Archive for Grace

Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace

My wife, my daughter, and I went to a choral concert presented by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh entitled PEACE.  We heard several composers’ choral renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace. We also heard various testimonies and readings from three people who have invested their lives in various avenues of promoting peace within our communities. The whole experience was beautiful, inspiring, and peaceful. Then we left the concert setting and returned to the world of confusion, animosity, and conflict.

Peace seems so distant in our immediate environment of division, antagonism, and hostility. Everywhere we turn dissonant, hateful chatter rises up and floods over the banks of polite boundaries and congenial discourse. Fear and anxiety, resentment and hostility are infecting the lives of our children. Peace seems, at times, a distant dream. But, as we listened attentively to the various renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem and contemplated the readings offered, I realized peace is not so distant after all. Peace is very near. It begins with a God of peace who “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist….” Peace is our original design. Peace destroyed was restored through the sacrifice of One Man who “is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Paul—Ephesians 2:15). The One who sacrificed for our peace has “proclaimed peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Paul—Ephesians 2:17). Since we have been given peace it is very near to us. We need only open it, pursue it, and promote it (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14).

In all reality, pursuing and promoting peace are integral aspects of our daily life. We can pursue peace by sharing polite words with those you meet. We promote peace by listening, really listening, to understand those who speak. We pursue peace by opening doors for others, literally and figuratively. We promote peace in patiently merging into the various streams of life with others and generously allowing others to merge into those same streams of life. We encourage peace by offering words that build up instead of words that tear down, words that bless instead of words that curse.  We promote peace when we lift one another up, even those who disagree with you, rather than shaming and ridiculing. We nurture peace when we forgive those who have offended and apologize to those you offend.

Truly, peace is closer than we think…but it takes the investment of our words and actions. Begin the peace investment in your home as you treat your spouse, your children, and your parents with honor and dignity, decency and grace. As we do, our families will become the catalyst for peace in our communities. Yes, peace is closer than we think. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace.

Argument Starters & Enders

Many things can start a couple to arguing. Some issues of argument seem significant like money, sex, who does what chore, or how often to go out. Others seem insignificant in the long run like how to hang the toilet paper, what color car to buy, or what side of the bed to sleep on. There are a multitude of “argument starters,” issues that lead to arguments. However, if you really want to, you can narrow the “argument starters” down to a few key issues.

  1. Insecure emotional connection. When we do not feel emotionally connected to our spouse, we seek ways to reconnect. Unfortunately, we may seek less effective methods of reconnecting. In our fear of losing our attachment to our spouse, we may even go to extremes to reconnect. Sometimes we turn to arguing and fighting to regain a sense of connection. It results in a negative connection but a connection nonetheless. It is in response to fear of emotionally drifting away from our spouse that we sometimes get “snarky,” snap back, and make harsh comments. Like a toddler crying out and reaching for her mother, we will strive to reconnect by acting out of our fear of rejection.
  2. Conditional acceptance. Some marriage experts have called acceptance the “mother of all issues.” We long to feel totally and unconditionally accepted. When we feel our acceptance is based on performance or behavior, we can easily feel abandoned and rejected when our performance does not meet the standard of our partner’s expectation.
  3. Feeling disregarded. Sometimes we feel disregarded, unheard. We believe our spouse “never” listens to us. We feel unimportant in their eyes because they have disregarded our desires or ignored our requests. In anger, we demand to be heard and attended to.

I’m sure there are other issues that lead to arguments, but these three issues underlie many arguments. Arguments about money often come down to feelings of insecurity, emotional distance, and feeling unheard. Our heated disagreements over physical intimacy reflect feeling emotionally disconnected. Argument about dishes in the sink stem from feeling “my wishes always get disregarded.” The list goes on…feeling emotionally disconnected, conditionally accepted, and disregarded fuels many of our arguments. That’s good news because knowing what fuels the arguments and fights gives us insight into how to avoid the arguments and fights. Knowing the “argument starters” shines a light on the “argument enders.”

