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He sat across from me in my office, silent.  His hands were fidgeting as he continued to look down and shifted in his chair.  Was he contemplating the non-existent pattern in the carpet?  Had he heard me, I wondered?

Almost a complete minute of silence had passed since I had asked him the question. Apparently, it had provoked a deep introspection.  We had been discussing the value of communicating thoughts and emotions in his relationships.  As his griefs had surfaced over the past season, so had a deep confusion over his identity.  For this man, it had always been easier to logically assess a situation, plan a practical task, and move forward, ignoring the effects of his words and actions on those around him. 

Relationally, he was oblivious.  Until lately.

Now, in the midst of the cost of his marriage, his Inner Life was waking up.  My question had been a simple one:  “If you were your wife, what would you think or feel about you?”

I have learned over the years, to allow my clients time to think through their answers, and wait for responses.  But, as the silence wore on in this particular session, I began to realize we were on unknown ground for this particular gentleman. 

I broke into his reverie. “Are you having trouble?” I asked.

“She told me before she left,” he replied. “I just didn’t want to listen, I guess.”

“What did she say?”

“She told me that I didn’t want her.” He stopped. “Why would she say that? We never talked about this stuff.  Where would she get that idea?”

And there it was. After years of ignoring his wife; expecting her to take care of him without verbal or relational connection; leaving the care of the children and the home completely in her hands; acknowledging her only in public… this client was surprised at his wife’s apparently inconceivable decision to leave.  Hadn’t he been a provider, he reasoned?  That should be enough. After all, he was the man, he said.

“What do you think you would think or feel?” I repeated the question.

“I guess I would feel lonely,” he sighed a response. “I just didn’t know I was supposed to care about those things. It never occurred to me how she might feel.  I mean, she took care of everything.  I really thought she was happy. In control, you know…..”

“Did she ever tell you she was unhappy?”

He shifted in his chair again. “Well, a couple of times when we had fights. I would bring something to her attention, and she would burst into tears and ‘go off.’  You know, hormonal.”

“What does that mean: ‘you would bring something to her attention?'”

“Like something she needed to change — about herself; or about the house, or how she was handling something with the kids.”

“Did you help her?”

“I didn’t have time to do that.  I was working.”

“Were you critical of her?”

“Probably, but only to help her.” He looked at me. “Isn’t the wife supposed to take care of the husband? Isn’t that her Biblical reponsibility?”

At that point, I called him by name. “Do you realize that when you try to change your wife in that way, you are telling her that you don’t really want her as your companion? What she hears is that you want someone else who will act and respond in a different way, and be a different person than she is. You are telling her that you don’t want her. Not only that, but when that is the only communication she is receiving, it is doubly damaging.”

He looked at me, dumbfounded; his mouth and eyes wide open, like a deer in the middle of a road facing bright headlights.

“Not only that,” I continued. “But as to Biblical responsibilities, the Word has much more to say about the man’s responsibility to care and nurture his wife than it does about the woman’s role.”

“For real?” he asked.

Being female, it amazed me that he hadn’t known this.  This man, although he loved his wife dearly, had been content to live and function on a facts level only, ignoring his family, making demands. In contrast, his wife had been living in emotional starvation since their days of courtship.  Then, through the years of marriage, this husband had mistakenly assumed that because he could explain away her complaints and emotions as “not being logical,” they didn’t matter.  If he could discount them, and find an alternate perception, it became his habit to expect her to consistently adjust and make personal changes.  

This man had expected his viewpoint to determine Acceptable Truth.  Apparently, there had been no alternatives; no team; no unity.  He felt it was his God-given privilege.

Since that meeting several years ago, I have encountered many in our culture with the same issues; many marriages with the same struggle.  Sadly, in my own experience, situations like this one are even more prevalent within the mindset of the Christian church, than in the secular environment. 

God’s original design for marriage is that each partner seek to outserve the other one; not one-sided or demanding.  The husband submits his life to Jesus, and loves his wife without condition, laying his life down for her.  The wife responds by submitting her life to Jesus, and honoring his intentional choice to serve.  Together they are a team, seeking to build each other up — without asserting rights, choosing to learn how to grow together, living their growth honestly and vulnerably in front of their children and the rest of humanity.  This is the way of the Kingdom.

