Catch Your Breath

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxI’ve learned to take a breath before I speak. When I don’t, I often find myself in a quagmire of problems.

Our lives are stuffed to the brim with space-fillers. With tablets, cell phones, computers, and much more at our fingertips, we can access information and have multiple conversations at once. While e-readers and other screens emphasize the importance of white space for our eyes, we’re constantly sacrificing the white space in our lives. Less white space leads to an overcrowding that pressures us, and our conversations are no exception.

Every second of white space in time doesn’t need to be filled. When we feel the pressure to fill every moment, we’ll begin to anticipate the filling process, thinking of what we want to say next instead of waiting, patiently listening, reflecting, and respectfully responding in turn. Invite processing time. It will take practice, because you’re likely not used to it, and people with whom you converse are certainly just as unfamiliar with it. More white space in conversations creates a slower cadence, a rhythm that flows more than fires. When push and pull is replaced with intentional give and take, the focus can shift from the conversation itself to a respect for the people having the conversation. After all, the relationship is more important than the outcome of the conversation. Words spoken should be driven by the impact they have on the relationship instead of the influence they have on the outcome of the conversation.

Breathing helps as you talk, because it’s an intentional invitation to reflect before responding. As I breathe, I invite God to fill my mind, heart, and words, taking a moment to intentionally yield to him. While it takes some getting used to, it’s not as intrusive or distracting as you might originally think. Most people won’t notice at all. It’s not a deep, cleansing breath, just a regular breath in for oxygen—with an invitation for more nourishing, courageous, and powerful breath. If you find yourself still struggling to listen to the person instead of planning what you’re about to say, you can also use an exhaled breath as you’re listening as a commitment to empty yourself of your self, yielding to and trusting God instead. (Let me admit, I do not always yield well, so I’m not sharing these techniques as someone who has perfected it. I’m a work in progress!)

Inviting breaths into a conversation isn’t just about you. Invite breaths for the other person, too. When somebody pauses to think of a word or finish a thought, wait with them. You might anticipate what you think they’re going to say, but respect them enough to let them finish. It’s nice to be known well enough that someone can finish your thoughts, but it’s also nice to be given the space and time to finish your own thoughts.

Conversations are not a race; they’re an opportunity to engage in relationship. Invite the nourishing rhythm of breathing into your conversations today.

I will be in them and you will be in me so that they will be completely one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them just as much as you loved me. (John 17:23)

Communication and Talking Aren’t The Same

blah-blah-blahSometimes I talk without communicating well.

I know I don’t control someone else’s attention or response, but I can pay attention and respond as I’m talking. After all, talking isn’t the point. Communication is.

I’ve often used the phrase, “But I already told you…” or “I said…,” as if the simple fact that words came out of my mouth secured successful communication.

It doesn’t.

The weight doesn’t completely rest on me, but I need to take communication seriously enough to know that I have some responsibility. I know my motives and my style, so I may think that just saying something to someone or sending an email or text gets the job done. But communication is often less about the content and more about the relationships involved. If I don’t respect the other person through the communication process (and my attitude), what have I gained? What could someone else possibly gained?

The goal of communication is rarely isolated to information.

Communication involves people, so respect, patience, forgiveness, and humility must be a part of it…perhaps even the goal.


When Struck By a Fleet of SUVs

parking-lot-full-of-durangosLet’s first clarify what an SUV is. Sure, it’s a sport utility vehicle. But it can also be spontaneous untrained volunteers.

Now, can you relate by being struck by an SUV? Have you ever been surrounded by people who want to help, but they don’t know where to start. Maybe you’ve been among them. We’re ready and willing, but no one is taking charge and equipping you to make an impact.

It can be frustrating, but as a leader in a ministry, community, or organization, you’ll find yourself in an SUV challenge from time to time. Have a plan. You may not know the specific situation ahead of time, because SUVs often come together in response to a unforeseen crisis or need. You can be prepared in general ways even when you don’t know the specifics.

