Archive for Grace

You, Your Family, & the World’s Analysis of Worth

It is easy to get caught up in the world’s analysis. The world bases its analytic scrutiny of personal worth and value on comparisons. And it teaches us and our children to do the same. Unfortunately, this never works out well. On one hand, we may compare ourselves with those who have more than we do—more wealth, more opportunity, more personal strengths in particular area, more resources. As a result, we feel bad, not good enough, inadequate, and unworthy.

On the other hand, we might compare ourselves to those who made different choices than we did and then beat ourselves up with the stones of “if only I had….” Of course, we might compare ourselves with those who “have it worse than us.” As so many say, “there are always those who have it worse than us.” But that comparison runs the risk of making us arrogant and even entitled.

The analysis of comparison just isn’t the best way to go. But what is the alternative? Gratitude. Specifically, self-gratitude. How can you practice self-gratitude?

Start by viewing yourself with eyes of kindness, understanding, and support. Instead of beating yourself up for choices you wish you hadn’t made, give thanks for what you have learned and how you have grown. Recognize any good that came to you through the choice you made…and give thanks.

Continue to view yourself through eyes of kindness and humble understanding and identify your strengths and abilities. Recognize your talents, your skills, your abilities… and give thanks.

Think about your resilience and your dedication. The times you have overcome obstacles and carried on in spite of difficulties. Reflect on your determination, your spark…and give thanks.

Take time to acknowledge your kindness to others, your acts of compassion toward others… and give thanks.

Take one more moment to consider areas of your life in which you experience contentment. Maybe you want a new car, but you are content, for the moment, with the car you have. Perhaps you want to become a more skilled musician but, for the moment, you are content to practice and enjoy what you know. Contentment does not hinder progress and improvement. It merely sets the stage for enjoying your current ability or status; and that enjoyment opens the door for even better improvement and growth. Consider those areas of contentment in our life…and give thanks.

Set aside comparisons and take up the practice of gratitude instead:

  • Gratitude for areas of personal growth.
  • Gratitude for strengths, character, and abilities
  • Gratitude for areas of contentment.

And teach your family to do the same.

“Two Wrongs Don’t….”

“Two wrongs don’t….” I’m sure you can finish that statement. I hear parents say it to their children all the time. Ok. Just in case, I’ll finish it. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” You knew that, right? In fact, two wrongs usually just make it worse. Two wrongs add insult to injury. On the other hand, I often hear adults make statements that add wrong to wrong, insult to injury, in their marriages. For instance,

  • I’ll respect my husband when he starts respecting me.
  • I’m not cleaning again until he starts doing his part.
  • They ignore me to play on their phone, so I just play on my phone and ignore them.
  • I’ll listen to her when she starts listening to me.
  • I’ll do more around the house when she quits nagging.

Did you catch the irony? We tell our children that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but then we add wrong to wrong to prove a point to our spouses. Let me just say it, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” even in marriage.  Refusing to respect your spouse until you feel respected only makes things worse. Any time we add wrong to wrong we multiply the pain and add another brick to the wall separating us from our spouse.

Can I suggest a better response? It’s not the natural response or even an easy response. But it’s a response that opens the door to reconciliation and greater intimacy. I’m suggesting that you respond with grace. Give your spouse the good you don’t believe they deserve. Return a blessing for an insult, a positive for a negative, good for bad. Respond in grace.

  • When you feel disrespected, respond with respect.
  • When you feel your spouse is not doing their part in keeping the home clean, talk to them for sure…but keep on cleaning, without complaining, in the meantime.
  • If you feel ignored when your spouse plays on their phone, put your phone down and sit next to them. Put your arm around them.
  • If you feel as though your spouse is not listening to you, intentionally make the effort to listen to them, understand them, and respond to the things they say.
  • When you feel your spouse is constantly nagging, kindly, without complaint, take care of the things they are nagging you about.
  • If you’re feeling like your spouse never shows you physical affection, give them a morning and evening kiss and a hug throughout the day.
  • Respond with grace.

