To Share or Not to Share

IMG_0533The scene gets repeated hundreds of thousands of times each day. Two people meet over lunch, coffee, or some other relaxed venue to catch up with each other on what has been happening in each of their lives. If the relationship is one that has stood the test of time and trustworthiness, conversations flow easily from one topic to another, from deeply personal concerns or beliefs to the latest fads or headlines. Each feels pretty safe as a result of previous conversations and confidences that were not betrayed.

It would be wonderful if that were common for our times with one another; but more often than any of us would like to admit or recall, we discover the person we entrusted found it too tempting to keep our conversation only between the two of us. Most of the time we learn about the breach. If the tidbit shared was relatively inconsequential, we are fortunate. We DO make a mental note, however, and find ourselves reflecting on what else we might have shared that could be more significant.

Within the Christian community, information can often be repeated or shared under the guise of a prayer request. Certainly there are times when the motives are pure. We know someone is facing a cancer diagnosis and we want anyone and everyone to be praying and we skip the request to not share with anyone else.

Early in our walk with Christ when we look at fellow believers as mature and trustworthy without question, we can be naïve and openly share information with those who may not be safe for us. For some who hear, they are tempted to share or use our information to in some way make them feel more important or special for being “in the know” and passing it along to others.

Others of us tend to be very closed to share much of anything about ourselves. The result is usually that we have very few relationships and despite our fears about sharing, we may feel lonely and unfulfilled by the relationships that we do have.

What is the answer?

We need to grow in our discernment, learning from our observations of the person we are sharing with and also from our past experiences. That can also mean getting beyond our adolescent desires to have one “best friend” we can share everything with. Each of us is a complex, unique creation, and no other person can hear, understand, or relate to every aspect of who we are. That will not usually be the case except with “the” best friend we can have who will never betray us and understands every aspect of us more than we do.

The snare the enemy sets for us is to let our feelings at the moment dictate what, how much, and to whom we share. Even before hearing there is any betrayal, in those cases we can often regret how much we let roll out of our mouths. That nudge to “spill our guts” is even stronger when we have not first done so in our time alone with the Lord. We all can often benefit from talking through something or processing something with another person, but it is key to remember to not neglect sharing it first with the One who hears us best and loves us most.

If we fail to grow in discernment, we fall into another enemy snare and close ourselves off. Liz Curtis Higgs notes, “Discernment is needed. But for most of us, the greater danger is being close minded instead of open hearted, staying home rather than venturing forth, playing it safe instead of taking a risk.”

ALL relationships involve some level of risk, but God designed us as relational beings. Perhaps the key is once again to learn to hear His voice, trust His leading, and know He will be there even when we mess up.





What Does Encouragement Look Like?

IMG_1761It seems that everyone is facing a challenge of some sort and if not, they are often feeling caught up in the mundane tasks and duties of their world. Without a doubt, most of us are either looking for or would welcome a little encouragement.

We certainly can receive encouragement from God’s Word and times with Him in prayer and reflection, but there are times when the heavens seem closed to us and the Word reads like an assignment from a literature class we are not “feeling” if we are totally honest.

What does encouragement look like? I think it may vary depending on our personality, the season of life we are in, our gender, our love language, or the levels of relationships we have or do not have.

I probably spent a great deal of my growing up years yearning for more encouragement than I felt I received. Chances are, I entered adulthood with a deficit in that area. One of the results in early adulthood was that I often was hoping, looking, or expecting encouragement without being very good at giving it.

I also must admit that even if I tried to offer encouragement to someone else, hoping to receive some in return often tainted my motive. I am sure you guessed the result of that. They did not really feel as encouraged as they might have desired since my primary focus was on me versus them.

That nudged me to look more deeply at my motives and wants to learn what my heart was truly longing to receive. Sometimes I received words that I knew were supposed to be encouraging to me, but somehow failed to hit the mark. My primary love languages are affirming words and quality time so what was the problem? On far too many occasions, my dear husband was left scratching his head wondering why his words had not reached the place he so desired to touch with his love for me.

My personal survey enlightened my understanding a bit. Too often in those growing up years I had heard a statement such as “that’s nice” or “that’s good” followed by a qualifier of how I could have done it differently or better. As a result, the words went KLUNK!! I realized that words like “nice job” or “good work” almost made me feel worse than no words at all. It was as if they went SPLAT against a wall.