  1. Connect emotionally. Spend time together. Talk about more than the business of running a household. Talk about your interests, dreams, fears, and joys. Share opinions about current events. Pray together. Learn together. Walk hand in hand. Snuggle up and cuddle to watch TV, the sunset, or the birds in the yard. Seek ways to “touch your spouse” emotionally each day. Take time to connect. (You might even try practicing a Marital Sabbath each week.)
  2. Accept your spouse unconditionally. Acceptance satisfies a deep-seated emotional need in each of us. It promotes a sense of security, confidence, and courage. Put away comparisons, back-handed compliments, and guilt-inducing statements. Practice accepting your spouse and expressing that acceptance in your words and actions. Treat them with the dignity inherent in them as a person. Love them for their differences as those unique traits make your relationship stronger and more beautiful (Read Honoring Variety for more).
  3. Attend to your spouse. Listen to your spouse and respond to their attempts to interact and connect. Let their desires influence you. Keep your spouse in the forefront of your mind and communicate how important they are to you as often as you can. (Here is a simple formula to help you keep your spouse in the forefront of your mind.)

Don’t let this short list of ideas limit you. I’m sure you can find more ways to connect emotionally, practice acceptance, and attend to your spouse. The important aspect is to practice connecting, accepting, and attending on a daily basis. As you do, arguments will decrease in intensity and frequency. You will feel more intimacy and joy in your marriage.

Has This Contagion Infected Your Home?

A contagion may have infected your home. It spreads faster than the flu and the common cold put together. Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and getting vaccines remain ineffective against it. This contagion can spread through your family causing misery, pain, and heartache at a speed that’s nothing to sneeze at. Researchers at the University of Florida (_______ Spreads Like a Disease) identified this contagion in a series of three studies.

  • In one study this contagion was caught after being in close proximity to someone who exhibited the symptoms. Once infected, the infected person’s thought life was impacted with the negative associates that led to ill-mannered and impolite behaviors.
  • In a second study, simply witnessing the symptoms of this contagion led to actual infection! The infected person began to interpret other people’s behaviors in a negative light and then respond to people based on those misinterpretations. Uncivilized and insolent behaviors increased as did harsh words and snide, cynical comments.
  • In a third study those interacting with the carrier became infected and, once infected, willingly sought revenge by withholding resources from the original carrier. Even more disturbing, the infected were capable of infecting others for up to a week after a single contact with the disease!

You can understand my concern. A contagion caught by simply witnessing the symptoms, lasts a full week, and effects how we think and act toward others is terrible. It’s practically a mini-zombie virus.

What exactly is this contagion? Rudeness. Rudeness has become epidemic. Twitter feuds, Facebook rants, and on-line opinion broadcasting are all symptomatic of a rudeness contagion spreading faster than the flu. Worse yet, rude behavior has found its way into our homes and our family relationships. Children are rude to parents and parents to children. Spouses spout off with rudeness toward one another. All the while, the epidemic spreads…and worsens…and destroys family relationships. But, there is a cure! We can stop this epidemic before it spreads any further. And you can insulate yourself from its insidious effects with the same intervention. That intervention comes in four parts.

  1. Be polite to one another. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Hold a door open for someone else. Think about your spouse and children first. Show them consideration.
  2. Engage in daily acts of kindness. As well as showing one another politeness, be kind. Do a chore for another family member. Offer to help. Let your spouse or child choose the activity. Bring home a special treat. Show a little kindness every day.
  3. It seems simple, but a smile can change the world. Smiling helps reduce stress (Smile for a Happier Family). It puts other people at ease. Smile.
  4. Make eye contact. A study from the University of Haifa showed that simply maintaining eye contact reduced mean behavior and rudeness (Eye Contact Quells Online Hostility). Look at the one another, especially when you speak.

