Tag Archive for affirmation

The Message Behind the Words

Children and teens are still learning. Parents know this, but we still get angry when they make bad choices. We know children make mistakes. They push the limits. They compound already stressful situations by becoming distracted, breaking down into tears, or even having a tantrum. And we, as parents, respond. The real question is: what is the most effective response? How can teach our children appropriate behavior and responsibility for their actions while still communicating we love and value them? I’m glad you asked.

An effective response begins with the words we use. Our words carry two messages. One message is the objective meaning of the words…the least powerful message of the two. The other message, the more powerful message, is the implied meaning behind the words. Effective parents learn to use power of words by using words that imply an affirmative message rather than a negative message.  Consider these examples.

Implied Negative MessageImplied Affirmative Message
“When are you going to finish cleaning up your mess?” This communicates the negative implication that any effort your child makes is not enough. It’s never going to satisfy you.  “Good start. Looks good so far.” This acknowledges their effort, appreciates what they have done, and leaves room for more work to be done.
“Don’t forget” implies your child needs a reminder because forgetting is their norm.“Remember” expresses faith in their ability to remember and trust in their desire to remember.
“I have no idea what you’re babbling about” communicates that your child is not worth listening to. They are just a “babbler.”“Whoa. Slow down. I’m interested in what you have to say but I can’t keep up.” This implies you value what your child has to say and teaches them to speak in a manner you can understand.
“What are you doing? See those streaks? Are you blind? Do it right.” This statement communicates that your child is incompetent and cannot live up to your standards. There is no room for individuality and growth.“You’re really getting the hang of cleaning the tables now. Let me show you how to avoid leaving streaks on the table.” This communicates a trust in their ability to learn, an appreciation of their growing ability, and an awareness of them as part of ‘your team.’
“Why? Because I said so.” This statement offers a challenge. It presents a power play. Power plays and challenges always invite debate and rebellion.“I love you too much to let you do that. I’m afraid you’ll get hurt because….” This statement expresses concern and a belief in your child’s ability to understand the reason behind the rules.
“You are so careless. Watch what you are doing!” Name calling (“careless”) and global characterizations generally express negativity. How can a careless person watch what they’re doing? They’re careless.“Oops. We better clean that up. You’ll know to be more careful next time.” This statement acknowledges a mistake was made and normalizes that mistake. It also communicates a trust in them to learn from those mistakes.
“Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Minimizes or dismisses feelings. Makes children feel shame for their feelings. Limits their ability to learn to manage their feelings.“That has made you really sad.” Accepts and acknowledges feelings, which allows children to learn to better manage their feelings as well.
“Relax. What are you so angry about?” Once again, this dismisses their feelings with all the related negative results.“I appreciate your passion. It really shows how important this is to you.” Not only does this accept your children’s feelings, it communicates that feelings have an underlying value, a purpose. It encourages children to look for the deeper priority under the emotion.

What words do you remember hearing as a child? Those words that carried a negative message may have left scars you still experience today while words that carried an affirmative message continue to boost you and propel your forward. We want our words to propel our children forward with confidence and respect for authority. With that in mind, we must ask ourselves:

  • What words do I use with my children that carry a negative message?
  • How can I reword those phrases to send a more affirmative and effective message to my children?

The Family: A Training Ground for Change

I was sitting among a group of friends when the discussion turned to “those people.” Everyone in the group knew I was not only a part of the friend group having the discussion but a member of “those people” being discussed as well. Suddenly, one of my friends looked at me and said, “Well, we don’t mean you. You’re different.” It was too late. I already felt the twinge of being cast out. I’ve had a similar experience several times. It has happened in response to where I grew up. It has happened because of a particular group of people I have chosen to belong to. It has even happened, on occasion, because of my gender. It really doesn’t matter why “it” happened; the fact remains that some comments separate and judge others as inferior, even when those making the comments add a sheepish “we’re not talking about you.”  The comments still lead to division. They still make someone feel like an outcast. Researchers call such comments “micro-aggressions.” Micro-aggressions accumulate to create greater division and prejudice, even causing declines in physical health.

