Thursday, May 26, 2016

Five Incredible Books To Read This Summer

There are few things more advantageous or more enjoyable than a good book. When faced with the infinite selection of books available, and the very finite time we all have to read, how you choose what to read is very important. My favorite way to choose a good book is based upon someone else’s recommendation. I have benefited from many book suggestions over the years, and in an effort to pay it forward, I have decided to offer up some suggestions myself. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have! Also, if you have any recommendations of your own, I would love to hear them! Here are five great books to check out this summer:

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

After hearing Duhigg speak at a conference a couple of years ago, I picked up his first book, The Power of Habit. I really enjoyed it, and was therefore excited to check out his latest offering. Smarter Faster Better is packed full of anecdotal stories to help the reader grasp the ins and outs of creativity and productivity.  The style of writing is reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell, and keeps the reader engaged.  Also, at the end of the book Duhigg includes a great section that helps with practical application going forward.

A Camaraderie of Confidence by John Piper

I’ve loved many of John Piper’s books over the years. They are deep and packed with great theology. My favorite of his works are a series of books that are less dense and much easier to read. His series entitled, The Swans Are Not Silent, is a collection of biographies of Christians from various times in history. They have included people like John Bunyan, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther, Augustine, and C.S. Lewis. The newest book in the collection contains biographies of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and missionary Hudson Taylor. These books are amazing devotional reading. They have each inspired me greatly, and I believe they will be encouraging to you as well.

Living Forward: A Proven Plan To Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

I really enjoy Michael Hyatt’s podcast and his recently released book has been incredibly beneficial as well. It’s a brief book, but it’s packed with great insight and practical tools that will help you live a more deliberate and significant life. By gaining clarity on your relationships, goals, and dreams, you will be able to more easily seek the life you want, and impact the people you care about most.

Tales of Accidental Genius: Stories by Simon Van Booy

Few writers today possess the gift for words that Simon Van Booy possesses. In this collection of short stories, you will find joy, heartbreak, and renewed hope. If you are not used to the short story format, it might take a bit of getting used to. The prose is beautiful and the stories are touching. I have yet to read a book by Van Booy that I have not loved.

 The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

This book is a bit different from the rest. It is not meant to be read from cover to cover. Tickle has collected readings and prayers to help as you "pray the hours". The keeping of Divine Hours is a spiritual discipline that incorporates prayer at several intervals during the day. The book offers prayers for each part of each day during the summer. This book has revolutionized my prayer life more than anything else I've tried. It's an amazing resource and well worth your time!

I hope you enjoy these books, and don’t forget to leave any suggestions about great books that you are reading!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How To Know If You've Become An Enabler (And What To Do About It)

Being an enabler (or engaging in codependent behavior) is an easy relational trap to fall into. We love the people in our relationships and we want the best for them. Sometimes we want good things for them even more than they want them for themselves. That’s when things can become unhealthy. When we enable others, we assume an unhealthy amount of responsibility for their life, which allows them to become more and more irresponsible. It is a broken way to relate to people, and often ends in pain for both parties. Here are some signs that could indicate that you are becoming an enabler:

You Are Doing Things That They Could Do Themselves

This doesn’t include cleaning the bathroom for your spouse once in a while, or doing the dishes when it’s not your night. Unexpectedly doing things for others is a great way to show them that we care for them. When we consistently do the chores and tasks of others, we have begun to act in codependent ways. People need to carry their share of the responsibility in a relationship, if they don’t, they will become unhealthy. When you refuse to allow others to carry their load, you are not making the relationship stronger, you are damaging it. If your child has a paper due tomorrow, let them do it! It’s better for them to get a “D” on their own, or with some help from you, than it is to get an “A” because you wrote it for them.

You Are Only Happy If They Are Happy

We all want the people we love to be happy, but no one is happy all of the time. Some days are tough. Sometimes we get sad or angry. It’s all part of being human, and its ok. Wanting others to be happy and needing them to be happy are two very different things. If you can’t be happy when your child is angry at you, or if your friend is not talking to you, then you are in an unhealthy place. When you depend on the positive reactions of others to feel good about yourself, you will very rarely feel good about yourself. Each person in a relationship has to be responsible for their own choices and emotions.

