A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: conflict (page 1 of 2)

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?

Sometimes in stress, we actually ask some of the wrong questions–which lead us to some of the wrong answers. We might be thinking stuff like, Did I even marry the right person? Would I be happier if I weren’t with you? Are we a good match? Are we going to get through this? Should I think about getting out? Questions like those, I realize, don’t lead us to be more married. They don’t lead us to “unity of mind” (1 Peter 3:8). They lead us further apart.

A tip: Set aside a time to talk about this when you’re not about to explode in frustration. Your goal isn’t an argument, but some constructive conversation: togetherness-talk. Consider sitting next to each other while you talk, cuddling or holding hands.

The goal of these questions? To push us further into a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Examining the Stressed Version of You (Plural)
  1. As individuals, what patterns do you and I fall into?
  • How do I know when you’re stressed? (Again, this list will help.)
  • How do you know when I’m stressed?
  • What are your go-to ways of relating? He goes into man-cave mode. I work until long after the kids are asleep. He gets critical. I get insecure. I don’t talk. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t really “see” me and my needs. I can’t get out of bed in the morning.
  1. What are each of your favorite coping mechanisms? Some of those will be helpful. In what ways do you each overuse your coping strategies?
  2. Ask each other:
  • What’s one tangible way I can help you cope?
  • At what point are each of our coping mechanisms unhelpful?
  • How can I help you steer clear of that point?
  • How can I be a “safe place” for you when you’re in hard times? How can I advocate for you?
  • In what ways do I make you suffer the consequences of my stress?
  • If you were to write a “stress relief prescription” of activities for me, what would be on it?
  • What do I dislike about “us” when we’re stressed? How do our weaknesses tend to create friction?
  1. What lies do we each tend to believe when we’re stressed? I’m powerless. When I’m overwhelmed, passivity is all I can muster. I’m a failure. I don’t have what it takes. If people don’t think well of me, I’m nothing.
  • What truth can I gently remind you of when you’re in those dark places?
  1. Who’s been helpful to us in the past when we can’t see our way out? Is there anyone new who might help us? Who encourages us to be more “married”, prays for us, and/or helps us see the good we can’t see on our own?
  2. Pray specifically for your marriage.
  3. For future reference in tough times:
    • What do we love about us?
    • What made us fall in love?
    • What keeps us trying?
    • What are our overarching reasons we push for a better marriage?
    • What do I love about you?
    • What am I thankful for in our marriage and our journey together? (Lord, don’t ever let us forget. Keep truth at the front of our minds, and show us what lies we’re believing. When we want to turn away, help us remember. Help us choose us, over and over.)

As you wade through thoughts like these, perhaps this prayer will encourage you as it did me this morning:

Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (it’s a new favorite of mine!), p. 255

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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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Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #5-7

Missed the first post, on phone skills, table manners with a guest, conflict resolution, and greeting? Grab it here.

5. Gratitude.

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Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #1-4

Think of these social skills as little golden keys to the future for your kids: They can get your kids into a lot of places! Bummer is, they can shut some doors, too, when our kids don’t master them. (Disclaimer: Writing this post does not declare my children in mastery of said skills.)

Social skills are key because manners are a form of loving others well. They lubricate the potential friction of social interactions.

(Some of them I’ve broken down because of my own experience with my son’s ADHD, such as giving him “scripts” for social situations; see #1.  I won’t speak directly to special needs in this post. But some of these ideas might work to put tangible steps onto often intangible skills.)

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Freebie Friday! Free Printable Poster: Reminders for Handling Anger

So many of you resonated with my struggle with anger and the ideas I’d collected for this post, and this one on my need to seek forgiveness from my kids. In an effort to keep pressing in to the destruction I cause in my lack of control, I put together this “fridge art”-style poster of “angry” reminders–to hang up inside a cupboard, perhaps, or tape beside the bathroom mirror. (I hope to put mine where my kids can see it–so they can learn, too, but also hold me accountable.) Enjoy–and if you like it, please share it!