Fortunately, I have also encountered groups who engaged in conversations and comments that elevated people, conversations that brought people together and made each person feel important. These groups validated our shared humanity as well as our individual worth. Researchers refer to comments made in these more positive discussions as “micro-affirmations.” A study published in 2017 made me think about how our families can become catalysts and training grounds for micro-affirmations rather than micro-aggressions. In this study, 503 teens (11- to 16-years-old) were divided into two groups. One group was given a questionnaire to help them recall specific examples of their own past acts of kindness. A second group was given a questionnaire asking questions about neutral topics like the weather or a favorite tree. Both groups read an “anti-relational aggression message” as well. One month later, the researchers explored the frequency of hurtful behaviors in which members of both groups had engaged. The results? First, the “anti-relational aggression message” did not produce any behavioral change. Second, and more important for our purposes, those who recalled previous acts of kindness engaged in less aggression and more kindness over the last month than the group who had recalled neutral information. The authors of the study believe that recalling acts of kindness triggered mini self-affirmations and “primed the pump” for more acts of kindness. They believed acts of kindness served as “micro-affirmations” for both the giver and the recipient of kindness by bringing people together in a shared moment of humanity and worth.

How does this relate to our families? I believe our families provide the training ground for micro-affirmations, for kindnesses that validate, unite, and elevate worth. And, I hope you will join me in implementing a “training protocol” that will not only promote growth in kindness and the giving of micro-affirmations but will strengthen your family at the same time!  It only takes three steps!

  1. Model kindness. Make micro-affirmations (statements that elevate worth, validate positive identity, and bring people together) to your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and even strangers you meet throughout your day. It’s really not hard. It can be as simple as thanking your teen when they do a chore, appreciating the meal your spouse prepared, or admiring the shirt your wife is wearing. It might involve holding the door open for a stranger, getting the car so your family doesn’t have to walk through the rain, or offering to get a family member a drink when you go to the kitchen during a commercial. Each time you engage in a simple act of kindness, you produce a micro-affirmation that informs the other person of their value in your eyes. You bring unity between yourself and the person to whom you show kindness, a unity based on your shared humanity and love.
  2. Celebrate acts of kindness your family members engage in. You can do this with a simple acknowledgment and statement of gratitude…”thank you for your kindness” goes a long way! You can acknowledge when people offer forgiveness or show consideration. You can acknowledge the kindness of generosity and service, awareness of others and responding with respect. Yes, many of these things are expected behaviors. But, when we acknowledge expected and desired behaviors we increase the chances of those behaviors continuing and even increasing. Make it a family habit to acknowledge and appreciate kindnesses shown.
  3. Provide simple opportunities to show kindness. The possibilities for showing kindness are unlimited. If you can’t think of any ways to show kindness, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families and 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage and A Family Night to Share Kindness. Make an intentional effort to show kindness every day.

As you can see, this really is not a difficult protocol to implement in your family. It simply involves developing a family environment of kindness and affirmation. Your family will benefit from this environment filled with “micro-affirmations.”  Your spouse will love this environment. Your children will thrive in this environment. And, the community in which you live will benefit as practicing kindness at home will lead to practicing kindness outside the home. In fact, if enough of us make kindness and micro-affirmations a vital aspect of our family environment, we might just start a wave of change that impacts our whole world.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!

The Key to Love…or Disdain

“A man falls in love through his eyes, a woman through her ears.”–Woodrow Wyatt

If Woodrow Wyatt is right, men and women have different keys when it comes to love. A key and heartkey to a man’s love begins with his eyes. If this is true, you can use this key to increase intimacy with your husband. Dress nicely now and again rather than always slumping around in your “comfy clothes.” When you go on a date, pick out clothes that you know appeal to your husband. You likely did this while dating. Why not keep it up after you’re married? Make an effort to put on nice clothes, fix your hair, and smile admiringly at your husband on a regular basis. It will go a long way in unlocking his love.

A key to a woman’s love begins in her ears. Use this key to gain intimacy with your wife. Speak words of appreciation and adoration for your wife. Encourage her often. Verbalize your feelings of love on a regular basis. Let your words reveal your fondness and admiration for your wife. Speak words of love and affection, appreciation and adoration, fondness and admiration daily. This will unlock her love for you in amazing ways.

