Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mountains between Communication

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Mark 11:23, "For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says."

Of course, in order to speak to a mountain, you must first identify it. Many couples struggle with the same communication barriers over and over again, because they have not developed insight into their problem. I picture a person walking straight into a wall over and over again developing a new bruise with each collision. Is it not the same in marriage? We often deal with our hurt feelings only to encounter the same communication obstacle days later.

One hindrance to effective communication is lacking the desire to understand your spouse. I am reminded of the Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:13, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." We have all been in that place before truly knowing the Lord in which worldly desires overshadow our desire to see God. If we apply this to our marriage, it requires an initial introspection. What is the area of self-centeredness in my life that is deflating my desire to truly know my spouse? Once the focus is turned to your spouse, other communication barriers can be illuminated.

An obvious communication wall in relationships is a lack of communication skills. For this barrier, I like to apply the verse Hosea 4:6a, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Unfortunately, some marriages are ultimately destroyed simply because one or both did not learn how to communicate with one another. Both husband and wife can care very deeply for one another, but it is not adequately expressed in a way that is understood.

Listening is an essential part of the art of communication. I think of it as "active white space" between words on a page. True listening demands a heartfelt pause that conveys respect and interest in what the other is saying. It is crucial to not think about your response or reaction while your spouse is talking, but rather absorb everything that is being said without interference. This is rather difficult and must take concentrated effort because it is our human nature to conjure up new thoughts while the other is talking.

Of course the complement of good listening is adroit expression. This takes us to the third hindrance to communication which is emotional wounding and distress. If we have been deeply rejected in an area of our lives, silence takes residence where our psyche has been scarred. Of course when the fighting approach has failed, the emotional defense of withdrawal or "flight" response can take over. This is a natural fleshly response, and it is important to renew our emotions through the healing of the Holy Spirit, just as we renew our minds. If you recognize withdrawal in your spouse, you must encourage him/her to express what they have deadened inside. Love has the power to awaken the voice that has been silenced in our partner either through past relational wounds or current ones.

Oftentimes, when one spouse is withdrawn, the other will become aggressive or even verbally abusive which exacerbates this negative cycle. Verbal abuse, although seemingly opposite in manifestation, is closely kin to withdrawal because of its common cause. A partner who practices verbal abuse more than likely is emulating negative communication patterns witnessed as a child or in a past toxic relationship. Psychologically, people revist or recreate the origin of trauma. This definitely indicates a critical care area in a relationship that requires professional help and rehabilitation.

Once the mountains have been identified, there is a tremendous hope and expectancy that arises. This takes a tremendous amount of faith and perserverance. Mark 11:24 says, "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Four Seasons of Marriage

I believe that Dr. Gary Chapman is definitely one of the Christian marriage "gurus," whom I am constantly learning from. Just recently I came across his research on The Four Seasons of Marriage. This really puts the trials and treasures of marriage in perspective. Remember that Ecclesiastes chapter 3 tells us that to everything there is a time and a season. Commitment is what allows the seasons to flow seamlessly together.

1) WINTER- A period of coldness, harshness, and bitterness. The cause is traced back to rigidity or unwillingness to consider the other person's perspective and work towards a meaningful compromise.
~Emotions in winter include hurt, anger, disappointment, loneliness, and rejection.
~Attitudes in winter include negativity, discouragement, frustration, hopelessness.
~Actions in winter include destructive, speaking harshly, or not speaking, violent

~Climate in winter is noted by detatchment, unwillingness to negotiate, arguments, withdrawal, no sense of togetherness, just existing

2) SPRING- A period of new beginnings, and the excitement of creating new life. This is marked by a return of optimism, enthusiasm, and joy.
~Emotions in spring include excitement, joy, and hope.

~Attitudes in spring include anticipation, optimism, gratitude, love, and, trust.
~Actions in spring include nurturing, planning, communicating, seeking help when needed.

~Climate in spring is noted by vitality, tenderness, openness, and a caring heart. It is delineated by new beginnings, flowing communication, a sense of excitement, and planting seeds for the future.

3) SUMMER- A period of reaping the benefits of what has been planted, and sharing a deep sense of commitment and satisfaction.
~Emotions of summer include satisfaction, happiness, accomplishment, connection.

~Attitudes of summer include trust, commitment to growth, relaxed.
~Actions in summer include communicating constructively, accepting differences, attending seminars, reading books, spiritual growth.
~Climate in summer is comfortable, attached, supportive, and understanding. Dreams of the spring have come to pass. There is an enjoyment and satisfaction from accomplishments. Conflicts are resolved, and differences are accepted.

