A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: relationships (page 1 of 12)

I, Robot: 6 Ways to Preserve the Humanity around You

When I was young, my dad regularly mortified me at restaurants throughout the Midwest. We’d be at Hardee’s, say. And he insisted in calling the waitress—there behind the counter, awaiting my straightforward order for a chili dog—by the name on her plastic nametag. As if she were another old friend, of which he had innumerable others not just in our small town, but a substantial radius around it. She would inevitably smile beneath that brown visor. At twelve, I simply wanted to crawl beneath a Formica table next to the French fry fragments and Rorschach blots of dried ketchup and wait out my dad’s exuberant friendliness.

Nowadays–you saw this one coming: I’m the one using the Starbucks barista’s name.

Maybe my dad primed me for one of my perennial takeaways from Africa: greeting everyone, even before you, say, ask where the olives are at the supermarket. There’s even a greeting, I learned, for people you pass on the road. (When I use it, yes—I’m the one now drawing a grin from a stranger. All they need is a visor. Or a nametag.)

An African friend explained that she believes it even prevents crime. When you make a relational contact with someone, even briefly, it simply…humanizes them. As in a quote I read long ago, hatred ends when you can see yourself in the eyes of another.

I am reminded of this in the words of the communal prayer, Brother, I greet the Christ in you. And this is what I’m chewing on today: how, in an increasingly automated world, we can acknowledge God’s image in people around us in simple ways.

My home culture is full of delightful doodads like ATM’s and self-checkouts. But as efficiency rises in importance—uh, a quality falling admittedly below my expectations in Africa—the relational element shrinks, out of necessity. People can become means to an end, not unlike machines. When they don’t produce in the expected manner and timeframe, there’s more opportunity for irritation.

Once, sitting at Arby’s and admittedly shoveling people into what I deemed their appropriate mental categories, I was convicted by a quote of C.S. Lewis:

The dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare… It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  (The Weight of Glory, 1949, emphasis added)

Obviously there’s a place for us to be task-oriented. But today, just in case you’re not the use-the-waitress’-name type: A few practical ideas to preserve the human in the imago Dei around us.

  1. Lean in.

    Someone once gave me good, simple advice about panhandlers: look them in the eyes, even if you don’t plan to give. When someone’s in pain, I can find myself in the mental equivalent of rolling up my windows and locking my doors—not just in self-protection, but simply because I don’t know what to do. Taking any form of responsibility is simply overwhelming. One of my takeaways from the Good Samaritan: He didn’t step around the guy in front of him. In Isaiah 58, God pleads, Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? No, I’m not suggesting we be the savior of the world. Africa, for one, is overwhelming if every problem is mine. In a sea of broken people, I try to see what fits within 1 Peter 5: Shepherd the flock of God that is among you. Who’s among me? Let’s start there.

  2. See people for their stories rather than their role toward us.

    Remember the impossibility that your kindergarten teacher actually went home and had a life outside of your elementary school? From the checker in Wal-Mart to the janitor at the mall, we empower people when we imagine and honor the context they’re coming from. A friend once wisely counseled me to see my mom not just as my mom, but as a woman. Somehow, this clicked in me. What are her hopes and desires outside of what I want, outside of her and I?

  3. See people for more than their labels—and let them wiggle outside of the labels we’ve stuck on.

    Labels can either be tools to understand or tools to maintain distance, right? From personality tests, to race and culture, to besetting sins—labels are only helpful so far as they help us to more accurately comprehend and compassionately respond. Be consistently hungry for stereotype-busters, even within the labels people use to define themselves.

  4. Hear the message tucked inside the words.

    This was advice given to my husband and I before we were married: In an argument, try to hear what the person’s saying rather than how they’re saying it. Ever been in a disagreement with someone who was kind enough to hear the real questions you were asking, rather than just the (irritated, misspoken, inflamed) way you actually said it? It’s a game-changer.

  5. Call rather than text or email. Visit rather than call.

    Presence matters! God’s Word became flesh and lived among us. Take time to relate with an extra degree of face-to-face time. This is especially with potentially negative information.

  6. Respect their “no’s”.

    If people are more than what they do for us, we can receive and cheer on their reasonably healthy boundaries, even if we don’t understand them. Without being overbearing, I can even dignify people and their own needs by encouraging them to set boundaries despite what I want. For us here in Africa, this meant that we declined offers for people to work at our home on Sundays, even if it meant a level of inconvenience for us. (Some of our African friends find it hard to take a Sabbath, because it’s a chance to earn much-needed money.) As Peter Scazzero suggests in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, it’s all too easy to become “human doings” rather than “human beings.” Communicate dignity by celebrating boundaries in others—and even yourself.

 

Like this post? You might like

“Not My Problem”

Secular to Sacred: Truth from Surprising Sources

Love Says No: How Boundaries Express True Care

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Guest post: A Prayer for Your Community–Every Day of the Week

It’s probably good that you can’t see my house this week. I actually said to a visiting friend yesterday, Mi chaos es su chaos. 

We’re moving out on Tuesday. As in, to very soon leave this stunning continent.

It’s some of why I’ve been exploring lately–in posts like this one on living “sent, like missionaries who stay, and this one on having an “open house”–what it looks like to live as people set on fire in and for our communities.  And after the heart-rending events in Manchester this week, we’re reminded again of the gaping need and pain in our communities. (In us, too.)

I like how The Message puts this:

 

But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims,

A sight to take your breath away!
Grand processions of people
    telling all the good things of God!

Yeah, I’m leaving Africa soon. But Webster’s describes “poverty” as the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount. And don’t we all sense that “insufficient in amount”? Don’t we all sense that not-enough-ness?