These keys have a flipside. They can create intimacy when used properly; but, on the flipside, they will create disdain if misused or ignored. Wives, if you make no attempt to look nice for your husband, he may begin to think you don’t care. He will feel unimportant because you “dress up for work, but never for him.” He will feel as though you rate him second to all those activities and places for which you dress up. He may even begin to feel disrespected. He may feel cheated and deceived because you “dressed up when we were dating but now you don’t care enough about me.” A man who feels disrespected will begin to drift to those places where he feels more respect. Don’t let this happen in your marriage. Use the key of his eyes to keep him close.

Men, if you neglect to speak words of affirmation and admiration to your wife, she will begin to doubt your love. She will feel unappreciated and unloved. She may even begin to feel worse about herself, inadequate and filled with self-doubt. If you call her names or call her character into question through the words you speak, she will begin to despise you. Her disdain for you will grow with every negative comment you make. Eventually, love will die. Don’t let this happen in your marriage. Speak words of love and tenderness. Use the key of her ears to keep her close.

Of course the eyes and ears are not the only keys to love. But, they do provide one key you can use to deepen the intimacy with your spouse and strengthen your marriage. The nice thing is…you hold the key!

The Marriage I Want My Kids to See

I have two daughters, both in transition from the late teen years into young adulthood. I have some mixed feelings about this. They are wonderful young ladies and I love spending time with them; but they will soon leave home. Eventually, they will marry and begin their own families. Someone else will become the “man in their life.” This prospect excites me and frightens me at the same time. I have seen enough marriages to know that marriage African American Couple Laughing On The Floorcan either give us a taste of heaven or drag us through the dregs of hell. It may sound extreme, but it’s true. A healthy marriage produces a happiness, confidence, and joy that will bring out the very best in both partners. An unhealthy marriage brings devastating pain and resentment. It eventually leads to the death of a family. Many couples come to my office experiencing the pain of an unhealthy marriage. An unbelievable number of these couples cannot even identify one couple they have witnessed as having a good marriage. They have no example of a healthy marriage in their life! I want my daughters to witness a good marriage. I want them to see a relationship between their mother (my wife) and me that reminds them of heaven. Specifically, I want my daughters to see and witness that…

  • A husband makes sacrifices for his wife. He makes those sacrifices joyfully from a heart of love and a true desire to bring goodness into his wife’s life.
  • A husband “only has eyes” for his wife. He has put aside all other women and made his wife the only woman for him. He is a “one-woman-man.”
  • A husband serves his wife. He loves to do things for her. Whether he cooks dinner, washes clothes, cleans toilets, or mows the grass, a husband loves to serve his wife.
  • A husband affirms his wife. He notices what she does for him and their family. He acknowledges and verbally appreciates all she does. He recognizes what a wonderful mother she is and tells her so.
  • A husband admires his wife. His eyes light up when she enters the room. He speaks words of his admiration directly to her and about her in public places. He defends his wife when their children disobey her.
  • A husband has deep affection for his wife. He hugs and kisses his wife. He walks with his wife, side by side and holding hands. He enjoys his time with her so much that he intentionally puts aside other tasks to spend time alone with her.
  • A husband supports his wife in reaching for her dreams. He encourages her every step of the way toward her dream. He rejoices in her achievements and accomplishments.
  • A husband share achievements and successes with his wife. She is the first person he turns to in his joy. He recognizes that his accomplishments are her accomplishments. He realizes that he could not have done what he did without her support, encouragement, and love. He also rejoices in her accomplishments. He takes pride in her achievements.
  • A husband turns toward his wife in sorrows and disappointments. He knows that she provides a comfort no one else can provide. He also provides comfort to her in her sorrows. Together they navigate the storms of this life by taking shelter in the comfort and support of one another.
  • A husband treats his wife with kindness and politeness. He speaks words of kindness and gratitude to her. His behavior is filled with deeds of kindness toward her.
  • A husband knows his wife. He listens intently to her words and actions to gain a better understanding of her interests, fears, and desires. Out of that knowledge, he adjusts his life to bring her greater happiness and security.
  • A husband has fun with his wife and family. He laughs with his wife. He enjoys playful interactions with his wife. He also knows when to stop a playful interaction because she is getting frustrated for whatever reason.