Why respond with grace? First and foremost, because doing so is an expression of love and you love your spouse. At least you did at one point. And responding with grace may spark that love anew.  Secondly, it opens the door to reconciliation and growing intimacy. Third, because “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but grace in response to a wrong creates the opportunity for change.

Don’t believe it? Give it a try and see if grace doesn’t change your marriage over the next month. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Mighty Little Deeds of… Kindness?

Kindness is powerful. Even more powerful because it appears so meek, wrapped in the common, unassuming actions that even a child can perform. A polite response. A genuine show of gratitude. An offer to help.

The simplicity of the act tempts us to disregard its power. After all, anyone could do it. Hold a door open for someone. Pass the vegetables. Pour a glass of tea for someone.

Still, however unassuming and inconsequential an act of kindness might appear, it remains a powerful force. Simple acts of kindness reveal the giver’s humility and willingness to give of their time and energy graciously and humbly in service to another. Who doesn’t like a humble person who graciously offers an act of kindness like taking out the trash or helping to carry the groceries?

Kindness also communicates the inherent value of the recipient. It acknowledges the recipient as worthy of the time and energy sacrificed to offer them a kindness. Sharing a cup of water or a meal. Letting the other guy have the parking space.

Kindness unveils the beauty of both the giver and the receiver. The giver in their benevolence and generosity. The receiver in their kind response of gratitude and appreciation. A simple “thank you” or a smile with a friendly wink of the eye.

Yes, kindness is powerful. Kind acts lift the spirits of both the giver and the receiver. These mighty little deeds promote connection between people. They inspire us to act in kindness to the next person we meet. They restore our faith in humankind.

These mighty little deeds of kindness can build a stronger marriage, a safer community, a healthier world. In recognizing the power of those mighty little deeds of kindness, I have to ask you a question. What mighty little deeds of kindness will you give your family today?

After-School Exhaustion: What Does It Mean?

Another school year has arrived. As we start the new year, I am reminded of parents and students telling me about their after-school struggles. One struggle in particular comes to mind—the struggle of after-school exhaustion. A student comes home from school and suddenly feels exhausted, physically and emotionally drained. There are chores to do and homework to complete, but they don’t want to do anything but sleep.

Before you think this is a sign that your child is lazy, consider the results of studies published in Current Biology on August 1, 2022. These studies “used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to monitor brain chemistry over the course of a workday.” The findings suggest that thinking hard (aka—doing challenging cognitive tasks) over several hours produces fatigue through a buildup of glutamate in the brain. Rest and sleep are essential to eliminate this excess. In other words, the mental exercise of attending school and focusing on academic work all day may actually bring a child to a state of mental fatigue. And mental fatigue is a signal that we need stop working and rest. If we ignore that signal, we will likely shift toward investing little effort and accepting short-term rewards for that effort. In a practical sense, that means doing shoddy work (whether on chores or homework) just to say it’s finished.

What can you and your child do to overcome this mental exhaustion? Here are 2 simple suggestions.

  • Allow your child some down-time to rest after school. Don’t become harsh or critical because you assume your child is lazy and telling them so. Accept that they may have worked hard all day and need a break. A 20-minute power nap can do wonders.
  • Establish a positive bedtime routine to encourage a good night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep is important to our mental and physical health. It may not prevent after-school exhaustion, but it will help promote more success in with school and overall health.

The First 3 Minutes: Predicting & Reflecting

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

If the first 3 minutes of a conversation about a marital conflict started with criticism and involved more negative affect (disgust, contempt, anger, defensiveness) than positive affect (interest, validation, humor, affection), divorce was more likely within the next 6 years. For husbands, the atmosphere of the first 3 minutes of the discussion tended to amplify over the remaining 12 minutes of the conversation. Those who grew more negative more quickly over the remaining 12 minutes were most likely to be divorces. For wives, the rest of the conversation remained similar to the first 3 minutes. Either way, the more negative the first 3 minutes of a conversation, the more likely the couple would divorce within 6 years.

Let me say this in a more personal way. I don’t want you to miss its importance. If you initiate a conversation about a marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism about your partner or their character, they are more likely to respond with defensiveness. From there, your conversation will likely remain negative at best, and, at worst, grow more negative. That growing negativity predict the greater possibility of your divorce within the next 6 years. And no married couple wants to go through a divorce.

