Unpacking the Mystery of Forgiveness in the Day After Day After Day

Forgiveness. It’s always seemed like such a heavy word to me. One that evokes a unique weightiness. Intention. Deliberation. It’s what we’re commanded to do. What we teach to our kids. What we demand from others. What we give to ourselves, even when we don’t realize that we do. What we know is best for us. You don’t even have to believe in the God of the Universe to acknowledge the benefits of forgiveness to our physical and mental health, to our friendships, marriages, and family relationships. But its heaviness aside, or maybe because of it, forgiveness is also a word that I’ve wrestled with for a lifetime. One that I have never been able to really sink my teeth into. One that I can’t ever seem to get a tangible hold of. And, if I do, it’s only for a moment, like a mysterious mist that vanishes before I can contain it, much less comprehend it. Just when I think I “get it” and dole it out, I realize I don’t “get it” at all. So, it sometimes seems easier to avoid it altogether than face it head on, even if it means suffering the consequences of such a choice.

Even though I’m well aware that the entire foundation of Christianity rests of the singular matter of forgiveness, I’ve always found frustration in defining exactly what forgiveness looks like, feels like, sounds like. I regularly love me a nerdy dictionary definition from good ole’ Merriam and Webster, which tells us that to forgive means “to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong,” “to stop blaming,” “to stop requiring payment,” “to give up resentment of or claim to requital,” and “to cease to feel resentment against an offender.” But even with it spelled out so clearly and academically, forgiveness and all it entails can in reality be quite the complicated matter. Or so it would seem.

First off, let me be more than up front and tell you that this post is definitely not a sermon on forgiveness. Actually, I take that back. It might be, but it’s me that I’m preaching at, so you can relax and sit sedate and solemn in your virtual pew and simply nod your head in agreement. (Or shed a few tears for dramatic effect. That’s always welcome here.) In fact, as I have parked myself on the bleachers at my daughters’ gymnastics for the last two hours with my fingers on the laptop and my mind focused on the topic at hand, I have barely managed to pound out two measly paragraphs on forgiveness. While writing typically comes easily and effortlessly to me—and often quite cathartically, my ability to unpack this topic does not. And so it is.

As I go to the Source itself, I realize you actually don’t have to dip your toes very deeply into the Word of God to begin to get an inkling about forgiveness: humanity’s need for it, the Savior’s demonstration of it, and the mandate for us to deliver it—without exception. So go ahead and pull off your sweaty socks and roll up your skinny jeans (or mom jeans, for that matter) and wade these waters with me, would ya? Because I generally don’t like swimming alone.

Are You Kidding Me?

Just yesterday, I encountered—yet again—hurt and frustration and anger in a relationship which very often brings me all of the above. You know that feeling where you CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE OR YOU’RE GOING TO DIE? Yeah, that’s me in this relationship as of late. While I was driving alone in the car (which is as huge a miracle as forgiveness itself), I literally said out loud to God, “HOW MUCH LONGER DO I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS? I mean, am I supposed to just keep forgiving them DAY after DAY after DAY? Like, how many times do I forgive them for the SAME stupid things OVER and OVER and OVER?” And just like that, it hit me like a salty wave that slams you onto the sandy shore: SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN. “You mean, like I have to keep forgiving them for the same thing even when they don’t stop even after I’ve pointed it out and shared my feelings with them and even when it’s costing me my sanity and solace?” YES. Duh.

And so this recent wrestling began. And so came a new revelation of what Jesus meant in Matthew 19 when Peter (and I) asked him what seems like a perfectly reasonable question to me: “No, really. How many times do I have to put up with this? How many times do I have to forgive a brother or sister? Er, maybe seven?” And Jesus replied, (probably with a laugh and “Are you kidding me?”): “Seven? SEVEN?!? Psha. Try seventy TIMES seven!” Aha. That’s it. And now I am beginning to understand. Oh, man. So that means like EVERY SINGLE DAY for EVER. Are you kidding me? (Psst. He’s not.)

Same Ole, Same Ole

Quick. Think of the last time you were frustrated with someone close to you. Think of the last time they made you mad. Probably just yesterday, right? I’d make a wager that whatever it was that recently ruffled your feathers wasn’t a new offense at all. In fact, I’d bet it’s happened a million and one times before. And you were ticked a million and one times because of it. And maybe/probably even rightfully so. Whether it’s our spouse, our kids, our in-laws, our neighbors, our kids’ teachers, our friends, or even our dumb dogs, most of what gets under our skin is what we already know to expect…because it’s the same ole thing over and over again.

The youngest five  {Dominic, Micah, Justice, Simona, Joseph}

So when Jesus told Peter me to forgive this person 490 times and then some, He wasn’t just emphasizing the degree to which we must forgive; he was dictating the number of times we must forgive for the same offense. Day after day after 490 days. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought about forgiveness in terms of the Big Bad Things, the things that very clearly hold us back from becoming all we are made to be. You know, Big Things like violence, violation, and victimization. When you hear about forgiveness on TV, it’s the mother of a kidnapped child who is sharing how she forgave her daughter’s perpetrator; the wife of the teacher killed by a school shooter; the daughter forgiving the drunk driver for taking away her father. It’s easy for me to consider how the lack of forgiveness for the Big Things can permanently cripple the victim’s loved ones who are left behind to survive the pain and trauma, so I ultimately expect and hope to see forgiveness for the extraordinary (if I expect to see it at all), because I know we humans would die inside by withholding it. And many tragically do.