Once you see some of these traits sneaking in to your relationships, you need to take action to set things right. Take a second to remind yourself that you don’t have the power to change other people. They alone own the key to their change. You can help people and you can love people, but you can’t make them successful, and you can’t make them love you back. The fact that you love the people in your life through their ups and downs is more important than trying to protect them from having any downs at all. Hang in there, healthy relationships aren't always easy, but they are always worth the effort!

Monday, May 16, 2016

How Questions Can Make Your Relationships Stronger

Companies can operate by force, with bosses barking orders and employees scurrying to do anything they can to please. Many teams are governed by force, with coaches or star players making demands. True relationships are must more intricate, however. Relationships can't survive for long in the midst of coercion, manipulation, or power struggles. That is why honest questions can do so much to make our relationships stronger. Noting the importance of questions, Athol Dickson once wrote, “I have learned that sometimes asking questions is a way to demonstrate humility, because inherent in the question is the assumption that I do not have the answer; God does.1” The humility we show when we ask questions makes our relationships with God and with other people stronger. Here are some of the ways that questions add value to your relationships:

They Give Freedom

When you take the time to ask someone for their opinion or for their perspective on things, you are giving them the freedom to have and express thoughts of their own. Life is easier when everyone shares your opinion, but that rarely happens. The next best thing to agreement is honesty. When you give someone the freedom to be honest, your relationship can grow stronger, even if you disagree.   

They Educate

You think that all of your opinions are the correct ones. Of course you do, or you wouldn’t have those opinions! There’s nothing wrong with believing you are right. Everyone does. The problem comes when you believe that you could never be wrong. We are all wrong sometimes. Asking questions to our kids, spouse, or co-workers gives us a chance to see things that we haven’t seen. We can learn new things and form new opinions that are healthier and stronger. Asking a good question and then honestly listening to its answer helps us grow.

They Add Value

When you ask someone a question you are implicitly saying, “you are a person of value, and I believe that you can add value to my life”. It’s easy to assume we have all of the answers, and to feel that stopping to ask questions is a waste of time. That assumption, however, weakens our relationships. When we ask honest questions, even of our youngest children, we are reminding others that they see things we can’t see, and have ideas that we don’t possess. It reminds others that we are better together than we are apart, and that they are important to us. 

Asking questions reminds us that we don't have all of the answers, and that we were made to live life with others. If you haven't taken the time to ask some honest questions to those around you in a while, make a point of doing it today, you'll be glad you did.  

1 - The Gospel According to Moses by Athol Dickson (pp.21)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Most Encouraging Gift You Can Give To The People You Love

Love does not despair of the future. Following upon what has just been said, this phrase speaks of the hope of one who knows that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential. This does not mean that everything will change in this life. It does involve realizing that, though things may not always turn out as we wish, God may well make crooked lines straight and draw some good from the evil we endure in this world.1
                                                                                                -Pope Francis

The passage above is from Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia in which he talked, among other things, about the nature of love in families. We all say that we love our families and closest friends. None of us are perfect in our practice of that love. Sometimes we can even appear very unloving to those that we care about most. One way to practice love for those that you care most about is to commit to believe the best of them.

I believe that everyone wants the best for those they love. But there’s a big difference between wanting the best for them and believing the best of them.  Believing the best of someone doesn’t mean pretending that they never fail or that they never have bad motives. We all fail, and we all have ugly motives at times. Choosing to believe the best about someone means that even during those ugly and broken times we come alongside them and remind them of the good future that we still believe is ahead for them. It’s difficult to maintain this sort of commitment to others, but it can be incredibly encouraging for those we love. Here are a couple of things that might be keeping you from believing the best of the people you love:

A Broken Understanding of Growth

I’ve failed so many times with this one. At some point during my life I came to believe that growth occurs when you find the bad parts of you and your performance and eliminate them. Once you’ve eliminated one thing, you tackle the next. So, when I wanted growth and good things for my daughter, I would point out the things that weren’t working, the parts of her performance that she could improve, or the grades that needed to be pulled up.  What I’ve come to realize is that we can always find broken things inside of us to correct. It’s a never ending process. This process applied to my own life led to several months of burnout. The result of always working on your faults is that you are always focused on your faults. It’s impossible to stay positive or motivated when your thoughts are constantly focused on negative things.  While growth is about correcting things that need to be corrected, it’s also about affirming the good. I’ve found that for every correction we need at least ten affirmations of good to be healthy in our growth.

