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)

Dumpster Fire

peluu8n5Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. (James 3:3-6)

It’s not just our tongues that can create a smothering fire. It’s our fingertips that click “share” in less than a second, or perhaps we spend a few seconds typing a comment. But are we truly engaging people, or are we only adding fuel to a fire that isn’t doing anyone good?

We think that if we don’t say anything, people won’t be faced with “truth.” We think we need to share our perspective on everything because we don’t want other perspectives to be the only ones represented. But if there’s a bunch of trash burning in the dumpster, tossing anything into it is only going to add to the sparks. Only a healthy dose of extinguisher will help, and we can rarely do that on our own. Even when our intentions are pure, the fury of the fire will likely gobble up what we offer.

Stay calm.

Be respectful.

Listen.

Add to the conversation instead of adding to the fire.

There are plenty of heated conversations already burning or ready to ignite with the smallest spark. Before you click “share,” check for inflammatory or offensive words, not just from your perspective but others as well. If you truly want to make a difference, engage people, and spur change, you’re going to need to filter your words, whether they originate with you or someone else.

Refuse to add to the dumpster fires.

I Love/Hate My Cell Phone

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone.

Setting all the convenient apps that help keep me organized aside, and even the social media that can keep me connected or distract me, my phone allows me to connect with the people I love, people I want to encourage, people who can help me find timely information, and so on.

When I was in college, living a state away from my parents and friends, I had to save up minutes to talk occasionally instead of instantly. It’s nice to now be able to reach out and connect anytime. It’s a bit like living side by side even when we’re not.

That’s why I love it.

And why I hate it.

Okay, hate is a bit of an exaggeration. Sometimes, it frustrates me. Sometimes, the expectations to answer and respond weigh on me. I’m glad to be available…and need a break at times. When my phones rings or vibrates, I’m faced with a choice of availability: Should I be available to the person who is contacting me or to the person sitting in front of me? Maybe I’m not actually with anyone, but I might be immersed in something important, and that is availability, too.

Availability isn’t just answering when someone calls. There’s more to it than that.

And when I’m honest with myself, I know I can take a break anytime I want. If there’s an emergency, people will find me. I’m not likely to turn off my phone, so someone will call back if they need me badly.

I walk away from my phone quite often. I have very few notifications turned on, and only one that makes a sound. The blinking light of alert really doesn’t alarm me or drive me crazy. I don’t have nomophobia (a fear of having no mobile phone)…at least in short intervals. I can wait quite a while before checking my phone, but not nearly as long as I’d last between calls to my parents years ago.

But times have changed. We have technology we didn’t have before, and it’s not going away. Staying in touch, being available, isn’t such a bad thing. It’s a good reminder that God is always available. He doesn’t reject our calls. He’s not screening His texts. He doesn’t block, unfollow, or report us. He’s ready, eagerly anticipating our contact. He wants to hear from us, whether it’s to share our day, frustration, doubt, or celebrations. But we have to let Him communicate, too. Our relationship with Him isn’t one-sided.

He’s available for you. Are you available for Him?

Choose well. Stay connected. Be present.

The Illusion of Ice

Do you ever have conversations that ignore what needs to be said?

There’s “that one topic” that no one wants to talk about, because it wreaks havoc on the family gathering, ministry meeting, or friendship. At some point, the topic came up, words were said, feelings were hurt, assumptions were made, and now it has become “that one topic.”

It’s like confidently walking or skating on ice, as if the ice is actually the ground, the foundation under your feet. It’s not. There’s water somewhere under the ice. Water that is likely moving, full of life…and dangerous. You don’t want to remember it’s there, because even the thought of it chills you to the bone. If you keep everything above the surface, no one gets hurt. Sure, someone might fall and get a bruise, there might be a slight conflict, but no one plummets into frigidity. To risk that seems like a death wish.

But it doesn’t go away. Some people won’t even inch out onto the ice, no matter how solid they think it is, because it’s not worth the risk. They’d rather stay on the shoreline and watch safely from a distance.

So, should you or shouldn’t you break through the ice?

It’s not an easy answer.

Yes, at some point, if you have an ongoing relationship with someone, you will need to break through. You’ll need to talk with someone about the topics that created a chasm, because it’s the only way to heal the chasm, but how can you do that? What happens when your brother makes a choice that you would never have made, and he knows you disapprove, so every time it (or any other conflict) comes up, he feels defensive and you feel judgmental? What happens when you do your best to expect the best from your adult child, but she repeats the same mistake over and over? Every time you even begin to talk to her about it, she shuts down and walks away. What happens when that mistake in your marriage gets brought up with any conflict even when there’s no connection whatsoever? What if no one is willing to talk about that family member who died and everyone misses but can’t push through the pain enough to remember together?