But forgive my son for losing the car keys AGAIN? Or my neighbor for letting their dog poop in our yard AGAIN? Or my husband for forgetting that it’s Trash Day AGAIN? My mom for being late AGAIN? My daughter for leaving out her dirty dishes AGAIN? Yes, those are the Small Things, but they’re the very things that challenge my ability to forgive at all.

Maybe I’m really not that mature, or maybe it’s just a new discovery, but I’m actually just beginning to truly and honestly consider and understand the gravity of forgiveness in our daily relationships—the imperfect people to whom we are married, the children to whom we are parents, the brothers and sisters with whom we grow up, the friends with whom we rub shoulders, our co-workers, fellow church members, and neighbors. If we are honest and objective, we’ll realize that most ongoing relationship struggles and blockades are almost entirely due to unforgiveness. So it’s the same ole same ole stuff—the daily crap we complain about and put up with (or not), the too-often offenses that repeatedly drive us batty and nearly insane with frustration and anger, the normal abnormalities—that demand our forgiveness all the more. For if a relationship is going to survive and thrive, it’s the same ole same ole offenses that will need to be forgiven EVERY SINGLE DAY over and over and over again. After all, it’s not the Big Bad Things that destroy our relationships necessarily, but rather a million Small Things that go unforgiven day after day after day. A million Same Ole Same Ole Things.

What Then?

We must forgive if we want to live. Plain and simple (but definitely not necessarily easy.) We must forgive for all the Same Ole Same Ole hurts and offenses and pains and aches that nag at us daily and threaten to destroy us. And while it would be FAR easier and WAY more appealing if there were a flowery way to unfold forgiveness and deliver it like a dozen red roses on a doorstep, the reality is that this daily brand of forgiveness can be freaking hard to conjure up and sometimes nearly impossible to carry out. But we must. We must forgive. Even when they don’t “deserve” it. Even when we don’t want to give it. Even when it’s the Same Ole Same Ole Thing.

It’s peculiar, because I can forgive some pretty traumatic events in my childhood, and I have, which then prepared me to forgive some even more hellish hurts in my adulthood, and I have. But those were pains and tragedies and sufferings that cut so deeply and damaged relationships so severely that I willingly placed them on the altar and handed them over to the Ultimate Forgiver of All. I had to, or I would not be in one piece today, and those relationships would not have survived after it all.

But you don’t actually have to forgive the things that drive you crazy. You can just let them drive you crazy. You don’t really have to forgive the offenses that seem so minor but frustrate you to the major degree. You can just let them frustrate you. You don’t actually have to forgive the Same Ole Same Ole Things that make you scream and yell and pitch a fit, even if just on the inside. You can just keep screaming and yelling. But every time you hold onto your anger, every moment you choose madness, every act of unforgiveness, no matter how seemingly small, is one more brick in the wall that drives a wedge between you and your loved ones. And eventually that wall will divide so concretely that only a wrecking ball can bring it down.

We Know Not What We Do

The thing about forgiveness for the Same Ole Same Ole things is that it feels so undeserved and rests on such a risk—No, a guarantee—that it will happen again. And it’s the Small Things that we hate every single day, and we just don’t like that kind of Heart Testing on a daily basis. But Jesus didn’t ask us to forgive just once and for all for all the Big Bad Things. It’s every day of our everyday living for all the million Small Things. And His own forgiveness for all of us while He was hanging on the Cross was not just a One Fell Swoop Forgiveness that took care of the Big Things (though it most certainly did). It’s His daily mercy and grace and forgiveness for us in our everyday, stupid, human insanities on a very day-to-day basis that enable us to have a New Every Morning relationship with our Savior. And when I look at it that way, the absurdity of my own unforgiveness over my own daily hang-ups and hurts is not lost on me. It’s actually quite ridiculous.

Literally reading between the lines of Jesus’ response to Peter, I hear Jesus shooting him straight: “How many times should you forgive your brother or sister? Are you kidding me? Look. I’m about to DIE to forgive you. DIE to forgive them. I’m not asking you to die for them. Just to get over yourself and forgive them.” Ouch. And then some. The people Jesus forgave He actually gave His life for, and very rarely would we ever be asked to do the same. When you think of it like that, it doesn’t seem that hard after all, does it? To quote my eloquent husband, “It ain’t gonna kill you to forgive them.” Ouch again.

So just as Jesus asked the Father to forgive us all, for we know not what we do to each other, we must do the same. We don’t know what we are doing to each other by not. We don’t know that it’s not in fact the daily offenses that destroy our relationships; it’s our own unforgiveness for them. It’s not the day-to-day violations that our loved ones commit that build the wall; it’s our inability to overlook them. It’s not the everyday grievances that drive us away; it’s our lack of mercy over them.

So join me and Merriam and Webster and their fine definition of forgiveness, and let’s make every attempt to “to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong,” “to stop blaming,” “to stop requiring payment,” “to give up resentment of or claim to requital,” and “to cease to feel resentment against an offender.” Even if it’s for the Same Ole Things 490 times over. Yes, especially then. Let’s let them off the hook, just as we want to be let off of ours. For really, we know not what we do if we don’t. We know not what we do.

“To err is human. To forgive, divine.” -Alexander Pope

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.And be thankful.