  • Plan to communicate well. You’ll often communicate well in a crisis when you communicate well in everyday relationships. Practice listening skills but know when your voice is needed. Taking charge isn’t about being bossy but being willing to bold and responsible.
  • Plan room for emotions and personalities. If you make decisions based only on tasks, you might get some things done, but you won’t establish a broad investment. People will get frustrated and burn out more quickly. You can’t get to know everyone well, and you  will have to trust what some of them say they can do, but try to put people in the right roles.
  • Plan to equip more than you force. Give encouragement, suggestions, and feedback. If you give direction without details (or focus so much on details no one can actually accomplish anything), you’ll end up with rogue, disgruntled, confused volunteers. Meeting needs aren’t just completed tasks. They involve real people working alongside real people to meet the needs of real people. Respect them for who they are.

“I Wish…”: A Sign of Insufficiency or Hope?

glassPeople use “I wish…” in different ways. Thinking primarily of the instances people use it when they state what they wish someone else would do, such as, “I wish she would have…,” “I wish he could just see that…,” or “I wish she didn’t think…,” I often think the person making the statement is pointing out her own dissatisfaction or disappointment about the other person. It seems most heartfelt and intense when the “he” or “she” involved is a loved one, someone close. It irritates me at times, because I assume the person can’t see the possibilities and hope of the situation…and of the person involved.

But I might be wrong. (It happens on a regular basis.)

It might be that the depth of the relationship makes us sensitive to knowing the possibilities and longing for more for the person we love. It might have more hope infused into it than I choose to recognize. Still, the way we phrase our wishes for others reflects either a positive or negative perspective. But what if we ask ourselves, “What is it I truly long for in this situation, for this person?”

Maybe I’m just being too positive. Maybe some people truly use the “I wish” phrase to point out what they wish others would change because they only see the downfalls. To them, the glass is half empty. To some, half is never going to be enough. For others, half holds the potential for more. Hope eclipses dissatisfaction.

Regardless of our own perspectives, we need to consider how we communicate to others. We need to filter our messages to make sure that we are encouraging and challenging others. We can’t simply communicate in ways that we want to receive something, because when we’re sending the message, we’re not the receiver. We have to consider how he or she will receive it.

Would we rather communicate insufficiency or hope? Sometimes, the two go together. After all, we need to see our insufficiency to humbly grasp the possibility of hope. Sometimes. Other times, we need a glimmer of hope to open our eyes to the reality of dissatisfaction and disappointment.

Let’s remember God holds the glass and knows exactly how full or empty it is. Let’s not hang a sign that declares we’re in the life assessment business. We don’t know how all the pieces are going to fit together.

He does.

And His wishes for us are way beyond what we can imagine. He sees our insufficiencies, but He also sees our possibilities. And He is the source of all hope.


Giveaway: Managing People

UTF-8'en-us'9781470720698Today is the last of three giveaway posts. If you missed the first two, be sure to enter to win soon. All winners will be contacted this Friday. Now for today’s giveaway:

Today’s blog includes an excerpt of Practical Stuff for Pastors: Managing People. Remember, this resource is not just for pastors. If you are in any type of leadership, you’ll find many helpful (and very practical) tips throughout the book. Whether you keep it for yourself or give it as a gift, all you have to do to be entered to win is leave a comment (on the blog or Facebook).

Direct Communication

If anyone should know how to communicate well, it should be the church. Our central mission is to be witnesses and to tell the good news. Both require verbal and non-verbal communication. Yet, few places suffer from poor communication as does a local church. Gossip and rumors can run rampant. Misunderstanding and mix-ups occur often. Pastors and church leaders seek answers to communication queries, such as:
How can I help build open and honest communication—among staff, between staff and volunteers, and among staff and church family? What are the signs of brutal honesty and veiled suggestions, and how can I avoid each extreme?
Should I have an “open door” policy or strict office hours?

How to Avoid Gossip: Best Practices for Open, Honest Communication
As a pastor, you are in the people business. You have to talk with and about other people—a lot. Before you ask for advice about someone, ask God to lead you to a third person who is trustworthy and God-honoring, willing to tell you the truth and able to hold confidences. Communicating openly and honestly about someone is easier said than done, so here are some guidelines to keep your advice-seeking from slipping into gossip:

  • If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it behind his or her back.
  • If you wouldn’t want someone to hear you say it because of what they might think about you (or someone else), don’t say it.
  • If it’s not the truth, is a stretch of the truth, or distorts the truth in any way, don’t say it.
  • If it dishonors someone, including yourself, and especially God, don’t say it.
  • If another person starts to lead your conversation into uncomfortable areas, set a good example of honest communication by using replies such as:

“I’m uncomfortable talking about that person without him being here to share his side of the story. Let’s figure out how to continue without what might end up being damaging gossip.”
“I’m not sure of the facts. I need to have a couple conversations with people before I can talk more about this.”
“Sometimes, my mouth gets ahead of my head. I need to take a deep breath and make sure I respond to you well. I will get back to you soon.” (Then, make sure you do.)