The cure sounds so simple…but powerful. I’m starting right now. Will you join me?

A Devotion on Making All Things New

A couple walked into my office seeking couple’s therapy. They were at their whit’s end. They have a faint memory of loving one another but that love has long since been replaced with frustration, bitterness, and sorrow. Hope was hanging on by a thread. Coming to me was their last ditch effort to restore something they had lost long ago. They were tired of the old marriage they had fallen into and needed something new.

As this couple spoke with me, an image of the resurrected Christ appearing before Thomas came to mind with the words, “Behold, I make all things new” ( I realize this statement does not occur when Jesus appeared to Thomas, but both came to mind…). Later, as I thought about that passing image, I realized how drastically Jesus had changed things, how “He had made all things new.”  He stood before Thomas still recognizable in body and speech. But, everything had changed.

  • He still had the body that everyone recognized as belonging to Jesus, but His body had changed. The old body, the mortal body that had died on a cross was made new. He now had an imperishable body, an immortal body, a resurrected body.
  • He still had the marks of nails in His hands and feet, the pierce of the sword in His side. But these had transformed. They no longer represented pain, torture, and death. They had been made new. They now represent forgiveness, redemption, salvation, and love.
  • Jesus stood in their presence. He ate their food. In this sense, He appeared very similar. But, all things had been made new. He didn’t walk through the door, He simply appeared. And, His very presence transformed hopelessness and fear into hope and anticipation.

Truly, everything had been made new. As time progressed, even the disciples were made new. Those who lacked understanding became wise in the Word of the Lord. Those who lived in fear became courageous. Those who wanted to rain down fire on a village become loving. All things were made new.

I know it sounds simplistic but if you want “all things to be made new” in your life, your marriage, or your family begin with prayer. I’m not saying change is easy. I’m not suggesting suddenly all things will be made new while you do nothing.  Jesus endured shame and humiliation to make all things new. He had to practice radical obedience “even to the point of death” to make all things new. You will have to take some radical action as well…actions that will feel uncomfortable, actions that will challenge you, actions that may even prove painful. The scars will still be there…but they will be made new. The pain will be a memory…but it will be made new. So if you want change get ready to work. Hard. And begin that work with prayer because He makes all things new.

Customer Service in a Marital Dispute

I’ve seen it happen several times. I’ve heard friends talk about it even more. I’ve even experienced it myself. You probably have too.  You order you’re food at a restaurant and when it finally comes to the table it is cold or maybe even the wrong order. So, you call on the wait staff to correct the problem.  Now one of two things can happen.

Option One: The wait staff becomes defensive. They try to make you understand what happened and explain it was not their fault. They sound like they’re arguing with you. They may even blame you for the mishap. You just get more and more frustrated. Even if they fix your food you leave the restaurant angry, determined to never do business with them again. That’s one option.

Option Two: The wait staff listens. They calmly hear your concern. They may even ask a few questions to clarify. They seem to show genuine concern, apologize, and do their best to remedy the problem. This time you leave feeling good even if the food wasn’t the best you’ve had. At least they listened. They understood my concern. They empathized with my frustration. They are good people and I enjoy doing business with them.

These same two options exist in our marriages. When disagreements and conflicts arise we can follow option one or option two. The option we choose will impact our relationship satisfaction. In fact, a group of researchers explored this very idea in a series of seven studies published in 2016 (See 3 Steps to Calm Your Romantic Partner When You Are Arguing for more). The results of all seven studies demonstrated that couples had greater relationship satisfaction when both partners felt understood. Even more, participants reported greater relationship satisfaction in spite of disagreement when they felt understood by their partner. They felt more like a team. They believed their partner was invested in the relationship and that the problem could be resolved more easily. They even felt closer after the disagreement than before the disagreement! Sounds like a great result.  So, how can you assure your spouse feels understood?

