Learn to view your desire to complain as a signal, a light on the dashboard of your “car of life,” that warns you of the need to “fill up” your tank with gratitude and appreciation. When the signal arises (when you feel like complaining) fill up the tank by thinking about those things you appreciate and those for which you can be grateful. Then start sharing your gratitude and appreciation.

Third, voice your complaint with a goal toward resolution. This 4-step plan can help you do this.

  1. Assess why the situation arouses your desire to complain. What value or expectation is being infringed upon? Is it a reasonable expectation?
  2. Determine what you would like instead. What action would better align with your values or expectations? Is it possible and within your control? Is it reasonable?
  3. Give a solution with an appropriate boundary. If it is possible, how can the solution be achieved? Can you enact the solution alone or do you require assistance? If the solution is not accepted, how will you respond? Are you willing and able to respond in this way?
  4. Calmly verbalize this to whoever else is involved. If there is no one else involved in the situation, simply determine what action you can and will take to remedy the aspects of the situation over which you have influence.

At first glance, this may seem more difficult than simply venting and complaining. In fact, complaining is easy. It just doesn’t do anything but make us feel worse. And, habits take intentional effort to change. Changing the habit of complaining is no different. However, changing the habit of complaining will add to your happiness and your health. Perhaps more important, it will enhance your family’s happiness and health. It will improve your relationship with your spouse. And you know that’s nothing to complain about!

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