On the other hand, the first 3 minutes of the conversation about a marital conflict also reflects the past. It predicts the future AND it reflects the past. Let me explain. Marital partners invite one another to connect and interact hundreds of times a day (see RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family). When each person responds to those invitations with interest and genuine responsiveness, an environment of trust and security grows. In that environment, one person is less likely to begin a conversation about some marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism. And, if they do, their partner is better able to remain non-defensive and open to hear the concern. They show a greater willingness to accept their spouse’s influence and change. As a result, the relationship grows. Love and intimacy are nurtured. 

So, 3 minutes… 3 short minutes that reflect a history of marital interactions and predict the future of the marriage. What will your 3 minutes reflect…and predict?

Offended by Family: Forgiveness or Revenge?

If you have a family (and unless you were hatched from some alien species, you do), then you have encountered the need and the opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. You may have even thought, “Why should I forgive him? He never changes. He never apologizes. Why should I forgive him?” Let me offer an answer by way of a study published in 2022.

In this study, 546 participants wrote about a time in which they had been wronged by another person. Then, they wrote a letter to the person who wronged them. Some were instructed to write a letter forgiving the person and others to get revenge. The letters were not sent, only written.

After writing about the scenario of hurt and a letter of forgiveness or revenge, the participants rated themselves on traits such as warmth & morality—traits measuring their personal sense of humanity. The results revealed some important reasons to forgive.

Those who had written letters of forgiveness rated themselves with a higher level of perceived humanity than those who wrote letters of revenge. In other words, forgiving contributed to a person feeling more human. It made them feel better about themselves as human beings. Those who wrote letters of forgiveness also reported less “inclination toward self-harm” than those who wrote letters of revenge.  

In another experiment, college students either imagined one of two scenarios: a coworker insulting their presentation or a coworker having a positive interaction with them. Those who imagined being insulted experienced a decrease in their feelings of “self-humanity.” They felt “dehumanized.” However, if they imagined forgiving their coworker, their level of self-humanity returned to normal.  If they imagined taking revenge, their perceived level of humanity remained low; they continued to feel dehumanized. Forgiveness led to an increased recognition of one’s own humanity. Interesting, isn’t it? Forgiveness seems to make us feel more human, more humane. So, why should you forgive that family member who hurt you? For one thing, doing so will make you feel more human. It will make you feel better about yourself as a person. That’s great…but it’s only the beginning. Forgiving also presents an opportunity for the other person to grow. It opens the door to restoring the relationship. It reveals the character of God. So, even though it can prove difficult to do at times, forgive. A healthy sense of self and a healthy marriage (with a more satisfying sex life, by the way) awaits you when you do.

Even If Your Spouse Doesn’t Know…

A study published in 2017 asked 175 newlywed couples to keep a two-week diary recording when they acted compassionately toward their spouse—when they voluntarily cared for their spouse, when they focused on understanding and genuine acceptance of their spouse’s needs and wishes, and when they warmly expressed a willingness to put their spouse’s goals ahead of their own.

After talking with the couples, researchers found that the spouse receiving the compassionate acts only benefited from those acts when they noticed them, when they recognized them. That’s not too surprising. We lose the benefit of getting something if we don’t recognize that we have received it.

However, the person performing the compassionate act benefited whether their spouse noticed the compassionate act or not. Did you catch that? The person performing the compassionate act experienced benefits even when their spouse did not realize they had been a recipient of kindness. When we show tenderness toward our spouses, we benefit whether our spouse notices the tenderness or not. When we change our plans to accommodate our spouses, we benefit even if our spouses don’t know we did it.

