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Five Habits to Ditch for Better Communication

So Robbie and I are at it again. We’re working on our relationship, courtesy of The Marriage Course. And we’re taking 30 other couples with us.

We love this class. The material is developed by the folks at Alpha, and in seven sessions (during which you get to enjoy a candlelit dinner at a table alone with your spouse every week), you cover some of the hottest topics in marriage. Topics like dealing with conflict, handling in-laws, having good sex, and learning how to show–and receive–love in ways that will matter.

(And heads up, Guys: There is literally no “group sharing” time. You get to come, have dinner, and talk just to your wife. #Do-able.)

This week, we dipped into The Art of Communication. Which is how I wound up holding a napkin.

Why, you may ask, was I holding a napkin?

The short answer is that it’s not good to give one spouse a less-forgiving object, such as a hammer, when he or she is trying to make a point.

The longer answer is that in this particular exercise (which is designed to help folks listen better), the person doing the TALKING gets to hold a napkin, while the person doing the LISTENING does not. That way, if either person forgets who’s job is what, they can just look at their hands (“Oh yeah, I don’t have the napkin”) and remember that they are supposed to be Paying Attention.

And Paying Attention, as it turns out, involves steering clear of at least five of the worst convo killers. Wanna know what these bad habits are?

(Be careful now. I thought I did, too. I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.)

(Ah, no. Did I mention that there are five habits? Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1. Reassuring.  The Reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem–which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The Advice-Giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit. Sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom or a dustpan. She just wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice-givers, too. I mean, I write a blog.)

3. Intellectualizing.  The Intellectualizer might also be called the Explainer, the Rationalizer, or the Pontificator.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, the Intellectualizer may jump in with something like: “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about money.” (Another word for “Intellectualizer” might simply be Buzz Killer. They don’t care how you feel; they just want to be smart.)

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a spouse or a friend, only to have them say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a Deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and to them, more interesting or attractive) path.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to speak or express emotion, it’s a bad habit.

5. Same goes for Interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Ouch.) Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then jump on in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is wayyy more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone. Seventeen seconds. Seriously? That sounds long, to me.

(Like, I remember one time on a car trip when I decided to be quiet and just let Robbie talk. After a couple of minutes, he asked if I was okay.)

(I think he thought maybe I’d died.)

Anyhow. Just knowing what the bad habits are is supposed to help you listen better–and after teaching this course six times, Robbie and I are starting to get there. What the habits don’t help with, though, is the age-old Mars/Venus divide. Like, when it’s Valentine’s Day, and a woman says she does not need flowers:

 

Yeah. I’ll report back if the folks at The Marriage Course ever discover a way for a man to fully comprehend the female brain.

Stay tuned. ❤

(And BTW, if you want to find a Marriage Course in your area, or even start one at your church or for your friend group, they make it SUPER EASY to do. Click here to get the full scoop.)

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The Life-Giving Power of Blessing

When George Washington was elected president, he rode to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to tell his ailing mother the news. The conversation reportedly went something like this:

George: Guess what? They want me to be president.

Mom: I’m dying.

George, flustered: Well, as soon as I get settled in New York, I’ll come back and …

Mom: This is the last time you’ll ever see me. But go, do your job. That’s more important.

Can’t you just hear her? As a mom, I know I can.

And I can relate to some of the crazy things that Mary Washington asked of her son. For instance, when George was in the Pennsylvania wilderness, fighting a losing battle against the French (and facing dire shortages in everything from tents and ammunition to clothing and food), Mom wrote a letter requesting that he send her a servant and “some butter.”

I’m sure my kids would say I’ve done worse.

But here’s the thing about Mary. Even though she really was dying (she had breast cancer) and could do nothing, tangibly, to help her boy do his job, she understood the power of words. And as they wrapped up what turned out to be their very last convo, she sent her son off with this charge:

“Go George, fulfil the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended for you; go, my son, and may that Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing be with you always.”

Our words carry blessings and curses. Or, as Proverbs 18:21 puts it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Which kind we speak–words that breathe life, or words that can cripple–is up to us.