When we come to Christ, he calls us to forsake the desire to put ourselves first.  We become disciples — learners. We choose to serve.  A marriage doesn’t work when one partner does more serving than the other — because it isn’t God’s plan.  Such a relationship becomes selfish.  The non-communicative partner becomes the center of the orbit; with everyone seeking to gain their approval…… this is narcissism.  Sadly, it lives in the American Church as well; in marriages that would like the label “Christian.”  But Christianity is about what Jesus would do — not about our rights, our feelings, or our comfort.

We are not called to rule each other — we are called to serve each other. We are called to empathy.

I have had the exhausting joy of helping many broken and abused women over the years in rebuilding some semblance of their lives. I still find myself getting angry when legalistic dogmatics contend for some sort of “scriptural” selfishness and entrapment when it comes to abuse in Christian marriages.  In a day when our American culture has become increasingly self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed, there is a desperate need for more than surface answers in our homes and families. 

It is time for a house-cleaning  from the attributes of Denial, Entitlement and Religiosity. 

It is time for Honesty, Healing and Growth.

If you are in a relationship like the one described here, let me encourage you to seek help.  Find a good, solid, Christian counselor who won’t offer platitudes; but will speak real solution.  God’s plan for marriage is that it reflect the relationship Jesus has with His Bride — Honest, Safe, Secure, Loving and filled with Grace.  Within the context of Reality; it means growing, learning and communicating; allowing your spouse to know your entire life, with nothing held back — ever. 

I’m glad to say that in that particular appointment years ago the husband began a process in working, hard, I might add, to win his wife’s heart back.  What took many years to destroy, God rebuilt in a season of months — in fact, I spoke with him not long ago, and he said, “Thanks. We’re still learning– every day!”  

Aren’t we all?  (Thank God!) 

Welcome to Discipleship 101.

(c)2010 DG Awakened to Grow.  Duplication without permission prohibited.

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We don’t know what we don’t know…..

When we realize we don’t know, most of the time we don’t possess the correct questions to help us begin to know what we need to know….. (now stay with me..)

And, most of the time, we only discover what we don’t know after we have made mistakes, and wish we could fix them.

It’s so true, isn’t it?……

Each month, through our ministry at Awakened to Grow, I teach workshops for personal growth and development.  This morning, the subject was “Parenting: How to Discover and Develop Gifts in your Child.”  For three hours, we discussed personalities, parenting styles, bonding gaps, learning styles, and the process of connecting with children on a heart-level. I was particularly touched by one participant who came.  She is a single gal, who came not because she has children of her own, but because she is a teacher who wants to help her more emotionally disconnected students.

Why, you might ask….

Because emotionally disconnected students don’t really learn or absorb.  They just memorize facts, and forget them later on.  This woman knows instinctively knows that if she can get her students to connect with her as the teacher, they will learn.

When our children were smaller, I mistakenly thought that a more structured and somewhat rigid environment would help them to become better students.  I scheduled, made task-lists, and sometimes over-organized our home-schooling/learning environment.  It didn’t work.  Wow, that’s an understatement. It really, really didn’t work.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

When I discovered that I didn’t know, I realized that I had no idea what questions I should ask in order to learn a different pathway.

It is the same way in emotional development, which, by the way is necessary for both genders.  When we count the male gender out of the process during boyhood, we damage their souls.  We stunt them as men; turning them angry and violent… or worse, we cripple them in their leadership skills later in life.  They find it difficult to find the courage to walk forward without looking over their shoulders.

We hinder them from hearing the Spirit of God as adult men.

Emotional development does not track with the growth of our physical bodies. In his research on the levels of moral development at Harvard, Lawrence Kohlberg divided the steps of emotional/moral development into five stages.  Level 1 descibes a person who is emotionally infantile, unaware and out of touch.  At the other end of the spectrum, Level 5 describes a person who is able to fully invest in relationships, connecting with and investing vulnerability in others unselfishly on a consistent basis.  Sadly, even as adults, more than 90% of the world’s population does not move past level 3 — self-centered, self-absorbed, unable to really understand other people around them. 