-Colossians 3:13-15

***But wait! Just in case you’re thinking that you must forgive every offense and STAY in a particular relationship, church, workplace, or the like, let me just say this: NO NO NO NO NO, my dear! If you are in a situation that brings harm, abuse, damage, danger, or threats of any of the above to you, get out of that relationship, church, workplace, or the like PRONTO. Forgiveness will be your freedom, not your prison. In my own experiences, I’ve found that sometimes God has brought me out of places of pain in order to bring me to places of forgiveness. Bottom line: Sometimes we forgive and stay. And sometimes we must forgive and move on.

She was all hooked up. Ready for the Pitocin to start dripping. She winced at the thought of induced labor. And then, in a pathetic attempt to assuage her concerns, he let those words roll off his tongue, “All labor is the same. Labor is labor.” I wanted to kick my friend’s obstetrician. Where it counts. Right then and there in the matchbox-sized labor and delivery room. To teach him a thing or two about pain. Because having had giganto babies au naturel (sans Pitocin), I knew he was full of crap, and his patronizing attempt at comfort did nothing to acknowledge the real pain and ridiculously hard work my friend was about to endure as she brought forth her new baby boy right before my very eyes. And because there was nothing I could do to remove her from the pain, I was there for solidarity. To be with her in it and through it. Because that’s all she needed and that’s all I could offer.

The truth is, life is hard. And there is pain. And none of us is exempt from having experienced it or living through it again in the future. But no, Dr. Stupid Dumbhead, M.D., all labor is not just labor, all pain is not the same, and all things hard are not comparable. Sure, a papercut from opening your mail too fast hurts like h-e-double-hockeysticks and you will want to cry it out like a Babywise baby and if that’s the worst pain you ever felt in your insulated life you might think you know real pain, but I’ll take a hundred papercuts sliced slowly across the end of every single one of my fingertips before I ever pass another kidney stone or have the bones in my face chiseled by a surgeon.

And if you’re a dear fellow sojourner who understands pain and hard times and suffering beyond the “life is hard” cliché, I know you get this. You get the feeling of wanting to pull a Mike Tyson on the next person who pats you on the shoulder and tells you, “Life is hard, but God is good.” Because really? No sheetola. Life is hard. Welcome to Planet Freaking Earth. And yes, God is good. (Amen and amen.) But sometimes you JUST WANT A BREAK FROM HARD. And no cliché, no platitude, no pat on the back, no sweet somethings from someone who cares will give you that respite for which you desperately long. Because when it comes down to it, you are in these circumstances beyond your control and wishes, and only the sovereignty of our God can take you through it and (hopefully, Dear Jesus, HOPEFULLY) bring you out of it before you meet your Savior face to face.

If this kind of living surviving day after day after downright hard day resonates with you, solidarity—not solutions—is my sole aim today. Because it doesn’t matter what your can’t-take-it-anymore pain looks like on the outside; you know what it feels like. You’re lonely. Tired. Drained. Ready for a new day. A new season. A whole new year. A break. And you realize it may never come on this side of eternity. And that realization makes it all the hell of a lot harder.

You’re a grandmother in your 70s and you’re raising your grandkids after their dad vacated and their mom chose drugs over them, so instead of road-tripping the U.S. of A. with your Lifelong Sweetheart in your paid-for R.V., you are dealing with the throes of teenage rebellion and forking out hundreds and hundreds for counseling. You don’t get to do what other seniors are doing, and you need some respite. And every day is beyond hard. 
You’re a mom with a special needs child and though you love him with every bit of every atom in every single cell in your entire being and can’t imagine your life without him, you’re absolutely beyond wiped out, because it’s just so damn hard to tend to him every single second of every single day to no end and none of your friends understands. And every day is beyond hard.
You are fifty years old and have your own family to raise, but you spend every minute of every day tending to your live-in, elderly, ailing father who can’t remember who you are and, though you love him with all of your middle-aged heart, you are exhausted and drained and have nothing left to give. And every day is beyond hard.
You adopted an older child who lived a nightmarish life of trauma and heartache before they were yours and they are unleashing it on you like a relentless tsunami and you wake up every single day wishing that you didn’t have to face another day of hell but knowing that you have no choice and you walk on shattered eggshells all day long because it’s just not worth another three-hour rage fest over the most minor of things and you cry alone in bed every morning because you fear what the day will bring. And every day is beyond hard.
Your child suffers from the lifelong, permanent effects of FASD because their birth mom couldn’t put the bottle down and so you sit night after night after night at your child’s side at the kitchen table just wanting them to sound out one freaking word from their homework and they can’t even sit still long enough to make it through the first sound and they’re only in the second grade and you can’t imagine every night for the next ten years JUST LIKE THIS and you just want a break from the difficult. And though some accuse you of having a pity party, you don’t feel sorry for yourself at all because this is your life after all and you embrace it but it’s just so freaking hard to live it. And every day is beyond hard.
Your house is in foreclosure and your husband is working three jobs just to put food on the table but ends aren’t being met anyway and the bills keep coming and the collectors keep calling and you can’t afford to do what any of your friends are doing and you bend over backwards to find ways to take care of your family’s basic needs but it’s not making a dent and it’s scary and lonely and taking an emotional and mental toll on you and your marriage and your kids but this is just your way of life and though God keeps giving you the manna you hunger for the ribeye that you see everyone else feasting on and the smallest financial inconveniences send you over the cliff because nothing is easy or simple when you don’t have money. And every day is beyond hard.
Your husband unexpectedly passed away one year ago and with him went all of the oxygen in your lungs and in your home and you are drowning in your own grief but you have to act strong enough to help your kids not get overtaken by their own painful loss and you keep thinking it will get better or at least easier and it hasn’t and you keep putting one foot in front of the other but it doesn’t change reality. And though (most of) your friends try to be supportive very few of them truly understand and some might even judge. They want you to pull yourself up out of the trench of hard times and join their festivities of the normal. But you can’t. Because your life is different. And every day is beyond hard.
Your child is sick so often you don’t even keep track anymore and you spend day after day and week after week in and out of the hospital and while you have the support of friends and family and money is no issue it’s just so difficult to keep it up but you don’t have a choice because it’s your kid and you would die for them but you can barely breathe yourself most days. And your head is barely above the surface of the raging sea and the salty taste never leaves your mouth and you gag with every breath. And it’s all you can do to tread water and not go under…at least not for too long that you can’t come back up. And every day is beyond hard.