DOWNLOAD YOUR letter-sized FREE PRINTABLE POSTER HERE!

Find more freebies and printables on this page!

Angry Reminders-1

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6 ways to take your relationships deeper in 2016, Part II

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Click here for Part I!

 

  1. Tell the whole truth. Vulnerability takes so much security—first, in our vertical relationship with God. I find a direct correlation between my ability to be transparent with other people and my own humility. Honestly, I used to wait for others to pursue me as a display of their concern for me—and sometimes still do. But I need to acknowledge my own need for others to shoulder what I’m carrying (Galatians 6:1); that it’s not good for me to be alone (Genesis 2:18); that I can’t say, “I don’t need you!” to people of my choosing (1 Corinthians 12:21).  Now, Jesus had his own concentric circles of friendship–his intimate three, then twelve disciples, then 72, then the crowds. I’m not saying we trust anyone with our most intimate, painful areas. But friendship is rewarding proportional to the courage and intimacy we’re willing to extend; and the bar that Jesus set–love one another as I have loved you–is one that will take the rest of my life to pursue.

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6 ways to take your relationships deeper in 2016, Part I

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My dad, my mom jokes, has two speeds in life: full-throttle, and asleep.

I know this, because I inherited a lot of it. I am nothing if not intentional (if you’re skeptical, click the ideas page). In fact, before it was honed by some maturity and grace, I’m pretty confident I used to scare people off a bit, plunking down my lunch tray in the college cafeteria and asking people what God’s been teaching them lately. Pass the salt, would you?

But while my intensity may have been a little…choking…what I don’t want to miss in 2016 are relationships that convey more than 140 characters. If I’ve learned anything from the African savannah, it’s that when you’re away from your herd, it’s hard to survive. You may even get picked off.

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12 “Angry” Steps

12 angry steps

I’ve written before about my anger problem. You know. The one I didn’t think I had until I had children.

But as conflict reveals my heart for what it really is, I’m compiling a working list of practical steps and thoughts as God patiently carves away the death in my heart and slowly makes me a conqueror.

