Listen with Respect

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxHow do you know what you think you know? It’s amazing how many times we jump to conclusions. We hear something through a third party, or we overhear a part of a conversation, or we hear something in the way we want to hear it and insist we know the intention behind it. We fill in the gaps between what someone actually said to make the entire story into what we want it to be instead of what it actually is. We omit the parts that contradict what we want to believe, and we ever-so-slightly embellish those areas that emphasize our points.

It’s important to go to the source, then listen with respect. Listening with respect isn’t the same as listening for ammunition. It’s listening for truth. It’s giving the person time to talk. It’s asking clarifying questions and briefly summarizing or restating every now and then to insure what you’re hearing is the same as what the person is trying to communicate. It’s listening more than you talk. It’s setting aside your personal agenda for the common good of the relationship. It’s putting others above self.

Active listening is a developed skill. It takes practice. Most of us talk much more than we listen. Even if you’re a quiet person, you can’t quickly take yourself off the hook on this one, because a quick word count comparing what you say and what you hear isn’t the same as active listening. Active listening involves investment in a relationship, which means you need to respond in order to show the person your respect. You need to engage, asking questions and restating the basics.

Listening with respect doesn’t assume you agree with everything being said. It’s not nearly as much about what is said as who is saying it. God instructs us to respect one another. It’s clear by the standards and expectations he sets that not every behavior, belief, and attitude should be respected, revered, accepted, or tolerated. But we don’t throw the person out with the behavior. It difficult to listen with respect when the person has done something we don’t respect, especially when we find out a person we’ve previously looked up to has gone against biblical principles he or she has previously personally revered and taught. However, it’s not about how we feel like responding. It’s about how God instructs us to respond. And there’s no doubt he commands respect among his followers.

To whom do you need to listen with respect today? Invite the conversation. Let God build your faith by trusting him through the process. He will guide you through what you think is impossible.

Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family… (1 Peter 2:17)

God Says What’s Best (It’s Not About You)

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxWe’re not the center of the universe.

While this statement might not surprise you, we can easily slip into a me-centered way of thinking. It’s not just about selfish, demand-what-we-want-when-we-want-it thinking that’s selfish. You can certainly find someone who is a bit more selfish than you, so you don’t see yourself quite as selfish. Me-centered thinking is more sneaky than the obvious me-statements, whining, and high expectations for people to tend to personal needs and whims. Me-centered thinking is in every single one of us, and it particularly begins to decay the health of church families when we begin with ourselves as the foundation of plans, judgments, and assumptions.

“Well, I know that happens to some people in some churches, but people in my church are much more mature as believers than that. We know the dangers, and we’re cautious never to put our individual selves above the church.” It happens more often than you might recognize, and refusing to consider how me-centered thinking is impacting you as an individual or the church as a whole is negligent and deters you from spiritually growing as God intends.

Even when we know God is sovereign and accept him as all-knowing and all-powerful, our behavior often contradicts our beliefs. Because we can’t understand everything about God, we make some assumptions. We start with what we do understand and make assumptions. We project our limited understanding onto what must be true about God.

We experience fear, and we know God’s Word refers to fear, so we infuse our experience of fear into our belief of what God means when he refers to fear.

We hear a particular Scripture verse taught in a way we’ve never considered before, and without checking the context of the verse or keeping the context of the teaching, we begin to expand the application into areas God never intended. We make our own rules because they make sense to us without checking to see if God says our rules are necessary or God-honoring.

We’re confident God guided in a specific direction in one situation, so when we’re in a similar situation again later, we assume God wants us to move in the same direction.

God’s will is unchanging, but the specifics of how he wants us to respond changes across situations. He desires an ever-deepening relationship with us, which means we must rely on him through every moment of every situation. He guides us to stand up, speak up, speak up, and shut up, depending on what he knows is best in each situation. If faith was as simple as “If A, then B…If C, then D,” we wouldn’t have to rely on God’s leading on an ongoing basis, because we would live within the bounds of legalism. It’s obvious through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees that legalism is not the same as a thriving relationship of faith with God. He’s not interested in legalism. He wants sacrificial dependency that spurs us toward bold obedience.

When we want what is best, we can become so passionately invested that we place blinders on our eyes, causing us to miss some important truths God. We need to invite God to reveal the situation in which we’re starting with what we most want and projecting our wish lists onto what we’re proclaiming as God’s will. Faith is yielding to God. It’s dying to self to live in his will, which isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing commitment. We need to set everything of our own wills to the side—our assumptions, wants, relationships, and much more—in order to hear clearly from God. Only declare his will when your confident it’s founded in God’s Word and not in your own.

Trust the Lord with all your heart  and don’t depend on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

Know Your Motives

b913de86ea782de3ed8af7c5eb37ce6aWe can’t see others’ motives, but we certainly respond out of our assumptions of them. We’re certain we can tell if someone is angry, irritated, frustrated, indifferent, or excited. Of course, we get clues from their behavior, but because we all have individual personalities, guessing motives can become a dangerous game.