I hope my daughters have witnessed at least glimpses of these twelve traits in my marriage to their mother.  I pray that someday they will experience these twelve traits in their own marriage. I pray all our sons and daughters will one day experience the bliss of a truly healthy marriage. And, I know the answer to that prayer begins with you and me, their parents and the marriage we live in full view of their ever inquisitive eyes.

Hide-N-Seek with a Twist

What do you get when you cross hide-n-seek with a treasure hunt? A fun family activity entitled “Hide-N-Seek with a Twist.” (I know the title is not all that exciting, but the activity is a blast!) This family activity involves hiding, finding, and the treasure of affirmations. Here is how it works.

  1. male and female children playing hide and seekEach family member writes 2-4 affirmations (one sentence long) for each family member. You may have to help younger children with this step. Mom can help young children write for Dad and Dad can help them write for Mom. Keeps these affirmations a secret, a surprise. Affirmations may include statements like: “You are beautiful.” “I appreciate your helpfulness around the house.” “You’re effort in learning piano is really paying off. I love to listen to you.” “I appreciate your work with the children at church.” You get the idea.


  1. Each family member spends the evening hiding their affirmation notes. Be creative in your hiding places. Slip some into lunch boxes, school books, pack backs, purses, or briefcases. You can even hide some among the cereal, the silverware, in the car, or under their pillow. Be creative.


  1. Label an envelope for each family member. Pick a common area in your house and place each family member’s envelope in that area. You may choose to put the envelopes in front of each person’s dinner seat around the table…or on the refrigerator…or in the living room. Just be sure it is an area each family member frequents. And, be sure each family member has their own personal envelope.


  1. Over the next week, family members will find their affirmations as they go about their daily routine. Each time someone finds an affirmation, they read it, smile, bring it to the common area, and put it in their envelope.


  1. At the end of the week, gather your family in the common area and share affirmations with one another over some “gourmet hot chocolate” or homemade cookies. Tell family stories that exemplify the various affirmations. Enjoy one another’s company and encouragement.


I hope you enjoy this family fun night. And, as I often tell my family and friends…”have fun!”

Teach My Children What? And When?

Effective parents use verbal instructions as one method of teaching their children. To effectively teach our children, we have to answer two questions. First, what do we teach our children? Second, when do we teach our children? First things first–what do we teach our children? Here are 6 “what’s” that family shepherds teach their children.
     ·         Verbally explain the rules to your children. Even more, verbally explain the reasons behind the rules. To be most effective, keep the explanations brief, clear, and concise. Make sure the explanation is geared to your children’s developmental level. How you explain the rules to a 4-year-old will sound very different than how you explain the rules to your 16-year-old.

·         Tell your children the positive alternatives to any negative behavior you correct. Let them know what you want them to do as well as you do not want them to do. Do not lecture. Simple tell them the expected behavior.

·         Compliment good behavior when you see it. Affirm their positive character. In other words, “catch them being good.” Never underestimate the power of simply noticing and acknowledging what your child does right and well. Doing so teaches a powerful message–positive character and good behavior gets noticed and results in reward.

·         Encourage your children’s effort. A fulfilling life does not come through achievement and performance. A fulfilling life results from the investment of effort. Make sure your children know that you notice and appreciate their effort to do the right thing, to work toward goals, and to participate in managing the family home. Teach them that effort is much more significant than the perfect final product.

·         Tell your children about their family heritage. Giving children information about their ancestors can offer patterns to follow and patterns to avoid. A family heritage builds their family identity. It offers stories of inspiration and motivation. My children love to hear stories about my own mistakes as a child…and it helps them learn how to avoid those same mistakes. Sharing your family heritage is a great way to teach your children your family values.

·         Teach your children daily life skills like how to build friendships, how to treat a date, and how to problem-solve. These teaching moments will come up naturally when various “issues arise.” You and your child will encounters many opportunities to talk about topics like dealing with a difficult teacher, how to say “no,” how to manage time, or how to make up with a friend after a disagreement.
As you can imagine, teaching our children takes time…which leads to the second question: when can you teach your children? The short answer is “any chance you get.” The longer answer is that some moments present better teachable moments than others. You find those teachable moments by spending time with your children. In fact, some of the best opportunities to teach our children arise at the most unexpected moments. For instance:
     ·         Teach your children when you sit in the house. Talk about various ideas and lessons at the dinner table. Keep it light and enjoyable and you will make quite an impact. TV and movies also offer an excellent time to talk with your child about family values, the consequences of actions, or decision making as well as a host of other important topics. Do not lecture. Just enjoy a simple conversation. Share ideas. Let them disagree with you. Even when they disagree, they will begin to think about what you have said.