And, strange as it sounds, the person our words target doesn’t have to be doing something we like or approve of in order for us to give them a blessing. Grumpy neighbors, irascible co-workers, wayward children—these folks are all candidates for favor. Ma Washington certainly didn’t agree with all of George’s plans and decisions (she told him that joining the Royal Navy was “too dangerous”), and yet she covered her son with life-giving words.

If it seems awkward to bless a child (or anyone else) who does something we don’t like, or who has made a choice that we believe runs counter to God’s commands, consider this: a blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, when we bless our children, we do the same thing God does when he blesses us: He speaks favor over our lives and points us toward the abundant life he wants us to enjoy.

In blessing someone, we turn them over to God, trusting him to give them a vision for using their talents and abilities, as well as a sense of purpose in life. It’s never too early to do this for our children; consider Hannah’s words when she brought her young son Samuel to the temple: “For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28).

Nor is it ever too late.

Mary Washington was 80 years old when George was elected, and she died five months later. I’m sure, though, that her final words stayed with him forever. And I pray that as I parent my own adult children (and call them at work to ask them to help me with Facebook—or at least send me some butter), I would give them the very same gift: The knowledge that “Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing would be with them always.”

Is there someone who could use an encouraging word from you today–maybe a co-worker, a child, or a friend over whom you might speak God’s favor?

Numbers 6:24-26 is one of our family’s favorite blessings (and if you like it too, see below for ordering info). It’s one that Robbie and I prayed with, and for, our children as they were growing up:

Monday is Presidents’ Day. Let’s make these life-giving words our prayer this week, using them to forecast God’s favor over our family, our friends, our co-workers, and–whether you like what he’s doing, or not–the guy who got Washington’s job.

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them. Make your face shine on ______ and be gracious to them. Turn your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

(The image in this post is of a beautifully crafted 5 x 7 print that I purchased in December as a stocking stuffer for our girls. It’s still available from @snowandcompany, and if you’d like to order your own copy, click here. And if you want to read more about blessing and releasing our kids, check out chapter two in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenIt’s available as a free download at jodieberndt.com.)

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A Deal of a Story for Valentine’s Day!

I lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. The two dogs were asleep near my feet, having staked their territory on my Yves Delorme duvet months ago. Down the hall, my three daughters slept peacefully in their rooms.

May 2, 2008. People say the first year is the hardest–the first Christmas, the first Father’s Day, the first wedding anniversary without your spouse–but I couldn’t imagine life getting any easier. I’d made it through the first twelve months; only God knew how many more months–or years–I had to go. What if I never got remarried? Could I really live like this, with dogs in my bed instead of a man, for the rest of my life?

I looked down at the dogs. They needed a bath. Johnnie would have kicked them off. He liked things neat and tidy, organized and efficient. Dogs on the bed were not part of his plan.

But then, neither was dying…

That’s how my friend, Dee Oliver, begins her tale.

It’s a good one. And right now–just in time for Valentine’s Day–the folks at Amazon are offering The Undertaker’s Wife as a Kindle deal for just $1.99.

The Undertaker’s Wife is one of those books that can make you laugh out loud on one page and find yourself checking a sob on the next. It serves as both a companion and a guide, coming as a tonic for those who’ve lost loved ones, and a tutor for those who want to know how to help bear the burden of another’s grief.

And, like all the best stories in life, The Undertaker’s Wife is one where God shows up in unexpected places, bringing joy out of mourning and making us realize, all over again, the immeasurable depth of his love. He really is, as Psalm 34:18 promises, “close to the brokenhearted.”

I’m not going to spoil any surprises, but I had the honor of working on this book with Dee, and I can promise you this: Everything in her story is true. The ring toss. The vasectomy. The valet-parking the hearse at the Ritz. While it was still, ah, occupied.

All true.

And all worth the read.

Happy ❤ Day! You are loved.

 

 

 

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How Does Jesus Want to be Loved?

True confession: I’m not the biggest Women’s Retreat gal.

