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)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Is Your Past Controlling Your Present?

I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I stepped in the batter’s box, there were two outs and I had two strikes on me. We were in the state playoffs, playing a team we had beaten twice earlier in the year. My only advice from coach was to lay off the curveballs that dipped low and out of the strike zone. It was good advice, because I had a weakness for curveballs that drifted low and away. It seems the pitcher knew that as well. The next pitch? A curve ball, low and away.  I swung the bat with every ounce of strength I had and missed the ball by a mile. The coach (deservedly) let me have it as I trotted back to the dugout.

That was several years ago. It wasn’t a life changing mistake. But I can still feel embarrassed when I think about it. It’s amazing how much power the past can still have in our lives. I’ll bet that if you thought about it for a second, you could call up three or four things from your past that still cause you to cringe. We all have things in our past that we aren’t proud of. Most of those things don’t affect our present or threaten our future. For many of us, however, there are past events that are still doing very real damage to us. How can you tell if something from your past is controlling your present and threatening your future?

If You Can’t Talk About It

Some things are so painful that they are difficult to talk about. That’s dangerous, because processing what happened is a key component to healing and moving on. You don’t need to talk about what happened to everyone, but you do need to be able to talk to someone. If the memory is especially painful or if you are confused about what it meant, then talking to a trained professional is a good idea. Refusing to talk about it is not an option.

If You Can’t Stop Talking About It

If you can’t stop talking about how horribly you were treated by your friend when you were 15, you probably have not resolved whatever happened. Our brains are magnificent machines (made by a magnificent Creator), and they will continue to bring the information that we haven’t fully processed back to our attention. If there is something from your past that you can’t stop talking about, then you may need to seek a greater resolution to whatever it was that happened.

Your Emotions Don’t Match Your Circumstances

Holding painful memories from our past under the surface is difficult. A friend once likened it to trying to hold beach balls under water at the pool. You might be able to keep one or two submerged, but any more than that, and they will all eventually pop to the surface. When you are trying to keep issues from your past buried inside, often it registers on an emotional level. You may be emotionally numb and unable to feel the normal highs and lows of life. For others, their emotions are much more explosive than you would expect given the circumstances they find themselves in. If you are trying to keep something stuffed down inside from your past, and the effort is affecting you emotionally, you may need to have a closer look at what you are hiding from.

We can gain great strength from our past. Successes and even challenges that we have endured and overcome can make us stronger. Unfortunately, our past can also cause us pain in our present. If you have things in your past that are preventing you from enjoying your present, make time to talk with someone about it. Whether it’s a counselor, a friend, or a minister, getting the words out can make a huge difference. You future is too valuable to be held hostage by your past. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

The One Question We All Must Face

I’ve talked to hundreds of people who were hoping to save or repair a relationship in their life. I’ve talked with parents who were struggling with their children, and husbands and wives who were struggling with each other. I’ve comforted the heartbroken and sought to calm the enraged. Some people were struggling with just one person, others felt that they had alienated everyone around them. While every relationship is different and has its own unique challenges, relationships are also similar in many ways. There is one question that every relationship faces at some point. It’s the one thing that anyone who is seeking healing in a relationship must ask themselves. That question is, “Am I Willing To Change?”. This is the most important question you can ask for several reasons:

You Are Not 100% Right

You’ve probably already come to realize this, but you are not perfect. I know, I was crushed when I found out as well. We all fail from time to time. We all misunderstand. We all act too quickly at times and too slowly at others. Even if the person you are relating to is totally wrong, it doesn't mean that you don't have room to grow as well. Since we are all imperfect, we all have the opportunity to grow and learn something new. So, if you are open to change, you always have the possibility of growth in front of you. No change = no growth.

You Are The Only Person You Can Change

As much as you may hope that your patience and understanding will one day break through to your spouse, the truth is you have no real power to change him. You can be great, and she can still choose to treat your poorly. You can parent perfectly and still have your child make disastrous decisions. If you put all of your hopes on being able to change the person you are relating to, you will end up discouraged and defeated. Instead, you must be open to whatever change may be the most healthy for you. You must be honest about the person you care for, but you must focus the bulk of your energy on your own growth.

Your Change Can Be Inspiring

While your growth may inspire your friend to examine themselves more closely, there is no guarantee that they will actually make any changes. What is guaranteed is that every time someone finds the courage to examine themselves and make changes, it is inspiring others. It may inspire others around you that you aren’t even aware are noticing. People who have the courage to change can inspire others who may also want to change. Not only that, but your ability to change will give you more confidence when new you face new challenges in the future.