·         Teach your children “on the go.” Most parents drive their children all over town. You will find that driving in the car offers an excellent time to talk. Your children are “captive” as you drive. They do not have to make eye contact, adding a level of comfort. There is usually some background music from the radio, helping everyone relax. Sit back, drive, and wait…or ask a simple, benign question. Your child will soon begin to talk. Enjoy that time…listen, problem-solve, share, and teach.

·         Teach your children while relaxing in your home. One of the best times for teaching occurs at bedtime. Something about the night-time seems to open children up. They begin to talk about their day, their worries, and their joys. Let them stay up a few extra minutes when they start talking. Let them share their day with you. Listen for what excites them and brings them joy. Rejoice with them. Hear what concerns them and reassure them of your presence and help. Problem-solve, share, and teach.

·         Teach your children when you get up. Teach them how to start the day off on a positive note—to eat a good breakfast, to practice gratitude, and to anticipate the good that might come during the day. Encourage them to recall family values and traditions of kindness. Share ideas, schedules, and thoughts. Problem-solve any potential difficulties of the day. Listen. Teach.
We teach children so many important lessons throughout the day. Some lessons are very serious. Some have a great impact on their lives. Other lessons simply add to the joys and fun of life. Either way, your presence is crucial. Be present. Be attentive and available. Listen, share, and teach.

Six A’s of Parenting

Josh McDowell, in The Disconnected Generation, gives six ways to treat children that are crucial to effective parenting. These six points are not daily actions, but attitudes. They represent how we can effectively relate to our children; and, these points of relating become absolutely essential to raising emotionally and spiritually healthy children. I want to share these six attitudes with you because I believe they truly can make each of us a better parent.

     ·         Affirmation. Children need affirmation. They need parents who will rejoice with them when they rejoice and mourn with them when they mourn. Doing so validates their feelings and communicates that we value them. As parents we will find that listening to and understanding our children’s feelings allows us to connect with them. After we connect in this way, we are in a better position to address their concerns, teach values, and encourage appropriate decision making.

·         Acceptance. Children need to know that we accept them…unconditionally, just as they are. We accept our children based on who they are, not based on performance. Children feel secure when they know we accept them for who they are, not whether they perform well, succeed, or become like us. Ultimately, acceptance gives children a secure base from which they can explore the world.

·         Appreciation. Children blossom when they know their parents appreciate them. Parents can express appreciation for their children in private or in public, in written word or in spoken word, with physical gestures or a simple wink. When we appreciate our children, they gain a sense of significance and come to know that their efforts make a difference. Take note that acceptance needs to precede appreciation. In fact, appreciation without complete and unconditional acceptance is manipulation. So, practice accepting your children as they are…appreciate them for the “natural bent” of who they are. Also, make sure to appreciate their effort more than their accomplishments.

·         Affection. Children crave affection. Loving words and appropriate touch communicates affection to our children. It informs them that they are worth loving; that they are lovable. If parents do not provide loving words and affectionate touch, children will seek it elsewhere, often “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Demonstrate affection in your marriage as well as toward your children. The affection that children see modeled in your marriage gives them a sense of security in the family. It also sets an example of godly, loving affection they can emulate in their lives.

·         Availability. Children need parents who remain available to them—emotionally, mentally, and physically. When parents value their children enough to remain available to them, children gain a sense of importance. Remaining available to our children takes time. In fact, Josh McDowell notes that children spell love “T-I-M-E.” Show your children how much you love them by remaining available to talk with them, play with them, give them a hug, listen to them, or just “hang out” with them on a regular basis.   

·         Accountability. Parents also hold children accountable. By holding children accountable, we give them a sense of responsibility. We hold our children accountable for their actions and their words. We hold them accountable to completing tasks that support the family (chores). We hold them accountable to expectations and living by the values we cherish. At the same time, we balance rules with relationships. Rules and accountability without relationships leads to rebellion. Relationships without rules, on the other hand, lead to irresponsibility. Healthy accountability provides both rules and relationship.