Our Past Hurts

Our past hurts or bad experiences can also make it hard to believe the best of those we love. Instead of trusting others, we become suspicious of them. We assume that they will hurt us or let us down in the same way that others did in the past. Our tendency toward self-preservation keeps our guard up continually and makes it hard to see through the bad and still believe the best of others.
Many of us have spent years of our lives, trying to believe the best of everyone. While this sounds like an admirable approach to life, it’s actually quite dangerous. Blindly believing the best of those who have proven to be toxic or dangerous isn’t loving, it’s reckless. If someone is relationally toxic, they may even attempt to manipulate you by using your good nature against you. Believing the best of others requires a great deal of time and emotional energy. That energy is best spent on the small group of people that you are most committed to, or that have proven trustworthy in the past.

To believe that the people you love “can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential ” is an incredible gift. Knowing that others believe in us motivates and encourages us in ways that few things can. So, choose wisely those you love, and love fully those you choose. 

1 - Amoris Laetitia of the Holy Father Francis (115)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Why Saying "I'm Sorry" Isn't Working Anymore: How To Apologize In A Relational Way

I grew up in a small town in the mountains of western North Carolina. Every home town has its own unique set of rules that seem to be relatively constant throughout the area. In the hometown (and the south in general), we were taught to say, “I’m sorry”. If we had done something wrong, or if anyone thought we had done something wrong, we knew what to say. We said it whether we were sorry or not. We said it because we knew choking out, “I’m sorry” now was better than dealing with mom or dad when we got home.   

I’ve noticed that as adults many of us haven’t gotten any better with our forced apologies. Many times people do or say hurtful things and then toss out an “I’m sorry”, as if it will make everything better. Some people believe that the words “I’m sorry” are magical words that take away all of the consequences of their behavior. Nobody likes to hurt someone or make a mistake. When we realize that we have, we want to get past it as quickly as possible. As painful as it may be, however,  a quick “I’m sorry” just isn’t enough. Here are a couple of things to remember that will allow you to relate in a better way when you’ve hurt someone:

Explain Why You're Sorry

I’m sorry or I apologize is the only the beginning of a what needs to be a longer sentence. If you’ve messed up, take some time and own what you’ve done. Be clear about what it is you are apologizing for. If you aren’t sure what you’ve done, don’t just say “I’m sorry” to get the tension to go away. Ask what you’ve done, and if it was wrong, apologize for it. Also, take a second and think about how your words or actions have affected the person you have wronged. When someone believes that you understand how they feel, they are more likely to forgive you and move forward in the relationship.

Make a Visible Change

Words are good. Actions are better. If you have hurt someone, as much as you are able, take action to set things right. We won’t always be able to make things right, but when we can we should try. Also, once you’ve apologized for something, you should work hard to avoid repeating that behavior. Saying, “I’m sorry” only to repeat what you did over and over is pointless. If there is nothing that you feel you need to change, you probably shouldn’t be apologizing. Which brings us to the third point:

If You Aren’t Sorry, Don’t Apologize

Apologizing isn’t a tool to make conflict go away. It is a way of saying what is or is not acceptable in your relationship. If your spouse doesn’t like how loudly you play your music, but you see no problem with it, don’t apologize just to end the tension. If you apologize you are saying that playing your music loudly is wrong and that you don’t plan to do it again, which is not what you are saying. You are saying, “I want you to stop being mad, and I plan to play my music again when you are not so mad.” Having those hard conversations about what we feel is acceptable and what is not in our relationships is one of the things that make relationships strong. So don’t avoid it! 