Are you willing to change? Change isn’t easy and it can be quite scary, but growth is impossible without change. When you are willing to focus on your own strengths and weaknesses,  you can make the sort of changes that make you stronger, and when you are stronger, you will have more consistently stronger relationships!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How To See The Danger You Can't See: 3 Ways To Deal With The Blindspots In Your Life

I love quotes. I love it when someone is able to package words together in a memorable and insightful way. It’s not an easy task. Most of us throw out thousands of words a day, and few of them seem to stick. I stumbled upon a quote recently that stopped me in my tracks.

                “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”1

The quote is from the mid 900’s BC by the Jewish King, Solomon. Even though the quote is approximately 3000 years old, it is still incredibly powerful. We have the power to convince ourselves that we are right even when we are dead wrong. I bet you’ve got examples of this from your own life, I know I do. There are moments from my past that still cause me to cringe when I look back. At the time, however, I had convinced myself that I was right, or that what I was about to do or say didn’t really matter that much. Our ability to deceive ourselves is incredibly dangerous.

The second half of Solomon’s proverb describes how to deal with our powers of self-delusion. “A wise man listens to advice”. So, how can we embrace the wisdom of this thought and protect ourselves from being blindsided by bad decisions?

Seek Advice From Experienced Sources

Most of us have a consistent pool of people that we share our lives with. Most often, these people are a lot like us. They may have kids our age. They live the same neighborhoods, or attend a lot of the same activities. It’s natural to limit ourselves to the advice and insight of people in our peer group. The problem can be that those in our peer group are often limited by the same things that limit us. They are asking the same questions and facing the same challenges. It’s always a good idea to seek out someone a bit older who has had life experiences that you haven’t had yet. Find someone who has been in your business for 20 years longer than you have. If you have children, find someone with grandchildren. Experience is a powerful teacher, and if you can learn from someone else's experiences, you will save yourself a ton of grief and frustration.

Seek Advice Close To Home

Even though we don’t want to limit ourselves to our peer group when looking for advice, we definitely want to take advantage of what they have to offer.  If you are a software designer, there are things only another software designer can teach you. If you are a stay at home mom, there are challenges that you face that only another stay at home mom can fully appreciate.

Clearly Ask For What You Want

Once you’ve found someone that may have wisdom that could help you, you will need to give that person permission to speak into your life. Many people are hesitant to share their thoughts and advice with others. No one wants to seem pushy or intrusive. If you really want to know what someone thinks about something, ask them directly. When they do share with you, make sure you receive what they say with grace and gratitude, even if what they share is tough to swallow! Sometimes the advice we need the most can make us uncomfortable. If you are gracious when others share with you, they will be more likely to share with you in the future.

We can all fool ourselves into thinking that we are right about everything going on in our lives. So, it’s important to have trusted sources of advice and wisdom that we can tap into. There are likely people already around you who can offer wisdom that would make your life better. Look for them and invite them into your life. You will be glad you did!

1 - Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Telling Yourself "No" Can Make All Of The Difference

For most of us, our childhood and adolescent years were built on trying to get people to tell us “yes”. As children we heard “no” a lot. While it wasn’t our favorite answer, it wasn’t a bad thing.  A healthy childhood is built on hearing “no” from teachers, coaches, and parents.

“No, you can’t eat paste.”

“No, you can’t bring that stray cat into the house.”

“No, if you don’t come to practice you won’t play in the game.”

When faced with “no”, we tried harder, argued more forcefully, and became more sneaky. We were desperate to turn the “no’s” we were hearing to “yeses”.

Then all of a sudden, high school ended. You headed to college or off to a job, and there were fewer people there to tell us “no” than there were before. Your job tells you, “no, if you aren’t on time or don’t perform on your job, you might be fired”. But, there is no longer anyone there telling you that you can’t stay up until 2 a.m. We can do pretty much whatever we want to do, and many of us do. We soon learn though, that the results of over indulging on our new found freedom can have some pretty tough consequences.  When life stops telling you “no” all of the time, your success depends on learning to tell yourself “no” at the right time.

More than any other skill, the ability to tell yourself “no” sets the stage for success as an adult. Adulthood reminds us that just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should. Is your inability to tell yourself “no” making your life difficult? Here are three tips that may help:

Insert a pause

There’s a time and place for making quick decisions. That time isn’t every time, and that place isn’t everywhere. Few people like telling themselves “no”, so if you act based on what you feel in the moment, you are likely to give into things that you know aren’t great for you. If, however, you can find a few minutes or hours to slow down and think things through, you are much more likely to come to an answer that best reflects your core values.