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’m helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This month and beyond, here’s a prayer for our communities for every day of the week–no matter what zipcode in which you find yourself. Check it out here on everthinehome.

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Guest Post: An Open House

Right now, scooter wheels are rattling past my bedroom window. Ugandan kids are out of school—and once 3 PM hits, they know they’re free to knock at our metal gate. They pour in from the neighborhood, sometimes even slinging their legs over the shoulder-height brick walls to leap down in our yard. Though I admit to some sense of relief when holidays are over—there’s a part of me that loves our yard swarming with kids.

Open House kids playing hospitalityScientist Jared Diamond’s quote remains perennially rooted in my mind:

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11 Ideas toward More Emotionally-whole and -healthy Parenting

The other day, both a bad thing and a good thing happened. My son—the one with ADHD—had a meltdown after lunch over his math homework. Maybe you’re thinking, I missed the “good” part. Good part: I realized he hadn’t melted down in a long time. So we were actually able to tease apart some of the factors for the meltdown (math after lunch, when his brain is tired; worrying that he wouldn’t get enough time to mess around at the pool after swim practice). We had time to deal not just with the meltdown, but to recognize it as the dashboard light it was—and hopefully circumvent it in the future.

One of the things I’m loving about some friends who’ve done the hard work of going—and responding to!—counseling is their remarkable capacity to love even better. As they’re combing out some of the tangles in their brains, everyone around them is cashing in on more enjoyable, meaningful interactions. My point? The time we spend investing in our homes’ emotional health pays untold dividends both to people around us now, and the countless ones in the future—including generations to come. Here, I’ve compiled some new and best-of ideas to take us to the next level (including yours truly).

Never underestimate the impact of a healthy home.

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Know Thy [Stressed] Self, Part II: The Stressed Version of Your Marriage

Missed Part I? Grab it here.

One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”

I wrote before that this time of leaving Africa, of setting a foot on two highly divergent continents, has delivered unavoidable stress to our relationship. Both of us are strained, so it makes sense that our most intimate relationships would bear that weight. So it was kind of God to remind us that despite the ways we occasionally feel like the losers in a three-legged-race right now—“us” is still a really good thing.

Part I of this post outlined some essential reasons we need to identify when we’re stressed. If you’re convinced, let’s get down to it. What are the signs your marriage is under stress?

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Worry: It’s What’s Eating You

A question. What are you…afraid of?

Fear has this way of flaying us open, I think. Of laying bare what we see as bigger than us.

Worry manifests itself in vastly different ways. Some of us, for example, seek to staunch this bleeding of our hearts with intense control or safety. That is to alternatively say, some of us who struggle most with control actually are waging an inner battle with fear. As counselor and neuropsychologist Ed Welch writes, “One message is obvious: ‘If I imagine the worst, I will be prepared for it.’ Worry is looking for control….Worry has become your talisman to ward off future catastrophe.”

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The Three Words Our Kids Critically Need to Hear

It was a low moment in my parenting—so I’m still a little flabbergasted for the high point my then-four-year old made it.
I’d made a phone call to him as he stayed at his grandma’s for the day. I hated I even needed to make it. After shouting at him that morning, I’d done a fairly false, overall lame job of apologizing. I’d still been so stinkin’ angry—and my mind’s eye zoomed in on his own error. (That’s him at four years or so, on the right.) So I picked up my cell and attempted something more like Jesus.

What I will always remember was what he said in return.

“Mommy, I forgive you. And I want to let you know that even when you do bad things, I still love you. And I want you to know that even when you do bad things, God still loves you.”

Now I felt really bad for blowing my top.

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What’s Hidden inside Your Love Story?

Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story.

–Sweet Land (PG, 2005)

I tease my husband (the poor introvert!). Because whenever I write about him—he, who washes his hands of anything to do with internet attention—readers eat. It. Up.What's Hidden in Your Love Story

But honestly, we’re all suckers for a good love story. Even if the characters are, say, a couple of anthropomorphic animated trolls with psychedelic hair. Yes, even guys, from Marvel comics to Jason Bourne.

We don’t just dig the attraction, gee-whiz-you-happen-to-be-exactly-the-Prince-Charming-I-was-keening-for stuff.  We watch (or read, or listen to the top 40) for two hours straight, or a whole TV season (or six), our spirits pressing the two together through everything life or a team of writers can throw at them.

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Guest post: God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray

Of the many nuggets I’ve gleaned from my father-in-law, perhaps one I am most grateful for is his response to my husband’s teen years.

A lot of people find merit in Mark Twain’s quip: When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.

But my father-in-law wasn’t one of them. Those tornadic years of my not-yet-husband’s were a signal to pull out the outdoor gear, summit as many of Colorado’s fourteeners as they could knock out, and tack on some decent kayaking, cycling, and snow caving along the way. My father-in-law saw the rippling strength of the teen years as a chance to explore manhood together.

teaching teens to pray

As people have forecast heartbreak for these years of parenting—and I realize my portion will come—my husband and I loved our six years of youth ministry. It was a little like working with wet cement, these textured, gravelly years of becoming. We could hold gut-level conversations about real, heartrending issues. Our faith offers unmatched answers to the question marks looming in the teen mind: unfathomable meaning and purpose for their lives, far beyond themselves.

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray, offers ideas to come alongside teens in prayer.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

 

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Gifts that Remain: Life Lessons for Keeps from Africa

I view the items in my home differently now. Everything is slid into a category in my mind: Pack it. Sell it. Give it. Just as we did five and a half years ago in Little Rock, we’re packing up our lives here in Africa. But of course the person who packed up then isn’t the same person who’s packing now.

And thankfully, those intangibles are things I can keep.

They don’t take up precious luggage space; I won’t need to sell them for pennies on the dollar with which I bought them. They’re Africa’s gifts to me.

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