To be honest, we can struggle to know our own motives. We can think (or rationalize) we’re responding out of pure concern for someone when we’re actually responding in jealousy or nosiness. We can think (or rationalize) we’re responding out of justified anger in a situation when we’re actually responding in unjustified retaliation or frustration to a person with whom we have an underlying, ongoing issue.

If our distorted views, preferences, and baggage can get in the way of the accuracy of our motive assessments, how can we get a better perspective, know ourselves better, and respond to people and situations in appropriate, authentic ways?

We need to see ourselves, including our motives, the way God sees us.

That means we have to invite God to challenge us and change us. It’s not an easy process, at least not for us. For him, it’s not difficult at all. He knows us. He created us. He fills us with himself, the Holy Spirit. But do we really yield fully to him? Not without intention.

I recently committed to a 30-day complaint fast. One of my friends asked if it meant I wasn’t receiving complaints. Not quite!

At first, God worked through the complaints I was verbalizing. I don’t consider myself much of a complainer, but my life is definitely not void of complaints. As soon as one would slip through my lips, I’d sigh. I asked several people to help me stay accountable, and they didn’t hesitate to do so. Plus, I tried to write down as many infractions as I could. Curbing my verbal complaints didn’t seem too uncomfortable. I began to think the fast wouldn’t be quite as difficult as I thought it might be.

As with any fast, the goal wasn’t just to abstain from something to show self-control. The point was to draw closer to God. Instead of focusing on a complaint, which usually indicates a space between myself and my expectations of something or space between myself and someone else, I turned my focus to the space between me and God. And as the fast continued, the space lessened…and I felt his presence with a fresh conviction. He moved from challenging my verbal complaints to my attitude of complaint. He connected what I wanted to say with the attitude that spurred it. He confronted me with some attitudes not consistent with his will. It became a bit more uncomfortable, but at the same time, I enjoyed learning about attitudes that could impact my relationships with God and others.

Then he took it a step deeper. He began to prune my heart. It’s not something I could rationally connect, as I could my attitudes and spoken words. I didn’t understand everything he was pruning from my heart, but when anything rooted in a complaint at all would begin to surface, I felt a spiritual tug. As I yielded to him, I trusted him to get rid of whatever it was that a complaint might be rooted within. I didn’t have to completely understand. I didn’t have to know the why or how; I was content to know the Who.

We can’t always know the why or how, but we can always know the Who.

We don’t need all the information. We don’t need to understand everything. When we think we do, we simply distort the reality and accuracy, such as in the case of our motives. When we know and trust God, we know enough. We need to actively and consistently yield to him so that he continues to reveal himself to us and prune and grow us.

It’s worth the “ouch.” God has pure motives.

Trust the Lord with all your heart,and don’t depend on your own understanding.Remember the Lord in all you do,and he will give you success.Don’t depend on your own wisdom.Respect the Lord and refuse to do wrong. (Proverbs 3:5-7)

Filter Your Assumptions

images (1)In order to connect accurately with people, we must filter our assumptions. Everything gets filtered through our backgrounds, personalities, and preferences. We try to make things fit in with what we already know. It’s how God made us, and it’s how we make sense of the world.

We encounter something new, and our brains compare it to what exists already. It’s like one of those childhood toys that has lots of shapes to be fit through matching holes. The circle will only fit the circle hole. The star will only fit the star hole. But we certainly try to fit it in all the holes until we figure out the right fit. We do the same with information. It’s called assimilation.

When something doesn’t fit, we have to make a new connection. It’s called accommodation. We have to accommodate for the new information we have. We need a new category or relationship within our mind.

When we’re not willing to put forth the effort accommodation requires, we’ll assimilate instead, limiting or ignoring the newness and the reality of the incoming information.

We make assumptions, and those assumptions can be good as they help us make sense of the world around us. However, when we become lackadaisical in our assumptions, unwilling to examine and accept the truthfulness of the situation, we respond incompletely and incorrectly. Sometimes, the only one hurt by our response is our self. We don’t fully experience and grow from the new information. We don’t create new connections, which can later impact incoming information that would have benefited from the previously created path.

Many times, we aren’t the only one hurt by our response. We impact others, because many of our interactions and experiences involve others. When we settle for assimilation information instead of considering and possibly accommodating information, we impact relationships. What can this look like in every day life?

  • As you’re talking with someone, she jumps on what she thought was your last word. You weren’t done, and what you wanted to share was important to you. She reminds you of your sibling who you felt never listened to you and didn’t respect you. You assume this person feels the same way about you and you emotionally retreat, unwilling to continue to engage in a relationship that won’t go anywhere. In reality, she might just be excited about what you said. She feels a connection and wants to continue talking.
  • You catch of glimpse of someone sitting across the table at a business meeting. She looks mad. You assume she doesn’t like the idea you shared a few minutes ago. You know you need her buy-in to make this work, so you start scrambling for a way to tweak your plans to meet her expectations. In reality, she might love the idea and is thinking through the ways she can move mountains to make it work. Her intense expression is about focus, not disapproval.
  • When your friend cancels for the third time in a row, you feel abandoned and ignored. You remember being hurt in friendships in the past. You wonder why you ever exposed yourself to the same potential hurt again. You wish the friend would just be honest and tell you she doesn’t want to hang out anymore instead of acting as if she cares. In reality, your friend really does care. She has a lot going on in her life, but she doesn’t want to burden you with the details. She has difficulty sharing. She’s avoiding you but it’s not because of you; it’s because of herself. She needs you more than ever.