What I was looking for was positive encouragement that was specific; words that allowed me to know the person had recognized an aspect of my performance or person. Those types of words conveyed real care for me. They also said something else: “I really see you”. The more general words of praise failed to make the mark when they came from someone who had a significant relationship with me. Those general words were ones shouted out from stadium seats to players or performers we usually did not even know. The praise was real, but did not acknowledge a relationship with the receiver.

For me, true encouragement that nourished my soul came from relationships that were meaningful to me and included something more specific. Here are just a few examples:

  • I loved when you…
  • What I liked most was….
  • I know you can do a good job on this because…
  • The color of that dress is great on you.

I could make a longer list, but I am sure you see what I mean.

The most important thing I discovered was the Lord’s whispers to me were exactly what I needed and showed me clearly that He saw me and knew me. And a funny thing started to happen, I started to encourage others by attending to who they specifically were without concern for what I wanted or hoped to get from them. I tapped into the true source of encouragement!

A Familiar Lament

IMG_0966By the time we are adolescents (if not before), we start to hear or use the words: “No one understands me”. Today’s teens, however, might be more apt to say: “No one gets me”. These statements follow us into adulthood and can often be heard in disagreements between husbands and wives. In each case it is used, it suggests feeling as if we are understood is quite important to us.

As I reflect on that, I am aware that it is most often said at a point of utter frustration after we believe we have communicated something that matters to us so well without a response that it can only mean the person does not understand. The words we use along with the statement might also include: “No one’s listening to me”.

The results seem predictable. When we reach the point where the statement or statements get used, we or the other person give up on further communication and a shut down occurs so the relationship reaches an impasse. For many of us, not to feel understood means not to be cared for or loved.

Sometimes we use the words because we want to get something from someone that we believe has been denied. Sometimes we use the statement when we are too lazy or too wounded to even try to communicate what is going on inside of us or what we want. As a result, we use the words to lash out at the other person and erect a wall of self-protection. Of course, the wall doesn’t help us achieve what we desire and adds a greater sense of isolation than before we built it.

We are a paradox. We want someone to understand us, actually understand us completely, and yet, we keep parts of ourselves hidden on purpose out of fear and a desire to self-protect. There are also parts of us that we don’t even recognize that stand out clearly to those who are closest to us.

Relationships are costly. They require us to set aside our selfishness, our demandingness, our poor listening habits, and learn the hard lesson of what godly loving requires. To want understanding is common, but to pay the price by being real and working to know others and ourselves better is not so common.

Perhaps some of this originates from who we were in the beginning, in Eden. In that place, we once had a sense of what it felt like to be fully known, fully understood, and fully loved before we fell. Perhaps the words we throw out in our frustration represent a longing for Eden.

At issue is that we expect and desire to receive from others what we cannot give to them. We want to be loved in spite of being known completely with all our flaws, our failures, our bad habits, and idios. We forget this kind of acceptance, understanding, and love does not reside in our hearts unless or until our spirit has been infused with the Lord’s spirit and He rules our hearts, our words, and our choices.

John Piper says it well: “God understands you better than anyone else. He knows how people get to be the way they are and how they are affected by their surroundings. God understands society perfectly. God knows all the facts about how the world works.” And He is the only One who can meet the high bar we set to be understood. He is the only one who loves us, warts and all, but if He dwells within us, He also can empower us to be more effective at listening to and sharing with other flawed humans such as we are.

Only a Reflection of Him

FullSizeRenderGod has limitless ways to reach our hearts and resources beyond measure to show us who He is. He loves us that much and He simply doesn’t want us to miss Him, His love, or the truth.

He beckons to us in rustling leaves and birdsong as well as through wildflowers planted by Him along roadside and woodland paths. He startles us through His lightening and thunder. He lights the darkness with the starry expanse of the moonlit heavens and warms our days with the sun. He steals our hearts in the wonder of the babies we hold in our arms and wraps us in His comfort as we hold the hand of that special one as he or she slips home to be with Him.

But those are only the beginning of His efforts to reach us.