These findings remind me of a verse that describes love: “Love does not seek its own.” Love seeks the good of the one loved. Ironically, when we seek the good of our spouse, the one we love, we benefit even if they don’t know what we did. So, show your spouse compassion today, even if they never recognize it:

  • Do a chore around the house without being asked. Put away the clean clothes. Unload the dishwasher. Take out the garbage. Make the bed. Maybe your spouse will notice, maybe they won’t. But you’ll receive the benefit of knowing you served your spouse in love.
  • Sacrifice your desire to watch something so you can watch what your spouse wants to watch. Leave the last piece of pie or candy for your spouse. Prepare a meal they like, even if you don’t. Skip a night out with friends to enjoy a night in with your spouse. Maybe your spouse will notice the sacrifice, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the benefit of a happier spouse and the joy of knowing you have expressed your love through quiet sacrifice.
  • Give your spouse a backrub, even though you’re tired. Offer to get the groceries or prepare the meal while they rest once in a while. Maybe your spouse will acknowledge the service, maybe they won’t. But you will enjoy the knowledge that you just acted in love toward your spouse.
  • Express your love in words and actions every day, even if your spouse does not notice…even if they don’t reciprocate as often. You will enjoy the benefit of living out your love in word and deed, of knowing your spouse knows you love them.

“Love does not seek its own;” it seeks the good of the one loved. Show your spouse your love through your acts of tenderness and compassion, even if they don’t realize you’re doing it. You’ll be glad you did since acting compassionately is its own reward.

“Forgivingly Fitness” & Your Children’s Grades

You might be asking, “What is ‘Forgivingly Fitness’?” Good question. Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher refers to the benefits of building our “forgivingly fitness,” our openness and ability to forgive those who hurt us. Of course, we want our children to learn how to forgive. After all, forgiveness builds resilience and helps us not fall prey to resentment. Forgiveness restores a more positive outlook on our life. But did you know it can also improve academic performance? According to one study (discussed by Robert Enright in this Like a Sponge podcast) participating in a 12-week forgiveness class was associated with a full letter improvement in their grades. A control group of students who did not participate in the forgiveness class did not experience any academic improvement (see this study also).

Why would learning about forgiveness improve academic performance? I like Dr. Enright’s answer to that question: “If you are a 13-year-old in middle school and you have a throbbing knee that day, you’re going to miss the lesson because your knee is getting in the way of concentration. What if you have a broken heart…? You’re going to miss the lesson too. But, what if we can bind up the heart? Now, you have more time, focus, and energy to focus on your lessons.” In other words, unforgiveness leads to resentment. Holding a grudge takes up space in our minds. Resentment and holding a grudge interfere with our ability to concentrate and learn. Teaching our children to forgive, on the other hand, allows them to let go of the resentment and not hold the grudge. It frees them up to expend energy on more important aspects of life…like learning.

How can you teach your child to forgive? First, model forgiveness in your own life. Many “small opportunities” arise for the practice forgiveness. Take advantage of those opportunities. Practice forgiveness and talk about your work to forgive with your children and family. Something as simple as, “Someone ran through a stop sign and cut me off on the way home today. It really made me angry. It’s dangerous and not fair that they cut me off (Acknowledging the Wrong Done). I don’t know why they did it. Maybe they were daydreaming, had an emergency, or they are new to the area and kind of lost. We all have those times. (Acknowledging Our Mutual Humanity with the One Who Offended Us.) So I just took a breath and let it go. No need to hold on to that. (Altruistic Choice to Forgive.) Hopefully he’s safe. (Wishing Compassion for the Offender.)” (Steps of the forgiveness process noted in italics.)

Second you can talk about forgiveness while watching movies or tv shows in which one person offends another.  Let the discussion loosely follow the steps alluded to above. If you’re not sure about questions to ask or how to discuss forgiveness for a character, consider some of the questions in “Enright’s Forgiveness Process Model.” The conversation doesn’t have to go from beginning to end. It doesn’t need to lead to a complete understanding of forgiveness. It’s simply an opportunity to discuss some of the questions about forgiveness, what it involves, and the benefits it might have for that character.

Becoming “forgivingly fit” will help you and your child navigate life in a healthier way. You will experience more joy and contentment. Most important, your child may even experience greater academic success.

4 Surprising Things Happily Married Couples Do

Happy marriages don’t just happen. They develop between spouses who consistently engage in certain actions. In other words, happy marriages are cultivated by couples who actively nurture their marriage. With that in mind, here are 4 surprising ways happily married couples nurture their marriage.