Relationships aren’t easy. Sometimes we want to stay on top of the ice because we’re scared of breaking through. Other times, we want to stay on top of the ice, because it’s the only opportunity we have to keep any kind of relationship with the person. It’s less about avoiding and more about maintaining with the hopes of restoring.

There’s no easy answer of what exactly you are supposed to say or do in your specific situation, but I know the direction that God wants us to always move toward: restoration. Sometimes we get to restore a relationship with a person, and sometimes our restoration focuses more on our relationship with God. Either way, we win. God wins. Because we honor Him through the process. We don’t try to figure it all out. We don’t try to avoid all conflict and pain. We don’t try to control all the details. Instead, we sit on the edge of our seats, ready to follow God wherever He leads us. We have our skates nearby. We also have a sledgehammer in case He leads us to break through the ice. In the meantime, we might have to wait for the ice to melt so we can wade through the water and meet someone halfway across the creek.

Have conversations as often as you can…especially with God.

Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)

We Rage Because We’re Lazy

humilityI got involved in a social media “conversation” a while back that had an important discussion at stake. It was an invitation to listen to different perspectives and try to understand each other. It was an opportunity to consider solutions that might actually yield results if we could work together. But how can we expect to come together as a nation, state, community, family, church, workplace, and the list goes on, if we are only willing to toxically spew why we’re right and how everyone else is wrong? Our solutions are so easy…

If people would only raise their children right…

If people would only believe the right things…

If we could just get rid of “stupid”…(I’m not kidding. That was actually a suggestion! I refrained from giving my response to that one.)

We often rage because we’re too lazy to lament about the woes of something. We don’t want to feel the personal pain that results from a choice, situation, or act. We want to distance ourselves enough from it so we can come up with a solution that neatly fits without complications of reality. We don’t want to dip our toes into humility enough to consider–let alone admit–that we might be wrong, even if it’s just a little bit.

There’s a place for passion. There’s even a place for anger when injustices need to be confronted. But let’s use our filters and our brains. Let’s be responsible enough to engage in humble, intelligent, God-honoring, respectful conversations with people, especially people different than ourselves.

Will you join me? We can hold each other accountable.

 

The Benefits of a Language Barrier

©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org

I sat at Cafe Hillel, enjoying my hot cocoa and a good book. Most of the time, I was people-watching. It was my last day in Jerusalem, and I wanted to savor every moment. I had walked throughout many parts of the city. I watched people in their everyday routines. I noticed mannerisms. I caught parts of conversation.

I love hearing people speak in different languages. The foreign sounds have an intriguing beauty. Of course, the language barrier can be frustrating at times, too, but I have found there are many ways to bridge the gap, and the effort is always worth it. It creates a focused connection. It’s not really a benefit of the language barrier itself; the benefit is more about overcoming the language barrier.

As I sat at Cafe Hillel, I discovered a benefit of the language barrier. A man sitting nearby was speaking loudly on his phone. His tone was animated, but that’s not unusual in his native tongue. It didn’t assume anger, just passion and excitement. His voice was difficult to avoid, and I found myself lulled by the pattern of the conversation.

The moment was shattered when he broke into English. It took me a moment to readjust and realize what I was hearing. He was talking about someone, using extremely derogatory language. I often think people have mastered a language when they can accurately use humor, especially sarcasm. I don’t know how funny this man could have been, but he had certainly mastered a plethora of offensive words in English.

Thankfully, his tirade (at least, in English) lasted less than a minute. My peace was temporarily rattled. I could still hear him continue in his native tongue, but I didn’t find it nearly as soothing.

Maybe not fully understand everything and everyone around us is a blessing at times. Let’s bridge the gaps when we can but realize that sometimes understanding is not a must.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Quit Asking Questions?

ask-questionsI recently heard someone say, “I don’t like all these questions.” I wondered, “Why?”

I don’t like all these questions, because they make me uncomfortable.

I don’t like all these questions, because I don’t know the answers.

I don’t like all these questions, because the uncertainty threatens me.

I don’t like all these questions, because I already know the answers.

None of these reasons are sufficient reason to cease asking questions. Questions invite conversation. Questions spur searching. Questions demand an active response and engagement in a…well, a quest!

Jesus asked questions.

Jesus doesn’t just focus on the “what” we’re supposed to do. The “what” of faith is throughout Scripture. Jesus fulfilled and expanded the “what” to the “how” and “why.” Knowing Jesus asked questions doesn’t spur us to ask questions. Knowing how Jesus asked questions teaches us how to ask questions.

Asking questions doesn’t have to be disrespectful (although it can be) or threatening (although it can be). Asking questions can be faith-building and God-revealing. Ask questions today. You might not get the answer you want in the timing you prefer. You might have to wrestle with God toward the answer, and you will likely wrestle with others. Honor God through the process. Seek him, and you’ll know him better because of the quest.