  1. Listen. Listen to their words to understand what they say. Look at them so they know you are listening. Listen to their body language to see if there might be more to what they are saying. Listen to their emotions to discover the deeper meaning behind what they’re saying. Listen wholeheartedly. Listen intently. Listen.
  2. Ask questions to better understand and clarify what they are saying. No matter how intently you listen you might misunderstand something. So, ask some questions. Repeat what you believe they are saying and ask if that is correct. If not, listen some more.
  3. Look for areas in which you can change and compromise based on your partner’s concerns. In other words, let their words influence you. Let your partner’s needs and wishes influence your actions. Compromise.
  4. And, did I say…LISTEN.

Responding to disagreements in this manner will determine whether you and your partner walk away from the disagreement satisfied or frustrated, feeling good or feeling bad, happy or upset, determined to enjoy more time together or questioning your relationship. I know which one I want, do you?

How Your Family Can Change the World

As the year comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the importance of family in the world today.  So many of the issues we struggle with as a nation could be lessened, if not eliminated, by healthy families, families based on the values of honor, grace, & celebration.  Families that practice and teach these values become the cornerstone of healthy communities. They improve their communities and the overall world by living out the values of honor, grace, and celebration learned in the microcosmic community of their family. Consider just a few lessons learned in a family of honor, grace, and celebration that will then be extended to the community and world around them.

  • Honor causes us to humbly see one another as diamonds rather than coal, someone to be cherished and admired rather than used for my comforts and my ends.
  • Honor teaches us to communicate love and respect to one another—young and old, male and female. It teaches us to respect one another in our uniqueness.
  • Honor compels us to esteem one another in spite of differences we might have. It teaches us to respect even when we disagree.
  • Grace enables us offer one another unconditional acceptance.
  • Grace teaches us to live sensible and righteous lives—lives that serve rather than abuse, lives that sacrifice for others rather than take from others.
  • Grace empowers us to practice extravagant generosity in our availability, attention, and meeting of one another’s needs.
  • Grace leads us to forgive those who offend us and to seek reconciliation when possible, releasing us from the burden of vengeance.
  • Grace frees us from the crushing weight of anger and bitterness as we seek It frees us from the shackles of guilt as we receive forgiveness.
  • Honor and grace combine to create a sense of security, a sanctuary of acceptance.
  • Honor and grace build a safe haven in which disagreements can be discussed, options explored, and solutions discovered.
  • Honor and grace drive us to connect with one another on a deep emotional level.
  • Honor and grace liberate us from the entanglements of narcissism and self-centeredness.
  • Honor and grace make celebration possible. In honor, we celebrate our diversity. In grace, we even celebrate with those who disagree with us.
  • Celebration allows us to play and laugh together, revealing ourselves more full and without pretense.
  • Celebration refreshes our perspective of others, allowing us to see one another with fresh eyes of understanding and joy.
  • Celebration enhances intimacy, allowing us to know one another more deeply.
  • Celebration restores our trust in humanity as we celebrate those successes and achievements that value all we honor.

Healthy families not only practice honor, grace, and celebration they teach these values to future generations. In so doing, they build people of honor, grace, and celebration who then build communities of honor, grace, and celebration. People who live in families of honor, grace, and celebration go into the world and create positive change (Read Hot Sauces Vs. the Power of Relationship for an example of this positive impact). In this coming year, recommit to making your family a celebrating community of honor and grace. You need it. Your family needs it. Our world needs it!