Hard beyond hard beyond hard. Suffocatingly hard. Perpetual hyperventilation. And what makes it feel impossibly harder is that you can absolutely remember a time of life when it wasn’t this way. When faith wasn’t a fight and joy did not elude you and every day wasn’t a struggle.

And so you do what all humans do with our finite brains and fragile hearts to reconcile what doesn’t make sense in our stories. We divide our lives into seasons, chapters, segments of time—no matter how short or long. We remember those poignant moments that define each phase. We speak in metaphor of “walking in the wilderness” and “waiting for the Promised Land.” And we know exactly how many days and weeks and months and years our wilderness has lasted. And it’s been a long time even if it hasn’t been. And we yearn for struggles to cease and the blessings to abound. We scream when the Heavens seem silent and beg for God to rain down. We thank Him for the manna yet want to leave the desert after all. We cry out. Because it’s hard. Hard beyond hard. And we long for a respite. A season—no, a day even—that isn’t downright hard. That doesn’t greet us with pain and hardship and suffering and loneliness. And there are no solutions or Dave Ramsey Steps to Peace because this is your life for as long as you can foresee it and if there were a way out of it you would have long ago found it. And all you desire from others is solidarity or at least a semblance of it.

You are grateful beyond all thankfulness for the micro mercies and force yourself to focus on them daily—The meal spontaneously dropped off by a friend who was thinking about you—The check you got in the mail to help cover Christmas presents for your kids—The car someone loaned you so you could get to an appointment on time—The lady who gives your kids free haircuts—The nurse who was extra friendly to your child and got you into your appointment right away—The Facebook post on your wall to encourage you. But you long for the Macro Mercy of El Roi—The God Who Sees—whom you beg to step in and with authority scream ENOUGH! and usher you into your own Promised Land right here on Earth.

And truly you “rejoice in your sufferings” and all that it produces like character and hope and endurance. You “consider it pure joy” because your trials have grown your faith like nothing else could. And you know without doubt—though it’s tested daily—that the “glory that will be revealed in us” one day will ultimately make it all worthwhile. And you even feel and believe that “when you pass through the waters,” He is with you. You have followed God long enough and hard enough to know that “He has plans to prosper you and not to harm you” and will give you (eventually) that hope and that future. And friends close and strangers afar laud you for your unwavering faith and unshakeable strength and while you truthfully appreciate their affirmation you just want your present reality to give you a break from having to have that kind of faith and strength at all.

So, Dear Reader, if every day of your present life is hard beyond hard and you weep without words in your thoughts because you are living this present darkness right now, lift up your head and reach out your hand because I stand here with you as a fellow sojourner in the Wilderness of Suffering. And I will stand with you in your pain and you with me in mine and together we will offer one another

Mercy

Love

Grace

Comfort

Compassion

Prayer

SOLIDARITY

Because when every day of your present life is hard beyond hard beyond hard, solidarity is enough to help you make it—through another hard day…

so we can remind each other that our Savior who died for us and knows our sufferings is linking arms with us. And that Jesus loves me. This I know. Especially in the hard beyond hard. 

{Selam, Eden, Heidi, Simona, Bethlehem, Izzy}

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life,

neither angels nor demons,

neither the present nor the future,

nor any powers,

neither height nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 8:35-38

How communication, mis-, and lack thereof affects relationships…and practical ways we can enhance and protect them in this dizzying digital age

Communication. It’s been an issue in relationships since humanity began and Adam told Eve “Oh, no, you didn’t.” At its worst, it’s the bane of many marriages. The final straw of more than one friendship. The ultimate extinguisher of a once-roaring romance. Of course, at its best, it’s also the sign he loved in the first place. The reason you knew your friendship was meant to be. The assurance you have that you are wanted and appreciated.

SilenceIt’s safe to assume these days that communication just ain’t what it used to be, and considering the effect this digital age has had on our communication, that’s no doubt the case. But for every way in which modern-day gadgets have hampered communication in our relationships, they’ve equally and oxymoronically made it all the easier and more efficient. Regardless, no matter the era, the method, or the means, communication can make or break any relationship.