So what prevents us from growing?

Here is the the first key:  Unless a person intentionally addresses an area of relational living; assessing, addressing, and changing it; they will not, they cannot grow.  They might try to imitate a behavior, or keep a rule in order to save a relationship — but they will not be able to make real steps towards adult living. For example, if a man has had a difficult childhood, say, where he could not relate to his mother; that man will find it difficult to relate to women in his adult life in a healthy manner.  He will also find it difficult to relate to his daughters.  He won’t be a good communicator.  He might be struggle with being tempted to be unfaithful, or even cold and unfeeling….

If he has sons, his manner of relating is passed on; imitated and followed, many times for generations…

The same types of symptoms occur in women, when emotional development has been stunted; or bonding issues exist. 

Here is the second key:  Emotional development does not happen in seclusion or isolation.  It happens in community — We were created for relationship — Therefore, we need it in order to be happy, healthy and whole. 

This kind of growth many times cannot happen unless hidden wounds are addressed in a person’s life.  And please, for those of you who have been in Christian circles for a long time, please understand that it doesn’t happen quickly, or overnight.  Rather than a one-time event, where a person comes to change; it is a journey, with one step following another; happening incrementally, and intentionally. 

The first lesson we learn in emotional development, is that we must be willing to be honest; assessing where we live without fear, blame, guilt, shame or denial. 

The second lesson is more difficult. Choosing to trust a safe person; asking them to give us a new set of questions to ask about our lives.  

For more, let me recommend a great read. “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Pete Scazzaro. 

To close, let me say this:

My friend, Mike likes to post funny things on his Facebook page. Today, his quote came up, “God has already figured your stupidity into His plan.”   At first, I laughed, and then, thought, “It’s a good thing!”  You know, if God had to wait for me to “get it” every time, my life would have more delays than an airport….. He is the only One who knows all the things we don’t know….. and at the end of the day — He is the only one who can heal us!

Blessings!!

(c)2010  DG Awakened to Grow.  Duplication without permission prohibited.

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There is a story my husband loves to tell, about this man who was walking on a beach one day.   Looking down, he sees a brass lamp, which he excitedly pulls out of the sand.  As he begins to rub the sand away, (you guessed it), a genie appears.  The genie asks him, “I am allowed to grant you one wish. What would you like more than anything else?” 

 The man, being from California, says, “I would like you to build a bridge from Los Angeles to Hawaii, with restrooms, and no tolls.”

The genie frowns, replying, “Are you nuts? Don’t you know that will disrupt the shipping lanes? Besides, in order to engineer a secure bridge in the middle of the ocean like that, I will have to make all kinds of changes to the weather patterns.” He stops and thinks. “No, I don’t think your bridge is such a good idea. What else would you like?”

The man looks at the genie, pondering. Then, he answers, “I think I would like to understand the female mind.” 

The genie smiles, and then responds.  “Would you like that bridge to be a four lane or two lane?”

Ha ha, very funny, I say… 

But then, I’m female.  My husband, and every man he has ever told the story to, just howl together in laughter.  Interesting, I thought. So, during a speaking engagement, I decided to reverse the genders in the story, and see what happened.  Guess what?  The women laughed, and the men didn’t.  Let me say here, that Bill and I spend lots of time in communication each day; and I am finding myself more and more in love with him each day — even after 30 years of marriage.

Communication in marriage is like bridge-building. It is  a process requiring time, thoughtfulness, and above all, safety. Over the years, I have been amazed at the number of times I have had to remind married couples that they need to  learn to listen, as well as learn to share. Not long ago, I worked with a couple who had been married for more than twenty years, and had never shared their childhood stories with each other.  When I asked the husband “why,” he said, “My childhood bothered me, so I didn’t want to upset her.”  The wife, for her part, had been waiting for him to initiate a deeper conversation; one delving into the “why’s” of his principles and values.  But he had never opened the door.  So the silence remained.  When the door finally did open, this particular couple discovered a greater appreciation for each other, and a mutual emotional magnetism between them.  They fell in love again.

