Archive for June 8, 2012

Serve Your Family the Breakfast of Champions

I recently read a summary describing a study in which two groups of people were given a series of sentences to unscramble. Each sentence started with five scrambled words, four of which would form a sentence. The fifth word was either a “cold word” (bold, rude, bother, disturb, intrude, impolitely, etc.) for “group 1” or a “warm word” (considerate, appreciate, patient, polite, courteous, etc.) for “group 2.” Thinking they had concluded the first part of a study about language, the subjects proceeded to the next room to take another part of the test. Unfortunately, they found the doorway blocked by two staff members having a long discussion. The only way to pass through the doorway was to interrupt the conversation. In the group of students who had read the “cold words” while unscrambling their sentences, over 60% interrupted the conversation. In the group of subjects who had read the “warm words,” less than 20% interrupted. The authors concluded that “priming” the subjects with “cold” or “warm” words led to these behavioral differences. Those subjects primed with words of “warmth” exhibited a greater tendency to not interrupt. The subjects primed with words of “warmth” tended to behave more patiently and in a more “pro-social” manner.
Let me ask you this question: Do you prime your family with warm words or cold words? When your family gets up in the morning, do they hear loving conversation or agitated conversation? Polite interactions or rude interactions? Does your family share words of encouragement or words of agitation in the morning? Whatever words your family hears will prime them for the rest of the morning…maybe even the day! Start your day with loving, warm, polite words–that is the breakfast of champions.

My Family is Killing Me

My family is killing me. I know that may sound a bit extreme, even over the top; but, it is true. Every time I turn around they want to end some part of my life. I believe it is all part of a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. God Himself is in on it. They have all joined forces to conspire against me…to make me a better person, to force me to grow more mature in character, to become godly, even Christ-like. Yes, my family is killing me…and, well, it’s a good thing. I hate to admit it, but I tend to be impatient at times. If you do not believe me, take a ride in rush hour traffic with me. I don’t understand rush hour traffic. It makes no sense. I have no patience for it. I hate rush hour traffic. Anyway, I am impatient. Fortunately, my family is killing my impatience. They have located the tumor of impatience and, with surgical precision, they are cutting it out of my life. In traffic they make comments like, “Gee Dad, we’re behind a big, slow truck…your favorite thing.” We all smile. Well, they smile and I grit my teeth; but, it helps me stay calm…and patient. After all, I want to model patience for my children. They also help me remain patient when I feel the urge to shoot my computer or when I mumble a desire to avoid the long line for everyone’s favorite ride in the amusement park. Thanks to my family, impatience is dying a slow, sometimes agonizing death. While impatience dies, my family is painstakingly grafting in patience to fill the emptiness left behind. Patience…what a nice change.
My family is also killing my need for control. You may find this hard to believe, but controlling teenage daughters is like herding cats. They want their own lives. They have friends they want to hang out with and activities that seem to call their names. I cannot control their interests. I cannot control their thoughts. I cannot control what they do when they are out with friends. I can only trust them. As much as parents like to believe we have control over our family, we cannot make our maturing children do the right thing. We have little control over their behavior when they leave our presence to go out with friends. Don’t get me wrong…I believe in discipline. And, I do have wonderful daughters…I am truly blessed. But, truth be told, as children grow into teens and young adults, parents have less and less control over their lives. We can discuss behaviors, point out consequences of various choices, and encourage appropriate behaviors; but, we cannot control their thoughts and actions. We have to give up control—let it die. We have to learn to trust that they will remember what we have taught them through the elementary years. We have to trust their decision-making skills and their ability to learn from their experience. We have to trust them…and sometimes it is killing me. See what I mean? My family is killing me.
I don’t know about you, but I like to be right. No, I love to be right. In fact, I have argued over the dumbest things simple because I want to be right…and sometimes (only sometimes) I was. Sometimes I even continue to argue, trying to prove myself right, even after I realized I was wrong, very wrong. I know it doesn’t make sense; but really, come on, you know what I mean. We love to be right. However, my family is slowly killing off my need to be right. They are teaching me that some things just don’t matter. I’m also learning that they really do know things I do not know…like what color the living room is painted or how the Federal Reserve works or…oh, there are so many things they know that I do not know. So, I’m learning to listen carefully, completely, and with the intent to understand before I offer my “right answer.” Many times I don’t even have to offer “my right answer.” I just need to listen. I don’t have to be right every time. Other people can be right. In fact, other people are often right! And, I can be wrong…and it’s killing me.
One more thing. We can all be somewhat self-centered at times. I know I can. I want that last piece of pie. I like to sit in a particular chair in the living room. After all, it’s my house and my chair. Oops, sorry family…it is our house and our chair. We are a family…and, my family is killing my self-centered me. They are helping me learn to use words like “our” and “we” instead of “mine” and “me.” Interestingly, I find myself becoming happier as my self-centeredness dies. I have discovered that I experience greater joy when I help my family rather than help myself, when I compromise rather than demand my way, when I listen to their needs rather than push my agenda. Truly, I have never had more excitement and joy than when I watch a family member achieve a personal dream and excitedly talk about it. Yes, my family is killing my self-centeredness and replacing it with a good dose of unselfish benevolence.
So, my little secret is out. There is a conspiracy afoot. Yes, my family is killing me…and, well, I am glad! It is a good thing to let some character traits die and replace them with something better. So, go ahead family. Give it your best shot. Cut out my immature character traits and graft in some new improved traits like patience, trust, understanding, and unselfish benevolence. Aye, if I get enough new and improved traits grafted in, I will be like the six million dollar man….”We can rebuild him. We can make him better than he was before. Better…stronger…faster….” Oops, sorry about that. I got carried away. It’s all part of the conspiracy!