Don’t forget “future you”

It’s easy to restrict our thoughts to the here and now, to think only of what we feel now, think now, and want now. But “future you” (that’s you in 5 to 10 years) matters too. Something that doesn’t seem like a big deal now could really cause problems for future you. Take some time to imagine what you would like life to be like in 5 to 10 years. What sort of skills would you like to have developed by then? What sort of relationships would you like to have? What sort of activities will you want to be involved with? Then ask yourself if your present decisions are taking you to your preferred future.

Enlist some help

Life without the input and encouragement of others is hard. When you have people around you who value the things you value, you have an amazing resource. You can learn from their successes and their struggles. You can ask them when you aren’t sure about decisions you have to make. You are more likely to tell yourself “no” at the right time, when you are surrounded by people who will support your decision.

Telling ourselves “no” isn’t easy, but it’s an important skill for all growing adults to have. Like every other life skill that is desirable, this one gets better with practice. So, begin to tell yourself “no”. It might not be easy at first, but it will be well worth it. You and “future you” will be glad you did. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Are Your Relational Investments Giving You Good Returns?

I have a few small financial investments to help provide for retirement. Like most people who have had money invested over the past few years, those quarterly statements have not been pretty. There is nothing worse than getting a bad return on what you have invested. People who are experienced with the stock market know that it’s crucial to find someone who knows how much to invest and where to invest it. The same is true in our relationships. You invest time, energy, and resources into every relationship you have. If you invest wisely, you will have healthy and enjoyable relationships. If you invest poorly, your relationships will suffer. So, how can you know if you are investing wisely in your relationships?  Start by asking yourself these questions:

Am I investing heavily in my “onlys”?

I am my daughter’s only Dad, and my wife’s only husband (thank goodness). No one will invest in my daughter as her father if I don’t. If I fail to give her the time and attention she needs, she will suffer. The same goes for my wife. Since I am the only husband she has, she needs me to invest as a husband should. Your “onlys” are your most important relationships. It’s easy to overlook those closest to us, and assume that they are fine. But, if you don’t prioritize your “onlys”, those relationships will suffer, and so will you.

Am I investing based on need or priority?

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, the old saying goes, and it’s true. Many times we invest our time and energy in people that are the most demanding. It may be work or a needy friend. It’s not wise to rely on other people to determine how we invest our relational energy. You have to be the one to choose where and how much you invest. Which relationships do you have that are the most important to you? Are there people that you care about that are going through a difficult time and therefore need more of you now than usual? You need to be the one to decide who gets your time and attention.

Am I overestimating how much I have to invest?

You are limited. You have limited hours. You have limited energy. That means you have a limited amount that you can invest in relationships. If you don’t choose where to invest, you limits will choose for you. How many people get to the weekend and finally have time with their family, only to have nothing left to give? It’s easy to overestimate how much time and energy you have available to you.  Be honest with yourself about how much energy and time you have so you can make a deliberate choice about how to invest them wisely.

Wise relational investments will give you the best returns of all. They will give your life stability and meaning. Take some time and evaluate your investments today.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Danger Of Needing Your Relationships Too Much

If you need your relationships to make you ok, you’ll never be ok.

In a previous blog post, I talked about the dangers of giving too much in relationships. While being too giving in relationships is dangerous, being too needy is a problem as well. We all know someone who defines themselves by their relationships, and most of us have done it ourselves at times. When the relationship is going well, life is going well. The skies are blue, the birds are singing, and everything is perfect! When the relationship breaks down however, life breaks down. It’s hard to get out of bed, and everything seems gray. It’s normal to be down when a relationship fails, it’s not healthy to feel as if you have nothing valuable left in your life.

There are some things you can only do for yourself.

It’s easy when you care deeply about someone to think very highly of their opinion. You admire that person or you wouldn’t be dating them or be their friend. The danger comes when you defer all of your thoughts and decisions to that person. Even if you think they are really smart, you shouldn’t share all of the same opinions. You need to be able to think for yourself. There are parts of you that won’t grow unless you take time to think through things for yourself. So, don't just adopt the viewpoints of others.

If you need someone for everything, you will eventually blame someone for everything.