In a recent and completely unofficial Facebook survey I conducted, I asked my peeps what their biggest pet peeves are when it comes to communication in relationships. From their responses, which were many, I have outlined the following communication what-not-to-do’s, starting with the most common answers. Take a listen to…

The Very Worst Ways to Communicate Very, Very Badly

  • Don’t. The most guaranteed way to do damage to a relationship is to simply not communicate at all. And while that seems beyond obvious (I mean, duh), it’s a blunder many of us commit. We go months without talking to our friend and then get offended that they don’t know what’s going on in our personal lives. We talk (and I mean really talk) to extended family only at holidays (if then) and act surprised that we don’t know each other well after all. We see our spouses only in passing and can’t believe that we’re no longer the close couple we once were. We never sit down to make real conversation with our kids and then just can’t believe that they would drift so far from what we’ve supposedly taught them. Let’s face it: We can’t expect to have real relationships if we have no real communication.
  • Lie. Stretch the truth. Pretend you’re somebody you are not. Cover for yourself. Say you feel one way when you really feel another. Ignore a message that you actually received, but fib and say you didn’t see it. Dishonesty of any kind has no place in our relationships. When found out (and it will be), it breaks trust, builds walls, and leaves the other person second guessing every single word that comes out of your mouth (or your device). Lying tells the other person that they should not be real with you, because you are less than real with them.
  • Expect mind-reading. Listen, even Sylvia the Psychic sucked at mind-reading, so unless you have ESP and can telepathically send a message—and have it successfully delivered, don’t expect anyone else to know what you’re thinking at any given time or on any given matter. Truth be told, expecting someone to read your mind is one of the most futile and desperate acts in any relationship, and dealing with someone who expects mind-reading gets really old really fast. It is a power trip, a lazy and ineffective way to get your point across, and a selfish demand of an unfair amount of energy from the person on the other end of the relationship. Bottom line: If you have something to say, SAY IT. Otherwise you might find friends, co-workers, and even romantic partners walking away because they’d rather have a relationship than play your games. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Play the passive aggressive role. You didn’t invite me to join the group on the last Night Out on the Town. Instead of informing you that that like really, really hurt my feelings, I’ll just ignore your texts and quit liking your posts on Facebook, because we all know THAT WILL REALLY SHOW YOU. You didn’t like my comment on your recent post, so you block me from your page altogether instead of talking it out like a big girl. You’re utterly offended or totally annoyed with someone, so you vent on Facebook instead of dealing with it directly. (See a social media pattern here? This digital era seems to fuel the fire of passive aggression.) Sulking when your husband gets your size TOTALLY WRONG, giving a cookbook to your daughter-in-law when you know she sucks at cooking, “accidentally” tossing your husband’s favorite but totally too-oft worn shirt in the Goodwill pile because you just can’t stand to look at it for one more day, throwing around backhanded compliments, postponing an invitation because you just really don’t want to go, avoiding running into someone because you don’t want to tell them how you really feel…Yep, all passive aggression at its finest. At their roots, most communication issues probably involve passive aggression to some degree or another and an avoidance of simply telling the other person what you actually want them to know. And while we all participate in this futile game sometimes, it is undoubtedly cowardice at its core and an unfair way to deal with anger, leaving one person in the dark while you go on trying to release your aggression, well, passively. Passive aggression only serves to confuse and shuts down any potential conversations entirely.
  • Manipulate. Manipulators have an arsenal of communication weapons available to them, and they certainly aren’t afraid to use them to get what they want. Those who fall victim to their schemes feel duped and betrayed, yet somehow can’t stop themselves from falling under their sway. Manipulation. Both men and women are deft in this “skill,” and both use it for their own gain. “I cannot live without you.” “You’re the most beautiful man/woman I’ve ever met.” “If you really love me, you’ll…” It is a selfish tactic in communication in any relationship: using your words to your own advantage instead of to the benefit of the other party.
  • Be completely unclear or totally vague. Give an answer but don’t really. Don’t say yes but don’t say no. Commit but only halfway. See what I mean? I already want to pull out my unwashed hair. Vagueness in communication can be more maddening than no communication at all. It doesn’t actually deliver any message and merely frustrates the receiver, while the sender can pretend they are totally off the hook. “What is the problem? I already answered your question.” Uh, yeah. But you didn’t actually give an answer in your “answer.” Uh-huh. Got it. Clear as my mind at sunrise. Just shoot me straight, please. 
  • Absolutely incorporate always and never. Because everyone always loves to hear that they absolutely never do this or always do that. Listen, there are very few things any of us always or never do. So unless you are in a relationship with that one exceptional person who always is this and never is that, don’t ever use these words. Like never. Ever.
  • Go on the attack or play defense. It’s easy to put up our dukes and let the metaphorical fists fly when someone confronts us (even gently and justifiably). We feel under attack. But before you clench raised hands and put up your guard, consider what the other person has to say, even if it hurts a little (or a lot). You might be surprised how quickly a matter is resolved when defenses are down and hands are extended. 
  • Plug your ears. Listening is a vital component to communication, so it’s no shocker that refusing to hear what someone has to say (whether intentionally or negligently) shuts communication down entirely. If you’re a parent, it’s especially easy to think we are good listeners for our children, but if you ever hear your kids say in exasperation, “You never listen to me!,” then we might want to honestly survey our listening skills. In reality, they might be lacking. In whatever relationship, if you feel like you are hearing the same thing over and over again in the same conversation for the past umpteen years, maybe you’re not actually listening at all. So get your fingers out of your ears and listen up.
  • Don’t respond. Someone needs a favor from you. A friend asks you out to dinner. You need are desperate to know what time your husband will be home from work. Your mother-in-law needs to find out what time you’ll be getting to their house for Thanksgiving dinner. And you don’t give any response. You are now the Most Frustrating Person on the Planet and people are cursing your name. Congratulations.