There’s a Killer Loose in Your Family

There’s a killer loose in the family! He’s popping up everywhere: on the news, in social media, from other people. He may live in your home. He may even live in you! Every time he mutters his loathsome words he vandalizes our brains, packing down a neural rut leading to pain and misery. In time he will establish a rut so deep that just a word or even a look will send your whole family tumbling down the pathway toward more of the same agitation, misery, and depression! Who is this vandal? The Constant Complainer! That’s right. Constant complaining creates a neural pathway in our brains that makes complaining easier and more likely to occur. In time it will even become the default pathway…a highway leading straight to agitation, misery, and depression for everyone in the family. It doesn’t matter if the Constant Complainer is a Venter, a Chronic Complainer, or a Sympathy Seeker the result is the same. They suck the energy out of the whole family and leave everyone feeling empty, agitated, and miserable (Read Research Shows That Physically Complaining Rewires Your Brain to be Depressed and Anxious for more). I do have good news though. You can kick the Constant Complainer out of your family by practicing these skills.

  1. Change your expectations. Generally, complaining is unproductive. It accomplishes nothing but increasing frustration, misery, depression, and anxiety for you and everyone around you. In college I hated to wash clothes and I complained about it every time. My complaining fueled my hatred and increased my misery each time I had to wash my clothes. Then it dawned on me. Complain or not, I still have to wash clothes…or stink. Might as well accept it and figure out a way to enjoy it. I changed my expectation from “this is wasting my time” to “at least it gives me a chance to read my book or talk with friends.” I still don’t jump for joy to wash clothes, but I do it without complaint.  Sometimes we have to change our expectations.
  2. If you are going to complain, do it right! Rather than complain for complaining’s sake, make sure you have a positive goal in mind. Pause and think about the reason you want to complain and what you want to accomplish. What is underlying your complaint: anger, frustration, hurt, irritation? What do you really want to see changed to make things better? Who would be the right person to take your concern to? What solution can you offer when you voice your concern? These questions will help you do more than just complain constantly. They will help you find a way to remedy the problem and reach an outcome that will bring you satisfaction. (Read Five Mistakes We Make When Complaining for more details)
  3. Share gratitude. Don’t get stuck in the rut of complaining when you don’t have the power to change something. Instead, think about what you have to be thankful for. For instance, rather than complain about the traffic, be grateful you have a car and can go so many places. Rather than complain about having to do the dishes, be grateful you have dishes and the opportunity to enjoy the delicious meals that result in dirty dishes. Rather than complain about your spouse, consider what they do for your family and you. Be grateful. Make it a habit to voice your gratitude to others. Rather than packing down a neural rut of complaining you will establish a neural highway of joyful gratitude.
  4. Think about the positive memories of your life and family. Even though this is similar to sharing gratitude it adds another positive neural highway to help eliminate complaining from your home. Ponder the positive memories of family vacations. Contemplate the intimate conversations with your wife. Dwell on the memories of laughter with your children. Create more positive memories by participating in family game nights, vacations, outings, family dinners, and family celebrations. Each time you engage in a family activity, intentionally focus on the positive times you are enjoying and the joyous memories you are creating.

Practice these four actions and you will get that killer, the Constant Complainer, out of your home. You will replace those neural ruts of complaining with neural highways to joy and intimacy.

One Simple Question to Stop the Marital Spat

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? I mean, asking one question to stop a spat with my spouse? How could it be true? But, according to the research, it is true. Amazingly, you don’t even ask this question of your spouse. You ask it of yourself!  And, according to research completed in 2016, it changed the whole conflict (Read more in http://www.spring.org.uk/2017/11/question-improve-relationship.php?omhide=true.) The person who asked this question became more forgiving. They interpreted their relationship in a more positive light. They gained greater insight into the cause of the conflict. All of this reduced the heat of the argument and led to a quicker, more amicable resolution!

Now, want to know the question? Here it is. Ask yourself, “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” That’s it. One simple future oriented question. “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” Repeat that question to yourself. Embed it in the synapses of your brain. Then, the next time you find yourself in a spat with your spouse, dredge it up from the recesses of your mind and ask, “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” It might just change everything!

Family Happiness in 1938 AND Today

The year: 1938. The question posed by the Bolton Evening News: “What does happiness mean to you and yours?” Bolton is a town in northwest England. Bolton “reached it’s zenith in 1929” with over 200 cotton mills and textile industries. Recently, researchers from the University of Bolton recovered and analyzed the answers given by the original 226 respondents. Three themes emerged in the analysis of the respondents’ answers.