When you go along with what your friends decide in situations instead of thinking things through and deciding for yourself, you will also blame your friends when those decisions go wrong. It’s a toxic cycle. In life, we are guaranteed to make mistakes. If we are humble, we can grow from those bad decisions. If you depend on others to make decisions for you, you will never learn by making the normal mistakes that the rest of us make. Few things hinder growth more than blaming others for the things that aren’t working in your life.

If you define yourself by them, you’ll never find you.

You matter. You have unique insights. You are a combination of talents and experiences that is unlike anyone else. When you live off of the approval of your friends or family, however, you will slowly stop being you, and start trying to be the person they think you should be. It’s important to listen to and learn from the people around us. That doesn’t mean that we should mindlessly become what others want us to be. The two most dangerous people in the world are those who listen to and follow every voice they hear and those who refuse to listen to or follow any voice.

Relationships are wonderful and life-giving, but you can only fully enjoy them, if you learn to be yourself first. If you are not happy with who you are before you have a relationship, you will never be happy with yourself in a relationship. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Can Giving Too Much Damage Your Relationships?

Almost everyone would agree that relationships are a key component to a full and enjoyable life. As a result, we all do our best to establish and maintain relationships. Relationships can be tough, however, and often we end up in a broken relationship that causes more pain than joy. But we know that we can’t live without relationships, in fact the equation is pretty simple:

 Better relationships = Better life

So, how can we grow in our ability to relate to others? Sometimes it all starts with asking the right questions.  One of the most important questions you have to ask yourself if you want to have healthy relationships is, “Am I giving too much?”

It sounds like a ridiculous question, doesn’t it? I mean, aren’t you always supposed to give to others?  Don’t people who give more have better relationships? The answer to that last question depends. Take for instance, antibiotics. We are privileged to live in a world with easy access to antibiotics. We have the ability to endure and survive illnesses that killed countless people just a hundred years ago. As good as antibiotics are however, they can still be misused. If you take antibiotics when they are not needed, they can attack beneficial bacteria in your body. It’s also possible for bacteria to build up a resistance to antibiotics which could lead to trouble down the road.

Giving in a relationship is crucial to its success. But giving too much or at the wrong time can have disastrous effects. Healthy relationships include both giving and taking. Here are just a few of the things that can happen when you give too much in a relationship:

You Lose The Enjoyment of Receiving

It’s enjoyable to have someone give your their time, affection, or even a listening ear. When you insist on always giving, you block other people’s ability to give and thereby your chance to receive good things. Many people who have been hurt by others who didn’t care well for them often use giving as a way to avoid disappointment and hurt. While it’s possible for people to let you down and not care for you, you almost guarantee relational emptiness when you refuse to do anything but give in a relationship.

You Could Be Blocking Someone Else’s Growth

Like I said in the previous point, when you give all of the time, you block other people’s ability to give. Learning to sacrifice your time and other things for the good of others is a key component of personal growth. When you always give, you could be impairing your friend, child, or co-worker's growth. Many people become angry after years of giving when they realize what an immature and selfish person they have as a friend or spouse. It’s possibly that they may have contributed to that lack of health, by never giving them an opportunity to give and grow.

You Could Be Affecting People Outside of Your Relationship

Even when you are not aware of it people are learning from your example. Giving all of the time can look good to those watching you. You may look selfless and caring, and others will want to emulate that. When that happens they will begin to reap all of the consequences of unhealthy relationships as well. Let people know that all humans need to both give and receive, not just by telling them, but by showing them.

Being a giving person is an admirable trait, but when it’s overused it can lead to relational misery. Be honest with yourself about some of the relationships you are in. Are you the only one giving? Is it possible that you are giving too much? If you are, take a deep breath, and step back a bit. Remember, a healthy balance will lead to a more healthy relationship. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

When Doubt Makes You Stronger

Ivy Baker Priest served as the Treasurer of the United States under Dwight D. Eisenhower and as Treasurer for the state of California under Ronald Reagan. She was credited with saying, “I’m often wrong, but never in doubt”.  It’s a funny comment, that I’ve heard others use, but it also has a ring of truth to it. For many people having doubt (or at least expressing doubt) is unacceptable. This attitude is especially prevalent in many churches, where doubt is treated as a lack of faith or the mark of an immature Christian. Not only is this sentiment wrong, it’s dangerous. Here are three important things to know about doubt:

Every thinking person has doubts

It’s impossible to think deeply about things without having doubts. Doubting and questioning things is how we test their strength and more important, it’s how we take ownership of belief ourselves. Everyone has doubts. Not everyone expresses them. What many churches are unintentionally telling people when they warn against doubt is “don’t think too deeply about it” or “if you do think about it and have doubts, hide them”. Neither of those paths leads to growth. Honesty and humility are the beginnings of growth.