  1. Happily married couples disagree and argue. They know that disagreements offer them an opportunity to learn more about one another. Disagreements and arguments open the door to the intimacy of knowing one another more deeply. So rather than defend, blame, and criticize, they respect, listen, and validate. In doing so, they learn that even their points of disagreement are times to cherish as they nurture a happier marriage.
  2. Happily married couples spend time alone. Sure, happily married couples spend a lot of time as a couple, but each spouse also spends time alone. We all need some “alone” time. Happily married couples enjoy that alone time. Each spouse has a confidence in their relationship that allows them to spend alone time to take care of themselves without fear of it damaging their relationship. As a result, they can purse hobbies and personal growth. They can come back from time alone refreshed and ready to pour themselves into their marriage in new and loving ways.
  3. Happily married couples accept one another’s influence. My friends once asked me to go out with them after work. I told them I had to “check with my wife.” You know what they said: “You’re whipped man.” And that is the most complimentary insult I’ve ever received. It means I allow my wife to influence me. It means my wife and her happiness are more important to me than a night out. It means my wife knows she has priority in my life. It means I accept her influence in my life. Do you accept the influence of your spouse?
  4. Happily married couples give it up for one another. In other words, spouses in a happy marriage sacrifice for one another. Every marriage demands some sacrifice. We sacrifice our unbridled freedom to commit to our spouse. We sacrifice time doing what we want in order to do things our spouse wants to do. We sacrifice the remote to watch a show our spouse wants to watch. We sacrifice the last piece of pie. We sacrifice…. You get the idea. From small sacrifices to grand sacrifices, happily married couples are willing to give it up for their spouse. No, they aren’t just willing, they are happy to give it up for their spouse to lift up their marriage. After all, they love their spouse.

Happily married couples do more than just these 4 things (like serve, honor, encourage, admire, etc.), but these are 4 rather surprising things happily married couples do. Do you?

In Family, Is It Better to Give or Receive?

If you are a student of ancient Biblical sayings, you probably think you know the answer to this question already. In fact, you will quote the words of Jesus in response to the question: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Researchers from Ohio State University put that to the test in a study involving 1,054 healthy adults between 34 and 84-years-old. Each participant completed three measures: one of their social integrations, one of their perceptions of how much they could rely on others, and one of their perceptions of how available they were to support family and friends. Two years later they returned for follow-up blood tests that measured markers of systemic inflammation in the body. These markers are associated with increased risk for health issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

What did they discover? Lower inflammation markers [and, as a result, the risk for related diseases] was associated with increased availability to give social support to family and friends. In other words, the researchers found the healing power of relationships increase when a person gives support to family and friends rather than simply receiving support.

Don’t mistake, receiving support is also good. It, too, is associated with greater health. But the greatest health benefit comes when we offer support as well. So, it’s true. When it comes to giving and receiving support in your marriage and family it really “is more blessed to give than to receive,” even in terms of our physical health. With that in mind, how can you give support to your spouse and family? The ways are endless but let me offer three principles.

  1. Being available to give support to your family takes time. You have to give of your time to your spouse and your family to remain available to offer support. Get out your calendar and prioritize time with your family.
  2. Giving support to your family means setting aside your personal agenda at times. The need for support often arises at “inconvenient times.” You might have to sacrifice watching your favorite game or TV show to spend time supporting your family. You might have to change your schedule, postpone an activity. But, in the long run, what really is more important to you, your family or a sitcom? Your spouse or a video game? Your children or reading the news? Postpone your agenda and make yourself available to support your family.
  3. To truly support your spouse and children, you have to know them well. Each person receives support in slightly different ways. One person may feel supported with encouraging words while another desires hands-on assistance. Moreover, each person may need support in a different area of their life depending on their developmental needs and current needs. Take time to know your family so you can support them in the ways that are most meaningful to them. If you can’t figure out how a family member wants support or in what area they might like support, ask them.

These three principles will open up a “world of opportunity” to support your family. As you do, you will experience the joy and health of giving support to your family. You will gain firsthand knowledge that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

« Older Entries Recent Entries »