Now, lest I leave you with your head hanging, hands wringing, and you walking away feeling like the suckiest of all sucky communicators {because that wouldn’t be very helpful, would it?}, let’s be honest: The truth is we could all use some work on our communication skills and habits. I’m more positive than my last pregnancy test {don’t get any ideas—that was four years ago} that I’ve committed at least two or three of these communication no-no’s in the past 24 hours. So what can you do in this crazy digital age to enhance communication and thus build better relationships with everyone you know—whether it be your spouse, your best friend, your parents, your boss, your kid’s teacher, your hair stylist, or your cubicle-mate? Well, here you go…

Practical Ways to Communicate Like a Pro With Everyone You Know (and thus not make people hate your guts):

  • Don’t gossip. You’re not in junior high. (And if you are, I’m sorry. Life does get better.)
  • Go to the source. Whether you just need clarity or are highly offended, don’t chatter behind their back. For the LOVE. A few years ago I abruptly and painfully lost a very close friendship because she (apparently) misinterpreted my passion and was offended by my delivery. Instead of coming directly to me with her hurt, she went to others, badmouthed me, joined my naysayers, and never spoke to me again…all in response to a message that wasn’t even directed at her in the first place. Like I said, GO to the source. Backstabbing is never the right move. {Yeah, I said never. Put away your knife and sue me.}
  • Don’t communicate something publicly if it’s better spoken privately. You’re meeting a friend for a movie? Private message or text. We don’t need to know what we weren’t invited to. Upset by a comment someone made to you? Private message. Because what’s more awesome than one angry person is a whole mob ready to join in. Want the world to know how much you adore your wife and think she is the bomb-diggity? Definitely post to her timeline. (Ahem.) But please don’t use ridiculous words like bomb-diggity. For realz.
  • Be specific. Vagueness is lame.
  • Be clear. Don’t confuse.
  • Be concise. Don’t say too much. (I know. My apologies.)
  • Think before you speak. Or type. Or text. Or press send.
  • If someone calls you (as IF) or sends you a text, email, or Facebook message and asks a question that merits an answer, REPLY TO THEM, even if just to let them know you just don’t have an answer (yet). Whatever you do…
  • Do NOT tell them you never got the text or message. Because A) that’s a lie, and B) you sound ridiculous.
  • BUT, don’t assume that just because you sent a message, it was read to and attended to. (I know, annoying double-edged sword here.) Because as Kirk’s grandpa was fond of reminding him, to assume only makes an, well, you know.
  • If someone invites you to an event/dinner/a movie, RESPOND with a yes, no, or I dunno. And, as soon as you know whether it’s a nay or yay, tell that person. They’re waiting.
  • Same goes when another person’s logistics depend on your answer. Give them one. You might just be saving them from going over the edge with stress. (Trust me here. I have like 76 kids who are in like 23 different extracurricular activities. Don’t make me cry.)
  • If your plans change, inform all parties involved immediately. It affects their plans, too.
  • Call your friends. Yeah, on your phone. Like, find them in your contacts list and press TALK.
  • Don’t nag. Dripping faucet, anyone?
  • Initiate conversations. Don’t always wait for someone to communicate with you.
  • If you are thinking of someone or praying for them, tell them. A brief message can communicate much.
  • If you are frustrated with someone, either build a freaking bridge and get over it, or work it out with them. That means a conversation must be had. In person, if possible. Text conversations? No bueno for this.
  • When talking face-to-face, look them in the eye (but don’t stare too intently, because that communicates →CREEPSTER←). Nod your head. Unfold your arms. Don’t interrupt. And don’t walk away until the conversation is over.

So, did you get all that? You’re such a good listener. (Sorry, that’s another rule: Don’t patronize.) Sure, it’s a lot to mull over, but I think we owe it to ourselves and each other if we’re going to have any shot at real, meaningful, and thriving relationships in this digital day and age. So put down the phone—or maybe pick it up—and make communication a proper priority, because as quickly as a lack of, mis-, or poor communication can destroy a relationship, renewed communication can restore it. And because I want to follow my own advice, I want to know what you’re thinking: What Rules of Communication (especially in this digital- and social-media driven era) would you add to the list? Please share. I’m listening.

The right word at the right time
    is like a custom-made piece of jewelry,
And a wise friend’s timely reprimand
    is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.

Reliable friends who do what they say
    are like cool drinks in sweltering heat—refreshing!

Like billowing clouds that bring no rain
    is the person who talks big but never produces.

-Proverbs 25:11-14, The Message

Why You Should Ditch Your New Year’s Resolution {right this minute}…and Make One that Really Counts

If you’re reading this blog during the first week of January—the week of original posting, there’s a seriously good chance that just days prior you made a New Year’s resolution. And, let’s be honest, no matter when you’re reading this blog, there is a darn good chance you’ve already broken it. (No yelling at my kids? I made it 1.75 days. Congratulations to me.)