Doubt fuels faith

Doubt doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has no faith. Doubt can actually fuel a growing faith. When we doubt, we ask questions. If we can ask honest questions and seek out honest answers, our faith will grow. We don’t have to be afraid of questioning God. In fact, the writer of Hebrews stated, “(God) rewards those who earnestly seek him.”1 Doubt can turn to seeking. It doesn’t mean that you are failing, it may simply be an opportunity to think more deeply and search more passionately.

Honesty is more important than certainty

I get nervous when someone tells me that they have all of the answers. When this comment is made in reference to God, it’s especially terrifying. God is bigger than we could possibly imagine. Our brains can’t possibly wrap all the way around all there is of Him. Learning more about God most often creates humility instead of certainty. There are things to be certain of: God’s love, perfection, care, etc…  But, one of the most important things we can be certain of is that we don’t know it all. Doubt can be the start of seeking new answers and new growth.

Doubt isn’t to be feared. It doesn’t mean that everything you have believed is false, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t love God. It simply means that you are thinking and open to whatever God may choose to show you next. So don’t run from your doubts. Take them to God. Share them with friends who care for you. It may be the start of something incredible.

1 Hebrews 11:6b (ESV)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Turning Courage Into Action: How To Begin To Trust Again

So, you’ve come to realize the importance of trust in forming and maintaining quality relationships, and you’ve found the courage to try to trust again. So, what do you do next? The following three steps will help you begin the process of developing trust for others.

Start Small

Trust builds one brick at a time. It’s not safe or wise to put your full trust in anyone right away. Start small. Choose to trust a friend or co-worker in something basic. Let them show you that they are trustworthy. Jesus talked about this principle in a story from the Gospel of Matthew. There, a wealthy man entrusts his workers with money. Those who handled it well and invested wisely were rewarded with bigger and better things to invest. The same is true with trust. When you learn to trust someone in the small things, and they handle it well, it's easier to trust them with larger things. 

Evaluate and Invest

When we are afraid to trust others, it's easy to ignore the ways that they are already being trustworthy. When you have been hurt, you become wired to more quickly notice how people let you down, and especially how people may hurt you again. Take some time and be honest about your relationships. More than likely, there are already people around you who have shown themselves to be worthy of your trust.  Some people are healthier than others. When you determine who they are, choose to invest more trust in them. 

Evaluate and Divest

As important as it is to be honest with yourself about the people in your life that are deserving of your trust, it’s also crucial to be honest with yourself about the people who have proven themselves untrustworthy. If people continue to lie to you or use you to make themselves feel good, it’s time to step away. Some people are a bad relational investment, and it’s not loving to continue to trust them. It’s dangerous.

Learning to trust others can be a scary experience, but God created trust to be the catalyst for growing relationships. When things get tough, stop and talk to God about what you are feeling and ask for clarity. He is on your side, and more than anyone else, He is someone you can trust.

Good luck in tomorrow’s relationships!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Life Without Trust: How Your Fear of Trusting May Be Costing Your More Than You Realize

I’ve come to the realization that I am not an overly trusting person. I’ve only recently come to this realization and to test it, I decided to make a list of the people/things I distrust immediately. Here’s what I have so far:

I don’t trust…

            Coffee that comes in a vacuum sealed bag
People who say, “I know exactly what you are feeling…”
Warranties of any kind
TV News Shows
Anyone who says, “I believe in this product, this is not a pyramid scheme…”

Anyone who introduces me to someone who says, “I believe in this product, this is not a pyramid scheme…”

Anything from Taco Bell

People who show me the air filter from my car every time I get the oil changed

Anyone whose first name is a city (Never play pool against someone named Memphis Jones)

People who never make eye contact

People who make too much eye contact

Long car rides with people who do trust Taco Bell

Trust is a fragile thing. Once it’s been broken by someone or something, it takes a great deal of courage to trust again. On top of that, we live in a world that seems to be less trustworthy than ever before. TV is filled with ads promising things that their products can never deliver. Job loyalty seems almost non-existent. Many employers appear to be out only for themselves. Employees will jump from job to job chasing the next big thing. As a culture, our lack of trust has left us terrified of commitment. People are abandoning marriages in favor of living together. Many people prefer online friendships over real-life interactions.