  1. Discipline with the consequence, not tone of voice. This is my most prominent goal right now! Rather than the equivalent of “slash and burn” with my anger, I aim to calmly issue a precise, rational consequence. (I’ve had three good days in a row! Yeah!) I love an illustration I heard from Dr. Dobson: When a police officer pulls you over, even before he’s done anything, you’re sweating. You’re not afraid of him because he throws a fit outside your car door. He simply flips open his tablet! A consequence, firmly and surgically delivered, can speak for itself.
  2. Anger incinerates. It’s explosive. Often I used the anger equivalent of a rifle when a BB would do. As Tim Keller outlines in this fantastic sermon on anger, my goal is not no anger, or “blow [up] anger”, but slow anger. Being slow to anger is part of God’s glory (Exodus 34:5-6), and overlooking and offense is a person’s glory (Proverbs 19:11).
  3. When I’m tempted to yell—I should whisper. It forces kids to listen! But even more, if I can control my voice, rather than disciplining with it, I control my blood pressure, too.
  4. God set aside His anger for me. His reaction toward me was grace: not a lack of justice, but an acknowledgment at the fullness of what I did—and then setting aside His wrath to deal directly with my junk.
  5. Analyze it. I’m praying God will probe my heart for the deep, true cause of my anger: what’s precious that’s being trampled on. Sometimes for me, it’s the loss of control I feel over my children, or the inconvenience they’ve caused, something in my “kingdom” (rather than God’s) that I demanded, or my lost expectations. A lot of times, an idol is revealed—that’s become more important than God, or than loving my neighbor (i.e. my child) as myself.
  6. Incinerate the sin, not the child. In disciplinary moments, opt for the scalpel rather than the grenade that cuts out the sin intentionally and precisely. I wonder what would happen if I pictured my anger as a caustic acid—useful only for deleting sin, injustice, and wrong—that will burn when it splashes outside of its boundaries?
  7. Whatever it takes, take time to step away. I hope to give myself a five-minute rule: If I’m super angry, I need to step away until I can have a reasonable degree of confidence that I’m overcome by the Holy Spirit (demonstrated by gentleness, self-control, peace, and faith) rather than drunk on rage. I’ve been known to actually tell my kids, “I need to step away right now because I am going to sin against you [or sin even more against you]”.
  8. Get honest. One reader once recommended keeping track on her calendar; she’d mark “AO” (angry outburst) every time she lost it with her family. I like the idea of motivating myself toward discipline of my emotions, and creating some accountability, whether through friends, my spouse, or even a reward or consequences.
  9. Keep the strict discipline of reconciling and restoring. Playing out the Gospel means repairing, and sometimes even restoring our relationships after I mess up (like spending some cuddle time, or taking particular care to show love). For every trespass against my kids from me, I want them to also receive my apology. I love this author’s point that one of the most important steps in discipline is restoring our relationship with our children–and that goes both ways.
  10. Make it a repetitive source of prayer. If I’m supposed to pluck out my eye if it causes me to sin—am I really hating my destructive, ungodly anger like He does? I want to pray about this habit on a daily basis, and perhaps even fast about it. I’ve got four little Xerox machines running around my house, demonstrating the power of my sin to reproduce itself.
  11. Practice and discuss “Young Peacemaker” principles. Going with my kids through principles and materials like those from peacemakers.org has equipped all of us with vocabulary and principles to deal in godly, practical ways with the conflicts that seem as thick and suffocating as smoke in our house.
  12. Set myself up for success. My soul’s currently tethered to my very physical body with all its needs and, well, hormones. Getting sleep, not skipping meals or medications, taking time to download with friends, allowing myself plenty of extra margin in my schedule (both for holistic rest, and to avoid flying out the door in a “for the love of Pete, HURRY!” rage)—all of these subtract physical symptoms that leave thinner layers of self-control around my heart. I can allow more wiggle room in my demands and expectations in hormone-charged weeks. These strategies also allow me to deal with the issues that are really there, and do so with a level, non-reactive head.

Recommended resources:

“How to be Good and Angry” by Paul David Tripp

“The Healing of Anger” by Tim Keller

Liked this post? You might enjoy Two of the Most Important Words You’ll Ever Say and 26 Super-practical Parenting Hacks.

 

Tell us: What are some of your best anger-management strategies?

 

 

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My assignment–from God

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I was a brand, spanking-new junior in a high school far from my former Yankee home. So new, in fact, that my parents hadn’t even moved down yet; I bunked with friends of my parents, previously unknown by me, so I could be present at the start of the new school year. Marveling at the slow drawls, Wranglers, and racial tensions around school, I’d now written my first pre-AP English paper. We’d circled our desks and traded papers with another student. The student—bless his heart, as they would say in the South—was actually remarkably kind to me, er, my paper.

My English teacher was not.

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For the Days When Helping Hurts [You], Part II: When Helping Breaks Your Heart

helping hurts

Missed part I? Get it here.

I knew last week was going to be killer.

I was stoked for the opportunities, while bracing myself for days of training students 9-5 (and honestly, the three hours of traffic. Yuck). I confess to spending some lunches in the reclined driver’s seat of my minivan, snoozing until my phone’s alarm set me back in full gear.

And it was killer: an incredible chance to take every class at our refugee center through a peacemaking/conflict management training, building on a clear message of what God had done—and is doing—for us in our conflict with Him.

Considering the vast majority had trickled into Uganda from war-ravaged nations, a message of how to make peace practically in all our relationships was, I discovered, diametrically opposed to what many of them had been taught—or were teaching their children—from the time they could speak. Realistically, many emerged from nations that had been in conflict from before they were born. More than one student told me they had never known peace until they moved to Uganda.

What I didn’t anticipate was my own heart twisting inside me like a dishrag.

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