The Good Sheperd Rule of Parenting

David wrote an ancient poem describing his Heavenly Father in terms of a Shepherd. I recently read this psalm and I noticed the action words that David attributed to his Shepherd Father. The Shepherd in this psalm “makes” His sheep rest in nurturing places. He “leads” them in safe places, “restores” them, and “guides” them in ways that bring honor to the family name and reputation. The Shepherd “is with” His sheep, “comforting” them, “preparing” their environment for optimal growth, and “protecting” them from pests and parasites that might burrow into their head. This Shepherd actively pursues the benefit of His sheep. He takes a lot of positive steps to assure His sheep are safe and healthy.
David does include two negatives in this psalm–both describe the sheep’s life, not the Shepherd’s actions. Specifically, the sheep will have “no want.” They will lack nothing because of the provisions made by the Shepherd for their emotional, physical, and mental health. And, the sheep will “fear no evil.” They do not have to fear the dangers, anxieties, and sufferings of the world because the Shepherd lovingly protects, provides, and disciplines them.
Perhaps we, as family shepherds (parents), can learn a lesson from the Shepherd Father described by David. Parenting is a fast-paced job that demands endless effort. We can easily get caught up in constantly telling our children “no,” “not now,” “stay away from…” or “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” We simply want to protect our children from the dangers “out there.” However, the constant focus on “no” and what “not to do” without offering positive alternatives invites rebellion. Constantly giving passive commands to “stop” that without actively become involved in teaching alternative behaviors leaves children with little to no knowledge of how to change…no knowledge of the positive behaviors we desire. Their minds get stuck on what they cannot have and then ruminate on ways to get it.
Instead, parents can practice “The Good Shepherd Rule.” “The Good Shepherd Rule” demands action. It invites us to actively pursue our children’s benefit and take positive steps to assure our children’s safety and health. This rule focuses on the action words found in David’s description of his Shepherd Father. Specifically, “The Good Shepherd Rule” begins when we “make” our family identify and “rest in” the positive, nurturing behaviors we desire. Then, we “lead” them toward the desired behaviors, “guide” them in the desired behaviors, and “prepare” the environment to promote the desired behaviors. We may even engage in the positive behavior “with them” for a time, helping them learn how to do it well. “The Good Shepherd Rule” also states that we discipline misbehavior to provide “protection” and, afterwards, quickly “restore” our relationship with them to provide them the “comfort” of knowing we love and accept them unconditionally. 

Children and families experience many positive results when practicing “The Good Shepherd Rule.” The Psalmist notes that the Shepherd’s sheep find that their “cup overflows.” In addition, “goodness and lovingkindness” follow them throughout their life. Even those around them can enjoy riding the wake of the goodness and lovingkindness that trails behind them as they move through the world. Those who have experienced this kind of loving nurturance will “dwell” in the house of their Shepherd forever. Isn’t that what we want for our children? We want them to mature and find that “their cup overflows” with “goodness and lovingkindness,” to find their lives filled with “goodness and lovingkindness” in such abundance that it overflows to all those they meet. We want them to remain involved in our lives so we can enjoy one another’s support, encouragement, and love; celebrate one another’s successes; and comfort one another in times of disappointment. Ultimately we want them to live a life of goodness in the world and throughout eternity. As parents, we can help make this possible by practicing “The Good Shepherd Rule”: “nurture,” “lead,” “restore,” “guide,” “go with,” “comfort,” “prepare,” and “protect” our children.

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