  1. “Contentment” and “peace of mind” contributed to happiness. In other words, being satisfied with what one has rather than constantly seeking more contributes to happiness. Having a healthy family filled with emotional connection and acts of honor increases a sense of contentment, even when we don’t have the most expensive shoes or the newest gadgets.
  2. “Family” and “home” were important to happiness. A happy marriage, healthy children, loving family contribute to happiness. A home is a celebrating community of honor and grace. As we shape our homes around honoring one another and sharing grace to one another we find greater contentment and more happiness. That is a reason to celebrate!
  3. Helping “other people” contributed to happiness. Actively seeking ways to help other people brings happiness. It turns our focus outward and opens our lives to relationship. Helping others as a family strengthens our family. And family, as noted in #2, contributes to happiness. (Read more in Lessons from the Past on How to be Happy.)

These three themes can still help to build happiness in your family today. Read these blogs to discover ways of building each of the characteristics into your  family.

  1. For ideas on filling your family with “contentment” and “peace of mind” read
    1. The Secret to Family Peace
    2. Recognizing the Benefit of Emotions in Parenting
    3. Beatitudes for a Happy Marriage
  2. To improve your “family” and “home” conenctions
    1. Why Family Honor
    2. Become the Catalyst for an Honorable Family
  3. Help “other people”
    1. The Paradox of Happy Families
    2. Give It Away for Family Fun

You can find many more blogs to build these characteristics into your home and family. Just explore the many blogs on this site, put them into practice, and…find family happiness.

Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity

I love being married. I find more joy and happiness, adventure and excitement, joy and contentment, even fun and ecstasy with my wife than I could have ever imagined.  But, let’s face it. Marriage is not all fun and games. It’s not always easy. I also experience irritations and frustrations in my marriage that impact me more deeply than any I experience in other relationships. I’m sure my wife can say the same. (Still, I did plead perfection when telling her about this blog. She simply snickered and shook her head in response. Go figure.) Anyway, the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests a way to increase the positive side of marriage and decrease the negative, increase the joy and excitement while limiting the frustrations and anger. And, it’s based on over 20 years of research! (Full disclosure—I only reviewed some of the studies from the last 10 years.) Based on their research, staff at the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests an activity that any of us can engage in on a daily basis to improve our marriages. It’s simple, yet powerful; easy to do yet profound in its impact. Want to know what activity they suggest? Praying for your spouse. That’s right. Praying! Coming before God (your Higher Power) to ask that your spouse be blessed and protected. Making intercession with God for your spouse; asking Him to help your spouse achieve his or her goals. One caveat—none of these prayers in these studies asked for their partners to become the person they wanted them to be. No, they offered sincere, unselfish prayers focused on their partner’s well-being. Overall, research suggests that saying prayers for one’s partner has many positive effects. Let me share just a few from the last 10 years of research (Read more here).

  1. Praying for one’s spouse has a softening effect on conflict (Butler et al, 1998). In other words, conflict becomes less harsh for those who have a praying spouse.
  2. Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
  3. Praying for one’s spouse over a 4-week period leads to greater gratitude toward one’s spouse than did thinking positive thoughts about one’s spouse or engaging in daily activities together (Lambert et al, 2009).
  4. Praying for one’s spouse increases the willingness of the one praying to forgive and did so more than simply speaking positively about one’s partner (Lambert et al, 2010).
  5. Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
  6. Praying for one’s spouse while praying with your spouse leads to a greater sense of trust and unity in the relationship (Lambert et al, 2012).

Increased relationship satisfaction, more gratitude, more willingness to forgive, greater commitment, greater trust and less harsh conflict…all through the simple act of sincerely and unselfishly praying for your spouse. I’m getting started now. How about you?

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