Having the courage to own what we've done and apologize is an impressive relationship skill. It's more than saying "I'm sorry". As hard as it is, owning what we've done wrong can strengthen our relationships. So, be sorry if you must but be honest no matter what. Your relationships will grow because of it!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

3 Things That Are Keeping You From Saying "No" (and what you can do about it)

One thing all people who are relationally healthy have in common is the ability to say “no”. Most people struggle with using “no” in a healthy way. Three of the primary reasons people avoid saying “no” are:

            1)We don’t want to disappoint anyone
I was once given the following piece of advice: If someone asks you to do something at work, always say yes, you can always figure out how to get it done later. At first glance it would seem that being the person who always finds a way to get everything done is a great way to advance in your company. The reality, however, is that it’s impossible to always get everything done. The more we add to our plate, the more likely we are to not complete our assignments or to do them poorly.  Nobody wants to let down their boss or organization, but saying that you can do everything when you can’t won’t endear you to your company. Everyone has expectations of you. Their expectations are not your problem. Have clear, ambitious, and realistic expectations of yourself. If people are not satisfied with that, nothing you can do will ever satisfy them.

            2)We don’t want to make anyone angry
If you have someone in your life that manipulates others with their anger, then you have experienced this one. It’s easy to believe that if you do your job well, no one will ever get angry at you. While that would be a nice world to live in, it doesn’t exist. People get angry for hundreds of reasons. While it’s not fun to deal with some else’s anger, it’s dangerous to change your behavior to try to avoid it. You don’t have the power to make people angry. They choose whether to get angry or not. Sometimes their anger is justified, sometimes it’s not. Either way, changing yourself in an attempt to pacify others is a bad decision.

            3)We don’t really know ourselves
Another reason we avoid saying “no” is that we don’t really know what we want. If you don’t have clear opinions about which direction you are going in life, then you are likely to defer to others who seem more confident. It’s ok to not have all of the answers, but it’s not ok to place the direction of your life in the hands of other people. Take some time to review where you are right now in life and where you want to go. It may take a few hours to think through, or you may need to get away for a couple of days. The more clear you are about your life direction, the better able you will be to say “no” when it is needed.

Monday, April 25, 2016

How To Find Peace When Your Mind Won't Stay Still

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

My mind rarely stays on anything for very long. I am a proud member of the A.D.H.D. generation. We don’t just watch TV. We download songs, Tweet, and carry on a conversation while we watch TV. We have thousands of steams of information at our finger tips every minute of the day, and for many people (me included), those options are just too tempting to ignore. We have developed incredible abilities to multi-task, but are horribly regressed when it comes to focusing.

The prophet Isaiah in his writings stated that our peace is contingent on our ability to keep our mind in one place, with God. That means that we are mindful of what God would think of our situation. Who would God talk to here? What does He want me to see? How would God have me handle this? If you are anything like me then the task of focusing your thoughts seems like an incredible challenge.  How can we get to the place where our minds are more consistently “stayed on God”?

Master the art of returning

Keeping our mind perfectly focused on God and the things He would have us think about is impossible. Rather than trying, failing, and giving up, we need to master the art of returning. Once we realize that our mind is travelling down roads that are not good, we don’t need to panic. It doesn’t mean that we have completely blown it, or that we will never get it right.  Instead of beating yourself up or giving up, just take your mind back to where you want it to be. The goal is to simply bounce our thoughts back to where we want them to be without punishing ourselves for allowing them to become distracted in first place The more you practice the task of returning your thoughts to God, the better you will be at it.

Accept that you can’t know/see/do it all

One of the reasons we struggle to keep our minds in one place is that we are afraid that we will miss something. We want to see everything out there and know everything we can possibly know about everything. There seems to be a thousand things worthy of our attention, and more often than not, we just split our attention between them. By dividing our attention between everything, we are unable to  focus on anything. We have to admit to ourselves that we can not see it all. We can’t do it all, and we can’t know everything there is to know. Once we have admitted our human limitations, we are free to decide where we would most like to spend our mental energy. When we choose where to place our focus, we take control of our thought lives.

Create pockets of distraction-free space

One of the best ways to regain your ability to focus is to create pockets of time that are free from distraction. Shut off your phone. Turn off the TV and any music that may be playing. Get away from other people, and allow you mind some moments of peace. It doesn’t have to be an incredibly long period of time, just a bit of time away will make a difference. Our minds need a break, other than when we sleep.  A bit of mental rest will allow you to more clearly place your focus where you would like for it to be.

God does not scream in our ears, demanding our attention. His offer of peace is an invitation, one that we are free to accept or reject. If we trust him with our thoughts we will find that He loves us and is for us.  With a little practice you can learn to enjoy the peace that God offers.  

1- Isaiah 26: 3 (ESV)