Excerpted from Practical Stuff for Pastors: Managing People. Copyright © 2015 Group Publishing, Inc.

(This chapter includes additional sections on Authentic Communication, Brutal Honesty or Cautious Sensitivity?, Tips for Healthy Communication, and more. Other chapters in the book include When and How to Say No, Team Development, Meeting Management, Mentoring and Coaching, and more.)

What Do We Do With What People Say?

Can you believe she said that?

How dare he say that to me!

She didn’t have to say it; I know what she meant.

screen doorEvery time we communicate with someone, there’s a lot of processing, and a lot of opportunity for misunderstanding, assumption, and frustration. It’s as if we each carry around a screen door right in front of us. None of us have completely clean screen doors. Our experiences, preferences, and assumptions clog some of the holes. When we stand face-to-face with someone, we speak, and our words have to go through our screen door, which means not everything makes it through. Then, our words have to go through the other person’s screen, which is also not pristine. They speak back to us, and their words have to go through both screens, too. Add in the nonverbal communication we’re sending every moment, and the opportunities for disaster exponentially escalate.

We can’t hear what people say to us with a undeniable purity. Many times, our reaction isn’t just about what they say but how they say it, or even, what they intend by it. We certainly seem to be confident in our ability to know a lot of things about another person’s communication.

Are we as vigilant, discerning, and confident in the way we respond?

It’s not so much about what people say as what we do with what they say. After all, we have absolutely no control over what someone says or how she says it. We choose how to respond. Many times, we waste that choice, because we aren’t intentional about our respond. We give a knee-jerk response, either to the person’s face or behind her back, either right away or after we’ve fumed or pouted about it for awhile. Instead, we can use that same time to take a deep breath and ask God how He wants us to respond. What would honor and reflect Him to other people? What would draw us closer to Him as we trust Him, even in situations and relationships we don’t understand?

We don’t have to take offense. We don’t have to get angry. We don’t have to retaliate. We don’t have to coddle. We don’t have to enable. But we do have to take responsibility…for our response, whether it’s our attitude, words, or actions.

What are you doing with what people say?

Are you listening to what God says above all other words?

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.(James 1:19-20)

Do Your Prayers Have a Snooze Button?

I know a woman who was having trouble getting to sleep because of many things running through her mind. She woke up her husband, and he graciously began to listen. After she shared for a while, he compassionately suggested praying together about it. She agreed, as she thought what a great man her husband was. He began to pray,snooze

Dear Lord…[insert snore sound effect]

The woman had a great sense of humor and just laughed about it while her husband continued to snore.

How many times do you pray but begin snoring after your initial request, lacking attentiveness?

How well do you commit to communicating with God?

Do you easily include some things in your prayers but sleep through some of the other prayers you know you’re supposed to pray?

I don’t know a single committed Christian who would identify his or her prayer life as fully mature and unwanting of any growth or improvement. We can always work on our prayer lives, because prayer is our communication with God. It doesn’t end. We don’t ever master it. God changes us, and we get to know Him better; therefore, our prayer lives continue to require humility and vulnerability that can be thrilling and comforting as well as intimidating and frightening. God doesn’t just ease our minds; He changes our hearts. And that’s not always the most comfortable process.

Consider how you’ve pressed the snooze button on your prayer life, even if it’s just in one area. Or, what do you tend to press the snooze button on in general as you pray? Pressing the snooze button isn’t about the times you don’t know what to say; it’s about the times you get distracted or refuse to try to say something. It’s an escape.

God knows you well. He knows your struggles. He knows why you’re disengaging with Him. He’s ready to listen.

Wake up and pray.

The Lord is near all who call out to Him, all who call out to Him with integrity. (Psalm 145:18)