So, seriously, what’s up with that? Why do we make resolutions, mostly don’t keep them, and then do the same thing year after year after year after every freaking year? Are we all just a bunch of useless failures when it comes to follow-through? Are we all just lazy bums? Do we have no clue how to reach our goals? Maybe. But let’s back that Self-Worth Wagon up a minute, because I really don’t believe that we are that lame. I think the real problem isn’t that we are just massive losers committing massive failures on a massive scale. Perhaps the real reason we suck at keeping our resolutions is that our resolutions totally suck in the first place.

Yep, that’s right. Blame it on your resolution. {See, it’s already not even your fault. You’re already less of a loser than you were two paragraphs ago. Well done.} So you can go ahead and ditch that resolution RIGHT THIS MINUTE, and I’m going to tell you why—as if you needed a reason (seeing as you already broke it anyway). Then, I’m going to do you a Big Fat New Year’s Favor and help you make a New New Year’s resolution. Or two. Or three. {Oh, no. I said fat. Don’t cry. It’s okay. Read on.} And then I’m going to guarantee that you will stick to said New New Year’s Resolutions. Once and for all. Until Kingdom come. So come December 31, 2014, you can pick up your phone or laptop or other dohickey, find me on Twitter or Facebook, and thank me profusely. You’re welcome already.

But wait. It’s only been a few days. Ditch your resolution already? Yes. NOW. Why? Because, like I said, it sucks. Don’t believe me? Well, here you have it…

Resolve This

Why Your New Year’s Resolution Totally Sucks

  1. You have no plans to keep it. No concrete way to carry it out. No real plan to do what you claim you want to do. You want to lose fifteen pounds? Fantastic. Me too. Nice goal. But you have no plan to accomplish that, which really means you have no real plan to lose that weight. Hence, you’ll never lose that weight. Why? Because you don’t plan to. We only really plan to do what we really want to do. So if you have no real plan, then you have no real goal. And clearly, you have no plan. How do I know this? Not because Dr. Phil said so, but…
  2. Because it’s the same resolution you made last year, and every year for the past five years or even more. So after a decade of breaking that same resolution, it’s almost certain that you have NO real plans to follow through on it. NONE. ZERO. ZILCH. Your youngest child is three years old now. You have been spending the last three years “planning” to lose that last fifteen pounds of “baby weight” from those Satanicly scrumptious deceptively non-nutritious Reese’s Cups and Fruity Pebbles that sustained you through nine months of fetus-carrying, and yet you still have yet to lose a pound. {I’m talking about a “friend” here. Don’t judge her.} So stop it. Just stop it now. Because…
  3. It’s important to differentiate between what you RESOLVE to do and what you merely wish a New Year’s Resolution Fairy would throw some magic fairy dust on and do for you. {Muffin Top Fairy? I’m finally accepting the fact that she doesn’t exist. Curse her.} Or else you’ll do what you have done every year since you’ve made that same resolution and…
  4. You will feel like a total failure ALL YEAR LONG. You’ll hate yourself for totally sucking at sticking to your goals. You’ll avoid full-length mirrors. You’ll dread running into an old high school friend. You’ll give up on everything because you totally suck at this one thing. So ditch it. Ditch that goal. Toss out the one thing you completely fail at, because you are so good at so many other things. After all, why spend 365 days feeling like a loser, beating yourself up, all year long year after year after year, for something you had no real plans to keep in the first place? (Let’s be honest, right?) So…
  5. Unless your New Year’s resolution is to Feel Like a Perennial Loser or you’re writing a self-nonhelp book on How to Set an Unrealistic Goal With an Unreal Plan that You Really Won’t Carry Out, then your New Year’s resolution is totally not worth keeping because it wasn’t even worth setting. Because, as I’ve already so guiltlessly demonstrated, you’re probably not going to keep it anyway. And it’s totally okay. {Dude. I’m like your Self Esteem’s Biggest Fan right now, right?} Totally okay? Yes, totally. Why?
  6. Because even if your resolution were suitable, doable, and completely appropriate, keeping your resolution isn’t the end-all be-all bringer of joy in your life—not this year, not ever. In fact, I’ll take that a step further and suggest that your New Year’s Resolution won’t even bring about the satisfaction you think it will should you successfully carry it out. “I’m going to do 100 crunches every night before I get in bed.” Really? Because if you do that 365 torturous times you’ll finally be happy with yourself? “I’m going to stop drinking Diet Dr. Pepper every day.” Because surveys show that tossing out the soda is the true key to personal happiness? Sure, achieving a goal—no matter the size or daringness of it—is an incredible feeling in and of itself.  And there is much to be said for dreaming radical dreams and not stopping until they are realized. {That’s a whole other blog to write.} But no goal—no matter how diligently sought after—will bring about the ultimate, sustaining happiness we all desire. Especially if, as so many of our professed desires indicate,
  7. We are entirely too focused on our own selves and oblivious to how we affect the world around us—for better or for worse. In a study by the University of Scranton, out of the Top 10 New Years Resolutions for 2014, the top seven are almost entirely self-focused. Only numbers 8 through 10 have any real benefit to others. Of course, this does not negate the value of those “self-focused” goals entirely. Obviously, we should try to be healthy, lose our obese status, pursue our talents, and spend our money wisely. But maybe it’s time we begin to think a little more outside ourselves. That’s something we can all do all year long, and we don’t even have to beat ourselves up in the process in order to make it happen.