As you practice these six A’s of parenting, you will find your children grow in maturity. They will become responsible young people who value other people’s opinions and rights as much as their own. You will have the joy of seeing them practice loving boundaries with themselves and others.

Growing the Family Pearls

Have you ever experienced failure? Whether large or small, we have all experienced failures. Know what I think is harder than failing myself? Watching one of my family members experience failure. I hate to watch wave of disappointment, sorrow, and discouragement wash across their face. Even more, it hurts to hear them talk as though they are a failure and will never experience success. What can we do to help our family cope with perceived failures? There are several ways to respond: offering support, teaching, helping distract, using denial, venting, blaming, disengaging, or even abusing substances. However, research suggests three strategies prove most effective in dealing successfully with perceived failures.
Before I tell you about these three strategies, let me offer a crucial reminder. You can best teach what you practice. You can teach these strategies to your family any time you like; however, your help will prove most effective if you practice these strategies yourself. So, as we describe these three strategies, think how you can implement them into your own life as well as into the climate of your family life.
     1.      Reframe the perceived failure in a positive light. Put the failure into perspective and keep the mole hill a mole hill…not a mountain. You can do this in a number of ways. Look for some positive aspect in the outcome. Make note of what has been achieved instead of ruminating on the failures and setbacks. Consider what this experience has taught you and how this can help move you toward your ultimate goal. This one “failure” has helped you learn and grow, become wiser and more knowledgeable, stronger and more persistent. Appreciate how your character grows through experiences of failure. Take note of how moments of failure produce more persistence, determination, integrity, and overall strength of character.
     2.      Accept yourself and your efforts as legitimate. Realize that this experience does not define you. It represents only one small moment of your life, one minute moment of your lifetime. This one failed experience can teach you what you need to know for future successful experiences. Either way, you are not defined by your successes or failures. You are defined by your response to those successes and failures—your character, your reputation, your integrity. Let everyday experiences, whether successes or failures, promote mature character…and let your character define you.
     3.      Use humor. Laughter tends to make things more bearable. Look for the humor in this experience. Do not take yourself too seriously; laugh at yourself from time to time. I realize that we cannot find humor in all experiences of failure. None the less, look for the humor when possible. Allow yourself to laugh.
Failure is like the grain of sand that the oyster fails to keep out of its shell. Once inside the shell, that grain of sand irritates the oyster. As a result of the constant irritation, the oyster begins to cover the irritant with the same substance used to make its shell. Eventually, the irritating grain of sand becomes a pearl. The oyster’s failure to keep an irritant out of its life ultimately results in a beautiful pearl. As we learn to reframe our failures in a positive light, to accept ourselves and our maturing character, and to enjoy the humor of our lives, we can change the life irritant of failure into a beautiful gem. And, we can help our family members do the same.

A Secret for Happy Family Relationships

We all want to experience satisfying relationships in our home. We dream of a marriage filled with romance and intimacy. We strive to have parent-child relationships that remain close through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood and even into our “grandparenting” years. The question is: how can we make this happen? Northwestern University recently published a study that reveals a secret that might help us build happy family relationships. The study asked individuals involved in romantic relationships how much their partners were trying to improve characteristics such as patience, understanding, or being a good listener…you know, relationship-oriented skills. Three months later, the same couples were asked to rate their partner’s level of improvement and their own feelings about the relationship. The answers revealed that people who believe their partner incapable of change tended to discount their efforts to improve. In addition, they became more dissatisfied with their relationship. To state the flip side of this, believing the best about our partner will help us appreciate his or her efforts to improve their relationship skills. Moreover, when we believe the best, we will grow more satisfied with our overall relationship. In fact, the author of the study (Daniel Molden) suggests that “a secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your partner can change, give him or her credit for making these types of efforts, and resist blaming him or her…” Although this study was conducted specifically with romantic couples, I believe the results may apply to family relationships in general.
So, the secret to building happy family relationships is to believe the best about your family members. Reminds me of a line from the famous love poem Paul wrote to the Corinthians. You remember the line–“love believes all things.”
     ·         Love believes that family members can change. There is no “but” or exceptions noted in the phrase “love believes all things.” Love believes in the other person. Love believes that our family members will grow and learn. They will make improvements, sometimes small and sometimes big. Over time, even the small improvements will add up to a “big change.” Love does not limit the possibilities of change or criticize small changes as “not being enough.” On the contrary, love opens up the potential for positive change and appreciates every miniscule step of positive growth.