Our assumptions come from what we’ve experienced before. Someone reminds us of our…mom, dad, boss, friend, co-worker, brother, sister, grandparent, neighbor, and so on…either positively and negatively, and we make a connection. If we test the similarity, and it proves to be true, we can let the connection help us respond in the future. But if we don’t test the similarity, and it proves to be a false assumption, and we’re unwilling to process the different information, we’ll miss out on the connection God wants us to make.

God teaches us through relationships. He teaches us about him, ourselves, and others. God is truth, and everything he does is based in truth. If we’re not seeking truth, even when it’s difficult, we’re not truly seeking God’s will. We don’t get to decide what’s true and what’s not based on our preferences and experiences. God does.

Don’t assume you know everything. Don’t assume you even know what you think you know. Filter it all through God’s perspective. He’ll reveal what you need to see and how you need to respond.

Make them ready for your service through your truth; your teaching is truth. (John 17:17)

So Many Assume

I saw a sign at the coffee shop:

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Indeed. How often do we make an assumption of someone without knowing the truth of their experiences, struggles, and dreams?

Maybe you’re assuming something right now. Such as, “Isn’t she a writer? Doesn’t she know this isn’t proper English?” Yes. Yes, I do. But it’s the quote I saw at the coffee shop. If I change it, it’s not a quote. (And by the way, it’s attributed to Anonymous, so I didn’t fail to give someone credit. I simply don’t know who gets the credit. Maybe the person didn’t want to take credit because of the poor English usage. Oh, wait. There I go, assuming.)

Assuming helps us make sense of the world. It’s a useful tool for helping us categorize all the sensory information we come in contact with every day. But a tool can be misused. We can be wrong.

The disheveled child coming to school doesn’t necessarily have a neglectful parent. Some kids can look pretty rough by their own efforts in the short ride to school. And maybe a family member is in the hospital and someone who doesn’t have much experience with kids’ hair helped out in the middle-of-the-night crisis. And the clothes they threw in a bag were the dirty ones the kid threw into the clean clothes pile the day before (because we don’t always fold clothes when we take them out of the dryer). And the kid had an emotional meltdown when told to wash her face after the chocolately breakfast cereal mishap, and who wants to make a kid even more upset after the rough night she’s had, and…

You get the point. You don’t know the story of the couple at the grocery store, or the new co-worker, or the clerk at the convenience store. You just don’t know.

Of course, some assumptions help us help others. We reach out with a smile or a helpful hand or a question as to whether or not they want us to call for help, because their body language tells us something isn’t right. But we’re not always helpful because of our assumptions. Sometimes we’re judgmental.

We assume. We assume we know. But we don’t know.

And we can’t always know. We won’t always know. But we also don’t have to let our assumptions run wild. We need to keep them in check and refrain from sharing them except in situations that might help someone.

Otherwise, our assumptions will likely hurt someone, including ourselves.

Defining Success

defining-success-in-your-organization-4-638But Moses responded, “Why are you going against the Lord’s command? It won’t succeed. (Numbers 14:41)

Every. Single. Time.

Success is not what we make it. Contrary to what we think or want. We’ve tasted bits and pieces of what we believe to be success and think we’ve figured our a sure-fire formula. Or perhaps it has been true success but we attribute it to the wrong causes. Or maybe we’ve been successful because we’ve relied on God but we then try to stay in that place or replicate the situation so that we get the same result. But success is only defined by God and it only comes through Him. We can only imagine and savor success when we set aside our assumptions about it and trust His definition of it, then let Him continue to change our concept of it.

After all, success is all about trusting Him.

Expectations Slap Me In the Face

2364b98bc293049f75580f87ff08b495Sometimes, expectations feel like a slap in the face. It might be someone else’s expectations of me, or it can be my expectations of others (or myself). Expectations can clear the path to discover great things and accept adventures, but they can also set us up for disappointment and unnecessary conflict.

I recently approach the exit door as I left a large department store. The doors were glass and very wide, letting in a lot of light and giving the appearance of automatic doors that would sense I was approaching.

My expectations were wrong. No door opened for me. I nearly ran straight into the glass before realizing I needed to put my hands in front of me and actually do something to get to where I was going.

Our expectations can put us on autopilot, forging forward, expecting a specific result, when the result is, in part, dependent on us and our actions, not just our assumptions and expectations.

We’re better off keeping our expectations in check, filtering them through truth and reality, asking God for strength to face and handle the next thing with grace and humility. Even when we fact check with Him, we won’t always understand and foresee what’s coming, but we won’t be quite as surprised either. After all, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).