They had come to my office thinking they were heading to divorce court. The Silence between them had become deafening.  Sadly, they had waited until their children were grown, using their same patterns of relationship, to ask how the problem could be repaired.  Over the  years, the Silence had become Unresolved Conflict.

When a man and woman marry, hopefully they do so, because they love each other, and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Hopefully, it is because they have found a safe person who accepts and reciprocates their desire to know and be known.  In the Bible, this process is called, “the two becoming one.”  Notice that the word ‘becoming’ denotes a process.

Becoming one involves learning to speak a new language — the one your spouse speaks, many times not worrying about whether they are speaking yours… It means both partners giving 150%, rather than an even trade of 50%.  Servant-minded living is the economy of the Kingdom.  At the end of the day, each partner gains the ability to live in relationship “bi-lingually.”  If you need an illustration of how well it works to only speak your own language, imagine yourself needing to find a restroom in a foreign country, and not knowing how to ask.  What do you have to do in order to communicate?  Of course, you have to find someone who knows your language and ask them how to ask for directions.

It is too easy to consider only one’s own mindset in relationship.  And sadly, the “easy way” always costs us.  We lose relationship; we lose experience; we miss out on the richness of humor and discovery.   Mistakenly believing the only language we will ever need is our own, we isolate, we retreat.  We become self-centered, expecting everyone else to come to our point of view. 

And far too many times, if we have fortressed ourselves in, Anger shows up when we are asked to speak another language. 

Relationship is a God-idea —–  Isolated Independence is not.

Honesty and Vulnerability are Creator-concepts —-  Defensiveness and Secretive Silence are not.

God created us for Community.  Marriage is that Community’s first picture.  Family is its second picture. Community is where healing is supposed to take place. It is where relationships grow and develop; where we are allowed to grow; we discover even when we make mistakes.   Sadly, even church environments have at times become places where safe community has strayed from His original plan — so how to we learn to trust each other again?

It starts with Hope — Hope opens a door — it’s like finding the brass lamp.  Then, we have to let someone else in, to help us to learn a new language.  Because understanding the mindset of the opposite gender is always like building a bridge…..

Where do you want to start?

(c) 2010 DG — Awakened to Grow — Duplication without permission prohibited.

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Communication is under-rated. 

Like when our Rachel was learning to drive. That learning activity was something Bill did with her, and I observed from the back seat. Not having my husband’s great depth perception, my observations many times came with involuntary drawing-ins of air, and the universal-Mom’s invisible-brake pedal.  

“Turn left at the next street, honey,” Bill instructed, during one of her early lessons.  Now mind you, I had no reason to believe she wouldn’t do exactly what her father told her.  Up until that point, she had done rather well,  staying between the lines; braking slowly, accelerating respectfully —   

During moments like those you learn lessons about your children. Why is it we remember those moments of surprise so well?Perhaps because  we are vulnerable; especially when they are driving. After all,  they have the steering wheel!  That particular driving lesson,  we arrived at the left-turn corner in question, and Rachel drove past it, never slowing.

“Why didn’t you turn?” her father asked, watching not only the road-sign, but the purpose of our outing — the  Wendy’s and their large Frosty — pass into rear-view. 

“You said, ‘turn left,‘ Dad,” she responded, keeping her eyes on the road.  “I will when we get there.”

Bill and I exchanged glances. What was she saying?

“We did get there,” I said. “Why didn’t you turn?”

“M- ah-m!”  She sighed her reply, using the fifteen-year-old voice that only daughters-who-have-been-daughters,  of mothers-who-are-being-mothers would recognize.  At the next corner, Rachel began putting one hand over another, turning the steering wheel. 

Her dad and I found ourselves laughing.  Out loud. 

“What?” she asked, looking at us.  Her father’s eyes were twinkling as he responded. “Must be your other left, Rach,” was all he said, as the car made a right-hand turn.