I know people think I’m super social, but deep down I think I must be an introvert. Things like retreats, ladies’ luncheons, and even baby showers always sound so friendly and inviting up front, but part way through all the happiness I usually start to lock up. My smile muscles hurt. My face tends to freeze. And I’m sure, when people see me on the way out, they think to themselves: “There goes some bad botox.”

Honestly, though? I loved the retreat I attended last weekend with Galilee Church. And not just because we literally met in a room on TOP of the ocean:

Or because (and if this happened at every retreat, I’d get season tickets) they had TVs for the U.Va. fans. (And yes, I did pack my pom-poms and some BEAT DUKE stickers to share.)

I loved this retreat because of the people (lots of wide open hearts), the worship (songs like What a Beautiful Name), and especially the teaching. Whitney Capps was our speaker.

That woman is pumped about Scritpure. I can’t begin to tell you all that she said (we had three meaty sessions, and I was scrawling notes the whole time), but I want to take a stab at one thing that stuck with me. Whitney talked about how Jesus wants to be loved.

(And let me interrupt myself right here and say: If you already have a touch of the wobbles today and you can’t take much Deep Thought, maybe come back next week, when I will try to be lighter. But for those who want to dig in, buckle up and let’s go.)

Remember the lawyer in Luke 10, the guy who stands up and wants to know how to inherit eternal life? It’s a good question–and Jesus turns it right back on the guy:

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus asks. “How do you read it?”

The legal eagle doesn’t miss a beat: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’” he says (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5), “and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (that one’s from Leviticus 19:18; clearly, that guy knew his stuff).

Jesus tells the fellow he’s right. And then their convo segues into what we know now as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But Whitney didn’t go there. Instead, she camped out on one little verse–Luke 10:27–and teased out how, exactly, we are supposed to love God. Like, what does it really mean to love Jesus with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind?

Another good question–and one, honestly, I’d never really thought much about.

Turns out, loving God with all our HEART involves not just passion and desire, but also thoughtful reason. The Greek word for “heart” in this verse is kardia–which is where we get our term “cardio.” To the Luke 10 audience, this word would have implied engaging the will, or making some kind of resolution to love.

Loving God with all of our SOUL (which comes from the word psuche, as in “psyche”) taps into the deepest part of our being. Our soul is the part of us that is not dissolved by death. It has a moral component, one that resonates with eternity, because our soul is designed to be everlasting.

I’m gonna skip the word STRENGTH for just a sec, and move onto MIND, which comes from the Greek word dianoia (and I am probably butchering half this stuff, so if you are a Greek or Hebrew scholar, I am begging you: Please leave a comment). Dianoia connotes “understanding.” It is more than just knowledge; it is a way of thinking about information. It’s a mental processing that, Whitney suggested, is inspired and unlocked by the Holy Spirit.

So let’s recap.

To love Jesus well, we need to engage our heart (our passion, desire, and thoughtful reason). We need to love from our soul (from the very depths of our being, with an eye on eternity). We must love with our mind (not just knowing about God, but knowing God–putting all the pieces together and processing who he is, what he does, and how incredibly much he loves us).

And we need to love the Lord with all of our strength. I left this one until last because it’s a different word in Hebrew than it is in Greek. In the Deuteronomy (the Hebrew) version that the lawyer quoted, strength was also translated might, and it implied loving with “abundant force”–something that the Jodie Expository Dictionary might call True Grit. It’s the kind of love that keeps you hanging in there, against all odds (and against all sense of feeling), because it is rooted in what you know to be true. It’s a love that is brave.

In the Luke 10 passage (the Greek), the word strength comes with a twist. Yes, it implies things like power and might, but the Greek translation also involves ability or aptitude–as in, strength as a God-given gift. Isn’t that cool? We can love God with the strength that comes from somewhere beyond ourselves. We can love with the strength he provides.

Is your head spinning yet? Yeah, mine was too. But when I got home from the retreat I started looking stuff up (there’s a website called blueletterbible.org where people like me–people whose grasp of Hebrew pretty much begins and ends with Bar Mitzvah–can have serious fun in the weeds). And when you boil it all down, what I want to ask you today (and what Whitney asked us) is this:

How do YOU love God?