So, what then? If our resolutions are oh-so-totally crappy and will just make us feel oh-so-totally crappy at year’s end, then let’s figure out…

How to Make a New Year’s Resolution that Really Counts

That’s right. Let’s all go ahead and toss out the old, unrealistic, (mostly) egocentric resolutions and ring in the new, more easily attainable, others-focused resolutions that will transform us into actual DECENT HUMAN BEINGS, and not just physically fit ones. That’s a worthy goal, right? No, that’s a worthier goal. No doubt.

  1. Instead of “resolving” to shed those excess pounds that you’ve carried for ten years now and warding off all desserts (because that’s seriously NO fun, y’all), how about you go ahead and buy a treat every payday but also go ahead and fill an extra bag of groceries to drop off at the local food pantry? You’ll realize how blessed you actually are. (Ever strike you as twisted that we Americans are trying to eat less while so much of the world just wants to eat?)
  2. Instead of telling yourself how fat/ugly/overweight/out of shape you are all year long and hating the size jeans you wear (and have worn for five years now), how about you accept your body for what it is and use that energy to thank God that you are alive and in one piece? Take those old “skinnier” jeans to donate to someone who could actually use them now…and who really does need them.
  3. Instead of joining that gym and pretending like you’re going to actually go often enough (or even at all) to make it worth the expense, why not cancel that membership and use that money to change someone’s life by sponsoring a child through Compassion or World Vision? If getting in shape were simply a matter of joining a gym, heck, I would have joined a long time ago. But since my rec center ID card does not in fact diminish my love handles, I ought to be realistic and use that money for a better cause than my (apparently permanent) child-bearing hips. A child in Nicaragua who can’t go to school because his family is poor doesn’t care about your gym membership; they care about getting a meal and an education.
  4. Instead of promising yourself that you’re not going to yell at your kids one single time this whole year (and breaking that promise on Day 2), what if you just talked more to them period? What if you complimented your daughter on her outfit, read a book to your four-year-old, took your teenage son to get ice cream? What if you actually asked them how their day was, what they did with their friend, what they want to do tomorrow?
  5. Instead of vaguely vowing to have a better relationship with your husband/wife, how about you go ahead and make that appointment for the marital counseling you’ve been putting off since Year One? What if you actually did go ahead and forgive them for being a jerk, or emotionally dead, or even for totally failing at being the spouse you thought you were getting? What if you didn’t wait to actually build that marriage?
  6. Instead of committing to “be nicer to others,” what if you actually made a concrete plan to smile at strangers in public? What if you were intentional about tacking on an extra sentence at the grocery checkout, so that it’s not just “thanks and bye,” but rather, “Oh, I love your haircut! It looks great on you.” Or, “you have beautiful eyes.” Try it.
  7. Instead of hoping to wake up an hour early to run every morning, but hitting your snooze fifteen times every day for fifteen weeks in a row, why not use that hour at the end of the day when you are already awake to read the Bible more? Or even just to read more?
  8. Instead of merely wishing you had better friendships (and even whining to your mom or spouse about it), why not actually pick up your phone this year to call someone you miss? Someone you haven’t really talked to since both of your lives got busy with career, kids, and chaos? Why not go ahead and plan that night out?
  9. Instead of thinking you’ll go reconcile that relationship someday in the far-off future, why not do it this year?
  10. On the other hand, instead of putting up with that abusive and dysfunctional person in your life for one more day, why not put up healthy boundaries TODAY and see where you are a year from now?
  11. Instead of driving yourself into the ground to get that promotion at work, missing out on irreplaceable family and friend time, what if you actually got to know your co-workers in the cubicle next to you?
  12. Instead of hoping to finally landscape that front yard, how about you walk across the street and actually meet your neighbors?
  13. Instead of, instead of, instead of…Well, you get the picture.

Yes, it can be the year that you finally ditch those crappy resolutions that you never, ever keep and never will, that suck your self-esteem, wreak havoc on your self-worth, and keep you fixated on the shallow. It can be THE year for you. The year of relationships. Of reconciliation. Recovery. Generosity. Selflessness. Depth. Of the things that actually really do count for something in this life.

Because in the end, and it will come—it always does, what does it matter if you have the perfect body on the outside yet have bitterness, spite, envy, or loneliness in your heart? What does it mean if you build up your physique but haven’t built up your kids? What does it count for if you start to like the way you look but never look a stranger in the eye?

Sure, I’d like to be fit and trim again. (Who wouldn’t?) But if I’m honest about what really counts, I’d rather be generous with my love, aware of others’ needs, in tune to those around me. So I’m resolving THIS. Because these are things I can easily resolve to do…and actually easily do. And you know what? It really won’t even suck in the process. In fact, come December 31st of this year, we’re going to feel a thousand times better about ourselves, Muffin Tops and all. I guarantee it. You with me?

Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. -1 Timothy 4:7-8, The Message

 

 

P.S.—Because I know it’s coming—If your New Year’s Resolution is going to literally save your life, then by all means KEEP IT. And get a real plan to do so. You’re smoking? Stop. Drinking too much? Get help and stop it. Morbidly obese? See your doctor now and get to the gym. Duh. Because if you do, then next year you’ll actually be here to make a resolution that counts for more than your health.

P.P.S. If you already have the perfect body and just can’t get enough of the gym, well, I’m happy for you. No, I really am. Keep it up. But don’t neglect the things that really do matter in this life. Your body will one day rot. It will. But your soul and the impact you have on this world, well, they will live on forever.