From her earliest years, our daughter has mixed her directions. (I could write a book here, but I don’t want to get off track….)  When she was five, we tried everything, from making an “L” with the “left” hand, to memory games.  We even did the drill: “My left makes an ‘L’ and I write with my right.”  She tried hard; even to the point of frustration.  The knowledge just didn’t “stick.”  (Bear in mind that these days she is a gifted wedding photographer!  And even back then she was designing wedding dresses and evening gowns.)

She just couldn’t remember which side was left, and which side was right! 

For the sake of the story, I should tell you: I know exactly where the weakness in Rachel’s personal navigation system came from.  It wasn’t her fault.  For as long as I can remember, I too, have struggled; mixing digits, turning numbers; directionally challenged…. Once, years ago, not long after Bill and I were married, I once drove 25 miles out of the way, driving home alone from the grocery store!  Way back then, we were a young couple in a new city. That sense of not-knowing scared me.  Now, thirty years out? I have learned to deal.  After all, the tendency has surfaced so many times, for so long…. Now, its something we all joke about with each other.  “No, Mom,”  they say, “you don’t have to drive. We’ll lead you.”  

I’m thankful I can ask. I’m thankful for family. Additionally, I’m deeply grateful for community. Because, even though I keep maps in my car; several of my friends continue to be kind enough to answer their cell phones and take the time to provide me a running-feed of control-tower encouragement as I search for the right road.  I’ve become really good at U-turns; even the 3, 4, 5 and 6-point types of turns….  (Just a note:  This year, my favorite Christmas gift was the GPS our children gave me.  It’s great! — it has even helped my prayer life!  If I need to travel to a new place, I pull it out.  Then I pray the sky isn’t too cloudy to find a signal….)

Mixed directions. Misunderstood signals.  It seemed natural when the girls were smaller, to find different ways to communicate what they needed to learn.  For example, when they were learning to set the table, we didn’t tell them the fork went on the right (I mean left!) — Instead, we drew a template and asked them to copy it with the dishes.  When we passed food during Family Table, we would point in the desired direction and say, “Pass the bread that way.”  And guess what?  It worked.  Our girls learned.  We connected.  The table got set; the bread was passed.

As I’ve been working on the worksheets for teaching couples to bond, I’ve found myself thinking this week about my own sense of being directionally challenged, and what it has taught me about bonding issues.  Those places within each of us where we are still waiting for bonding to occur — those are the areas where our conflicts take place. Those are the areas where we have developed false strength. 

Those are the areas where the signal isn’t clear; “left” doesn’t really mean “left” to us — And even though we work hard, using the same minimal tools we have always used — it doesn’t seem to “click.”   I’ve had parents explain this away, by saying, “If my child never had it, they don’t know it’s missing, and that’s okay.”   If you have thought that way, let me ask you to follow that kind of thinking to its conclusion, and consider an equivalent statement:

“My child never grew a right arm, but it’s okay. They’re not handicapped.  They have the same abilities as everyone else.”

Such a statement isn’t true, is it?

I’m sure we’ll discuss this more at a later point, because it is where I am in the learning process of helping people heal right now…. Just let me say that bonding gaps cause us to develop wrong perceptions about who we are; places where have chosen to live our lives alone. Usually, these are the empty places, left unaddressed in us, for one reason or another.  Used to being alone, we choose to survive alone;  not choosing community; figuring it out by ourselves. 

Such independence does not make us stronger, it just gets us lost… like me on new roads without a GPS– only refusing to make a phone call.   We become like explorers without a compass.  When this independence happens within a marriage, it transends into parenting;  and our children do not receive the emotional tools they need.  How can they? 

We cannot give to them, what we don’t have — Or teach them what we haven’t learned ourselves.  

The Solution for our bonding needs is presented in our Heavenly Father.  He is God — He is the One who made us, who loves us, who chooses us to be His — no matter what.  He is the Only God, and  He speaks every language.  He knows every bonding deficit.

The moment we open to receive His love — He begins the process — He will do whatever it takes to connect with you.  That is why He came in the form of  Jesus Christ.  