He speaks as well in the moments when we are finally quiet enough to hear Him whispering to our hearts as well as through His Word. He points us to Him through music both grand and simple. He touches us through the grace and generosity of a friend over coffee or around a table rich in conversation.

He reassures us through the consistent passing of seasons and He inspires us by messages from Spirit-filled preachers. He arouses us in wonder as we stare at mountain ranges or observe the patterns of a spider web or snowflake.

In recent weeks, He has stirred me by the beauty of His sunsets. On more than one evening, the palette of violet, blue, orange, and rosy shades has captivated my vision and heart. I recently shared with a friend that I have certainly seen many sunsets in my lifetime, but I cannot recall so many that were as stunning as these recent ones. Just before dark, the light has been so brilliant that it has radiated through the clouds causing my heart to fill with praise as I have been reminded once again of Him. And I have wondered as well if there is more He would have us see in these seemingly unusual displays of His glory.

I cannot say at this moment. I only know He has been drawing my eyes heavenward in the evening and He has seemed closer to me in those moments. They have caused me to want to lean in and not miss one moment, one detail, and one word or whisper.

For all of these evidences in creation, Anne Graham Lotz reminded me recently, “God is separate from His creation. Creation is a reflection of Him.” Even in creation, He cannot be fully captured because He is greater than His creation and yet so often He uses it to awaken our dull eyes and ears to Him.

For thousands of years and millions of moments, He has been communicating through creation, inviting us to know Him, to love Him, and to be assured of His presence in wonderful moments, tragic times, and ordinary days as well.

Never does He cease to reach out to us whether in a manger in Bethlehem, a cross at Calvary, or a moment in His creation. The question is more whether we respond and reach up to Him.

If we marvel at His creation as well we should, should we not marvel even more at what He must be like if all we see in creation is simply a reflection of Him?

His glory is so great even creation cannot contain it.

So, I watch the sunset in awe while I worship the One it reflects.


One Secret to Being a Better Lover

IMG_3160Somehow we have all grown up with this notion that love is a feeling, only a feeling, something we have or we don’t. For women, I think perhaps it started with the Disney princesses and the prince riding in on his trusty steed in shining perfection. As a result, if we don’t “feel” love, we decide we must not love this or that person. We also assume those warm gushy feelings floating around inside are “real love” and we act on them as if they were absolute truth.

I think we all have had at least one experience with this. Okay, maybe more than one!

By adulthood, we have probably all heard there is more to love than that. We hear words like “love is a decision” or “don’t trust your feelings” and we begin to rethink the whole idea of love until we watch the latest romantic movie. We watch the scenes of looking for letters in the mailbox in The Lake House or the poignant love affair in Nights in Rodanthe and once again we are very clear that feelings are a core part of love or being in love.

That feeling belief about love learned so long ago never seems to totally die. We all like the possibility of perfect love while living in an imperfect world with people who love imperfectly whether they are a spouse, a parent, a friend, a child, or a neighbor. If we are honest, most of us don’t do a very good job on the loving admonition despite knowing that “to love” is the great commandment: Love the Lord and love one another as you love yourself.

Of course, we often struggle on the front end with the part of loving ourselves in a healthy way as well. We may struggle with old tapes in our heads, which have convinced us we are not lovable or worthy of love. No matter what we hear about grace, we measure ourselves by inaccurate means and end up thinking too poorly or too highly of ourselves.

As a result, in our everyday lives we tend to act toward others in whatever way we are feeling about them. If it isn’t great, we also become experts at excuses for why we have not been or acted loving. We know these are faulty, but we use them anyway despite knowing the other person takes no comfort from our excuse. If we’re feeling great about the person and we act that way, we can be tempted to pat ourselves on the back with how loving we are without picking up on the truth that we are suddenly making it all about us instead of the other person.

I learned in my graduate courses on marriage about the principle of acting “as if” you love your spouse and then your feelings will follow as you practice the behavior of loving even if the feelings don’t match.

So, how do we become a better lover? Here’s the secret to move you ahead in this quest!

Today I read something by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity that gave me the secret in the best words.

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you do. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

 If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more.

 There is indeed, one exception.

 If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit and wait for his gratitude, you will probably be disappointed.”