·         Love believes family members have the best of intentions, even when they fall short. Sometimes a family member may do or say something that, at first blush, seems hurtful or neglectful. We may actually experience hurt in response to their actions or words. However, love believes that our family member did not act maliciously or with negative intent, even when it hurt. Perhaps they did not realize how much their actions would actually hurt. Perhaps they spoke more harshly than intended because they were tired, hungry, or irritated with some situation outside the home. Perhaps they did mean to arouse a negative feeling because they felt their relationship with you was threatened and, in a knee-jerk reaction, said something hurtful. But it was a misguided reaction, done in fear, with the true intent of pulling you back into a secure and intimate relationship. Underneath all the words and deeds is a yearning for mutual love, a seed of love waiting to be acknowledged and reciprocated. Love believes that underneath the hurtful remarks of family there is still a desire for intimacy, a longing for closeness that is seeking expression and can only find that satisfaction through intimate relationship. When we acknowledge that underlying intention, the underlying longing for closeness, we can experience a growing intimacy and satisfaction with our relationship.

·         Love believes that family members are putting forth a sincere effort to grow individually and in relationship. Love gives credit to family members for the effort they put forth. Love acknowledges and accepts even the most miniscule level of change as evidence of effort and growth. Even when a family member “tries” to change and fails, love praises that effort, appreciates that effort, and applauds that effort. Love leaves no stone unturned in the quest to recognize the other person’s effort to grow.

·         Love believes that our family deserves our best effort and our best character. When we love our family, we believe that they deserve the best of our time, not the leftovers. In love, we want to give them the best of our energy, not the dregs that remain after we exert our best energy on friends, hobbies, or work. Love also compels us to grow so we can offer our family the very best of our character. Love believes motivates us to become a person who elicits pride and admiration from our family.
Yes, love believes all things. To paraphrase the author of the Northwestern University study, “a secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your family members can change, give them credit for making these types of efforts, and resist blaming them for falling short.” When we replace fearful hesitation with intentional effort, skepticism with faith, doubt with trust, and unbelief with belief, family relationships grow more intimate and satisfying. Paul believed it when he told the Corinthians…I believe it as I read the Northwestern University Study…love always believes it!

Family Identity: You Get What You Give

I just finished reading a section of Compassion (Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison) in which the authors offered an interesting reflection on self-image. They believe that competition forms the basis of our self-image and motivation in our current society. Ask school officials, coaches, bosses, or media reporters what defines a person and they will likely say that “you are the difference you make.” We define ourselves by our differences, our distinctions…those things that others recognize and honor or reject and dislike; those things that make us different and distinct from others. Our self-image, in other words, is shaped by how we compare to others. Unfortunately, this also creates distance between people and competition among friends and family for recognition.
The authors go on to offer an alternative basis for self-image: compassion. When compassion forms our self-image, our identity becomes based on what we receive from others rather than how we compare to others. I like that idea. I think our identity is based on what we receive from others, especially what we receive from family. Consider what we receive from family and how it impacts our identity. On the one hand,
If we receive anger, we become angry and defensive.
If we receive ridicule, we become sarcastic and rude.
If we receive conditional acceptance, we become competitive and insecure.
If we receive constant comparisons, we become competitive and jealous.
If we receive harsh treatment, we become harsh.
If we receive inconsistent attention, we become attention seeking.
If we receive disrespect, we become disrespectful.
If we receive everything we want, we become entitled.
On the other hand,
If we receive love, we become lovable.
If we receive grace, we become gracious.
If we receive encouragement, we become encouragers.
If we receive unconditional acceptance, we become accepting and secure.
If we receive loving praise, we become persistent.
If we receive support, we become supportive.
If we receive empathy, we become empathetic.
If we receive respect, we become respectful.
If we receive loving discipline, we become self-disciplined.
That leads to a very important question: what does your family receive from you? After all, what they receive, they become.
« Older Entries