If that seems a little scary right now, then, at the very least, begin opening your life to those you love.  Admit your weaknesses.  Ask for help.   Then, look around.  Let me encourage you to find a solid group of real believers in Christ who believe in the value of community; Safe people, who will let you fail as you learn. 

God isn’t about religion — He is about relationship; and it’s not anything you can earn by keeping a set of rules, or acting a certain way.

He just loves you, and wants you to get the right signals.

 

 

(C)2010 DG — Awakened To Grow .  Duplication without permission prohibited.

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Don’t you just love the AT&T commercials about the mother who wants her family to realize the value of their rollover minutes?  I think my favorite part of the whole thing is watching the facial expressions of those around her; her sons, her husband…. Body language says it all, friends.

(If you haven’t seen the series, I include a youtube link here.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFepU_hcZ0s&feature=PlayList&p=23F1FDE8BDDDEBA1&index=3 

Which brings me to yesterday’s funny moment. Believe it or not, a lot of them happen in counseling…. Anyway, one of the couples I see in Inner Life Development, was sitting in my office. The three of us are in the midst of discovering how they can best communciate with each other.  Even though they have been married awhile, this man and his wife can go days without indepth touch or connection.  Some days they don’t even speak to each other. 

They never learned how…. How can you do something you never were taught to do, or even saw occur? 

You can’t. It’s impossible to give away what we haven’t received…..

Sadly, each of us have areas in our lives where that question could be applied… Each of us must discover our own need for conflict and change.  And by change, I mean growth. 

The element to lift us from our melee? A healthy response. Our response when we become personally aware of our ignorance;  that response is telling in our development of character.  It is the key to the Holy-Spirit-provided door to unlock our Personhood. Most especially, our response shows our capacity for relationship; not only with others, but with God as well.  How do we respond?  Do we become angry? Withdraw? Defend ourselves?  Or, do we open our lives to others, ask a question, apply the answer, and continue towards emotional health; then spiritual maturity?

One cannot happen without the other.

Currently, I see four couples; each of whom has developed discontenment with the normal “non-talk” in their day-to-day.  Rather, they have chosen to live on a learning curve; bravely stepping into the unknown; learning to speak a new language; to invest themselves; to leap with their eyes open.  As such, they are in the 8% of those in our culture who are willing to actively seek healthy change and pursue it. 

These couples are learning to bond in their marriages where they have not been vulnerable to anyone else before; ever.  And, as they make discoveries, I am gaining  fresh understanding as well.  As we go, we are creating Learning Steps for the process of bonding.  The steps eventually will come in the form of worksheets; then a workbook I hope to make available on a larger scale; “Bonding: How To Do Relationships.”   As we go, each of the couples has agreed to let me share parts of their stories as part of the learning process we will make available for others.

Which brings me back to yesterday, (with permission, of course.)

At the end of our session, this precious couple was discussing with me, the week’s realizations.  I was explaining the worksheet packet they were taking away as part of their homework for the next week.  I said, “I would like you to set aside time to speak with each other for ten minutes each day.  This needs to be purposeful time. You are going to share your hopes, your experiences and your fears. You can even talk about what you are learning as you work through the worksheets I have given you. The time you share together has to go deeper than just the facts of the day. Please sit at a table together to talk. Don’t be distracted when you share. Set a timer, if you have to.  Here is the rule: You don’t stop communicating until the timer goes off, but if you go past the ten minutes; that’s a good thing.”

The husband looked at me.  For a moment, he was quiet. Bear in mind, he is learning the value of communicating and vulnerability.  He asked, “If we go over our ten minutes on one day, can we count those minutes on the assignment for the next day?”

After a few seconds of silence, I laughed out loud.  I couldn’t help it.  “No,” I answered. “That doesn’t work! We don’t rollover minutes on communication!”

It opened an entirely new door of learning.  Right then.

Which makes me think once again of the AT&T mom — and I wonder … How many couples out there are holding bowls of unused minutes, saving them for later? 

After all, leftovers never are quite as good……

(C)2010 DG — awakenedtogrow.com

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