This is not to say that we should blindly trust others. Choosing not to trust isn’t always a bad thing. Trusting someone or something that’s unreliable can be costly. You could lose money, waste time, or even have your heart broken. But there is a place for trust. In fact, trust is necessary for a full and enjoyable life. To put it plainly:

Relationships are impossible without trust, and life is meaningless without relationships.

Are you struggling to trust others? Do you not trust yourself and the decisions you make? Are your relationships suffering as a result? If so, choose today to give trust another try. It’s scary but it’s worth it. If you are not sure where to begin, check back in later this week for the second installment of this post entitled Turning Courage Into Action: How To Begin To Trust Again

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ronda Rousey and Identity: What The Best Fighter In The World Taught Us About Life

By now most people have seen Ronda Rousey’s interview with Ellen DeGeneres. The reactions to the interview were mixed (as media reactions almost always are). I for one am grateful for her courage, and feel that her honesty was commendable. I hope her words will encourage others to admit their own struggles and challenges and to seek help. If you haven’t seen the interview, you can watch it here:

Rousey talked about what her first ever loss in the ring did to her. She admits that she defined herself by her undefeated streak. She was the fighter who never loss. She was the unbeatable champion. Then in a matter of minutes it was all gone. In the moments after the fight, she said to herself, “What am I anymore if I’m not this”.

Rousey is not the only one to define herself by something fragile. We all do it. We define ourselves by the number of zeros on our paycheck. We define ourselves by our ability to attract the opposite sex. We define ourselves by our physical strength, or by our intellect. All of these things are fragile. All will leave us in the very same place Rousey found herself after her fight. Broken and scared. Our physical strength fades. We get older, slower, and more wrinkly. There’s always someone smarter, and there never seems to be enough money, no matter how much we make. When we turn to these things to determine our value, we will only find heartbreak.

You are more than your performance. You are more than your earning potential. You are more than your physical appearance. “What am I worth?” is one of the most important questions we can ever seek an answer to. The only reliable and unchanging answer to that question has to come from a reliable and unchanging source, God. God’s answer to this most important question is…

You are worth living for and dying for.

God chose to live on earth for you, and He chose to die so you could live. God will never change his opinion of you. He will never love you less, and His plans for your life are the only ones you can trust. If you feel broken and confused, know that God is for you. You are worthy because you are worthy in the eyes of God, and God is not wrong about you. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Leadership Is A Relationship

One of my professors at seminary used to say that he loved the students at our school, because they would all “charge hell with a water gun”. He meant it as a complement.  I had many classmates who were passionate and eager to make a difference in the world. They were willing to go wherever and do whatever to make lives better. There were others, however, who were simply eager to be in charge.

Many people want to lead, but struggle once they are in a position of leadership. A article found that nearly 40% of the highest paid CEO’s in America had faced action due to poor performance in the past 20 years.1 These leaders were the best and the brightest, and were paid incredible money to bring success to their companies. This trend doesn’t exist only in the highest profile jobs. Leadership breakdowns happen everywhere. While there are a lot of different reasons that  leaders  fail, one that seems to show up again and again is when leaders fail to recognize the relational component of leadership. Leadership is a relationship, and when it’s not treated as one, it’s doomed to fail.  Here are a couple of relational truths that will make you a better leader:

Leadership Means Leading People

There are a ton of great leadership theories. Many great leaders have written books about how they turned around their companies or improved their churches or schools. While these stories are powerful, they can not be blindly applied to every situation. Leadership means leading people. You must meet your people where they are, and to do that you have to take the time to get to know them. What works in one context or setting may not work in another. Knowing how to relate with those you work with will help you understand how to lead them.

Have Honest Expectations

No one’s perfect. You are not and neither are the people you lead. There’s nothing wrong with casting an incredible vision for your company or church, one that seems almost impossible. It’s something else entirely to demand the impossible from your staff or employees. Unrealistic expectations erode confidence and will eventually cause those who work for you to quit or rebel. Be ambitious but honest in your expectations.

Always Leave Your Door Open

A work place is only relational if communication can flow both ways. If you only talk to (or at) your employees, they will soon believe that you don’t care about them and only see them as a means to an end. Be open for feedback. Take time to hear people out. Listening to critiques or the other side of the argument doesn’t make you weak. After you have heard someone out, you may choose to continue on with your opinion, but occasionally you may gain insight that you didn’t have before, allowing you to change direction and be more effective.

Leadership is a relationship, and if you fail to recognize that, your leadership will likely fail as well. Respect and take care of the people who follow you, not only will you win as a leader, but you will be winning in life.