4) FALL- A period when things are changing. Initially,things look okay to others on the outside, but are deteriorating internally until the changes in the relationship become obvious.
~Emotions of fall include fear, sadness, rejection, apprehension, discouragement, resentment, and feelings of being unappreciated.
~Attitudes of fall include concern, uncertainty, and blaming
~Actions of fall include neglect and failure to face issues.
~Climate of fall is marked by drifting apart and disengagement. A sense of detachment and confusion

It is important to recognize that trials are temporary and sometimes necessary to grow in intimacy. Anne Bradstreet, British poet, says it best: "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Looking for Lizards

My husband and I were in the car hectically running errands, when we noticed a lime green lizard on top of the side view mirror. I could not help but rooting for him, and I could tell that Adam must have felt the same because he was driving much slower than usual. It was comical to watch this freebird lizard brace itself from the wind while sprawling out his webbed toes to hang on for dear life. Of course, the wind eventually became too strong, and he fell off. My dear husband, probably in anticipation of my inordinate concern for God's creatures, looked to see where he landed. Miraculously, he saw him craw away, seemingly unharmed across the pavement. I try not to think, even as I write this, that it was ironically in the middle of the road where he got away...

The sight of this unexpected lizard prompted my husband to remember a childhood memory. He told me that he and his friends would have competitions to see who could find the most lizards in the backyard while they were playing.

I found 17 one time..." he said with a grin of satisfaction.

"How is that even possible?!?" I asked in disbelief.

His reply stayed with me, even now.

"It's just like anything. They are everywhere if you look for them."

Is that not the truth? How many blessings in my marriage have I overlooked because I haven't looked for them. I know there are so many miracles and provisions that God has given us during trials. How many have I not seen because my eyes have been dimmed from disappointments and disillusions?

I pray that God will restore the child-like sense of wonder in each of us to "look for the lizards." Look for all the incredible traits in your spouse that have always been there. Collect them. treasure them. Look for all the new mercies each morning that shine in bright shades of green, just waiting to be found.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Power of Patience

Most of us think of patience as passivity, but it is actually just the opposite. It requires effort and energy. Patience is a powerful catalyst that will produce exponential results in marriage...long lasting results.

My marriage today is wonderful, but it was grown from seeds of patience at the very beginning. My husband Adam showed so much patience with me, especially at times when the natural response would be to get angry. He had enough wisdom to know exactly how to love me through my weakness. That is exactly what patience is...where love and wisdom intersect. I remember the quote he used to tell me during the difficult time we had our very first year of dating, "Anything worth having is worth fighting for."

Though often patience is spoken without words, its message is loud and clear. "You are worth it to me. You are precious. You are valuable." As a spouse, we are constant sowers. All we can do is plant seeds of grace and patience into the life of our partner. Whether it falls on a rocky ground or fertile soil should not be a condition of whether we give it.

Patience always has a reward. Ironically, many do not wait for it because it is so delayed. Know that patience is prophetic. It is like the dramatic hesitation between two chords in music. A crescendo in a piece of music must be introduced with a "pause" that is both necessary and expectant. It has exponential power that will be seen for years to come.

Here are the rewards that manifested as a result of my husband showing me patience:

1) I understood God's unconditional love for me on another level
2) It held up a mirror to my own flaws so I could see myself clearly to change
3) I have a greater desire to show patience towards him when he needs it
4) I have more patience for other people in my life
5) It has helped me to grow in spiritual maturity

Never estimate the power of patience!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Restoration in Marriage

Many of us view restoration of marriage as a rigid entirety...meaning restoration is only necessary if you are separated or divorced. However, I believe that all of us want a more perfect marriage. Maybe certain areas of your marriage are strong and thriving, while others are weak or need renewal.

Restoration has many meanings and connotations. It means "retribution of something taken away or lost." Applying this to marriage, what areas do you pray will be restored? First, I think it is important to breakdown marriage into its operative functions in order to properly assess areas that need attention:

1) Spiritual Needs- prayer, fellowship and devotion, unity in maturation, growth in gifts and ministry

2) Security Needs- financial and physical well-being, stability, safety, fidelity

3) Emotional Needs- affection, quality time and conversation, nurturing of passion

4) Validation Needs- respect, value, approval, admiration, and adoration (could be a subset of emotional needs, but I believe it merits its own category)

5) Destination Needs- supporting one another in fullfilling purpose, developing gifts, talents, intellectually, socially, visions, and dreams

I like to visualize each of these areas as cups. Which one is overflowing? Which one is leaking? Which one is half-way full or even empty? Obviously, each area needs continual attention and continual re-filling. If you look at the words "re-storation," "re-newal," and "re-filling", they all have the prefix of "re." This has an important implication for marriage. The prefix "re" is like a synonym for "again." That is why we want to hear "I love you" again and again and again. Each day requires renewal and restoration of the original intent and spirit that was cherished on our wedding day. Ask the Lord which areas of your life need a special restoration or re-filling of the Holy Spirit to be made new again.

May we empty ourselves out each day as vessels to contain restoration in our marriage.