Some of us may find it easy to love God with our hearts (our passion, our reason, our desire). Some do it from the soul, just sort of “breathing” in Jesus. Some may find it easy, natural even, to mentally put all the pieces together, and process God’s nature with an understanding that compels us to love. And some of us–particularly those who are going through a really hard time, a time where maybe we don’t understand how or why God could let something happen–are loving God out of our might. We love him even when we don’t feel it, or when it doesn’t make sense to our minds. We love Jesus out of sheer grit, out of the strength he provides.

I know (cuz he said so) that God wants us to love him in all of these ways. So let’s think about where it is easy for us, and where maybe it’s hard. And let’s ask God to increase our love. Let ask him to equip us to love him with all that we have, and all that we are.

Ok. I think I’ll leave it right there. Because honestly? I don’t even really know what all of this means. All I know is that I want to love Jesus well. Really well.

Because he loved me first.

 

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Facebook, Twitter, and Grace

So the other day, I saw where Facebook wanted to send me a message. I clicked on the little bell and got this:

Improve my reputation? I didn’t even know I had a reputation–at least not on Facebook. Sheesh. One MORE thing to worry about.

Social media, as we know, is not my best sport.

On Twitter, for instance, I recently heard from a blogger who wanted to know where I’d gone to college. I tweeted right back (I was On it!, that day): I went to U.Va.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that tweet, per se. And normally a sentence like that makes me proud. What went wrong, in this case, is that I tweeted my answer to everyone. Like, to all of Twitter. Now the whole world (even the people who don’t give a rip, which is all of them) knows that I WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA!

(Who knew there was a way to keep your tweet convos private?)

(Probably everyone. But still.)

And don’t even get me started on Instagram. I set up an account a long time ago, and I was getting pretty comfy on that platform. Until Virginia saw me looking at my phone.

“Mom.”

“What?”

“You can’t like your own Insta.”

Sigh.

(Is there an Emily Post book for social media? I feel like if I just knew the rules, I could do better at not breaking them.)

(But not really. Because even if I had an etiquette book, I think I’d still wonder: What’s so bad about liking your own Instagram? Isn’t there an entire shelf in Barnes & Noble about learning to love yourself?? Should we not all like our Instas? Seems like that would be healthy.)

Anyhow.

All of these whoopsies–and so many more, like the podcast I did where I didn’t know we were recording for the first FIFTEEN MINUTES–point to a couple key truths:

First, God is so good.

God knew we’d blow it–and not just on social media. He knew we’d stink it up in our marriages, our parenting, our finances, and in so many more areas where we try (and fail) to do the right thing. And so he gave us an answer. “My grace is sufficient for you,” he promises, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God has us covered. Nothing we do can make him love us any less. In fact, our failings–humbly acknowledged, and with gratitude for his redemptive intervention–act as magnets for his mercy. (Don’t believe me? Check out James 4:6, Psalm 51:17 and, most especially, Romans 8:38-39.)

And second, God is hilarious. I can’t point to any particular verse that says “God is really funny” (Psalm 2:4 says he laughs, but in that case, it’s not a sound that you really want to hear), but there’s definitely some good and joyful merry-making in the Bible (see Psalm 126:2 for starters, or consider the fact that Sarah literally named her kid “He laughs”). And even without passages like these, I figure that God has GOT to have a good sense of humor, since he has has put up with us for so long. Since he has put up with me.

And that, according to social experts, is critical. I saw a few minutes of a show about Speed Dating last week (I was trying to find a U.Va. Basketball recap on SportsCenter, but I am not good with remotes), and the number one most attractive quality in a person is (singles say) a good sense of humor. God has one. We should, too.

So next time you blow it, here are two things you can do. First, don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh, if you can.

And second (because sometimes blowing it is not at all funny), remember God’s grace. It’s for all of us. And it’s what God does best. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

That’s the Apostle Paul talking, but heck. It might as well be me. There are definitely days when I feel like THE WORST. (And not just in the social media world.)

But that’s okay. Because nothing–as in, nothing–can separate us from God’s love.

Tweet THAT, America.

 

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