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Managing Relationships

Did you know my mother?  Did you ever meet her?  She’s the reason I have a quirky sense of humor. 

Because of her, I baked bread, cakes, and cookies, made jams and jellies, sewed my children’s play clothes, and made them elaborate costumes.

Because of Mom, I love a beautiful garden.  Both gardeners, we each had our own style.  I love cascades of flowering plants with joyful shouts of color and texture standing elbow to elbow and even overlapping to see who can reach out and smile at the sun (the Son) first. 

However, Mom told me she liked to see dirt around each plant.  (WhatDirt is brown, not my favorite color.  Who wants to see dirt?!  I didn’t understand but I accepted it.)

Because of Mom’s love of creation, I recognize the song of 5 or 6 different birds; I even know that funny noise outside my window is a woodpecker searching for bugs. She kept water bowls scattered over her property to give visiting deer or coyotes a drink. I, too, keep water bowls around my suburban home for squirrels, opossums, stray cats or dogs.

Mom had a hierarchy in her regard for birds and animals.  Sparrows and squirrels were at the bottom.  (Sparrows, Mom?  Really?)  She told me sparrows were a nuisance and not much to look at, so drab and brown.  (You mean brown like dirt?  I didn’t understand that either.)

Mom is one of the reasons I love Jesus.

I follow Jesus

She started my lifetime pursuit of a relationship with Him by faithfully driving me to Sunday school each week. She managed to take me to every activity the church youth group had—every Sunday night for the regular meetings and then all the special events as well. 

We were alike in many ways but we managed relationships so differently as we got older.

The first year after Dad died, Mom wanted to be alone on Thanksgiving and Christmas. When she stood firm against our concerns and suggestions for different ways to spend the holidays together, we told one another, “She’s grieving. The first year is hard.” 

In time, we realized she no longer wanted to celebrate holidays as a family.  When we offered to bring the food and fixings to her, she said no.  We tried celebrating on Wednesday rather than Thursday for Thanksgiving.  She said no.  We tried to bribe her with grown grandchildren.  “Mom, Andrew’s flying in from the east coast. Can we bring him out to visit on Wednesday?”  She said, “No…I’m not celebrating Thanksgiving.”  (That hurt. Managing relationships can be hard.)

I tried to understand, I really did. But finally, realization hit:

She didn’t want to be with us.    

By God’s grace, I discovered this book:  Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.  As a Christian Coach specializing in Emotional Intelligence, conversations are a huge part of my work.  Research-based books help me sharpen my coaching skills. 

In this book, God very sweetly buried an explanation of what was happening to cause my pain.  The paragraph below is from page 108:

“As it turns out, there is an intermediate step between what others do and how we feel.  There’s always an intermediate step because actions themselves can’t and don’t cause emotional reactions.  That’s why, when faced with the exact same circumstances, ten people may have ten different emotional responses…

What is this intermediate step? Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story.  We add meaning to the action we observed.  We make a guess at the motive driving the behavior.  Why were they doing that?  We also add judgment—is that good or bad?  And then, based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion.”

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., Switzler, A. (2012) Crucial conversations: Tools for
talking when stakes are high (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Did you catch that?  Research has shown we tell ourselves a story to explain what has happened and then we make a judgment which produces an emotion.  Sadly, most of our stories are negative; most of the judgments are harsh. 

For example, if I receive an unexpected letter from my homeowner’s association before it’s even open, I wonder what I’ve done wrong.  (It was actually a commendation for having a pretty yard!)

After my father passed away, my mother didn’t want to celebrate family holidays together.  In my efforts to understand, I made up stories to explain her actions.  Stories not based on the love I knew we shared but stories that tempted me to feel hurt.  My stories will be different than yours because what tempts me will be different than what tempts you. Still, these stories can have incredibly negative impacts on relationships. Thankfully, the EQ skill of Self-Awareness can help us overcome this tendency. (Click here to read more about this skill.)

Do you know my Lord? 

Have you met Him?

He’s the reason I have the gift of mercy and love to pray.  It’s His sacrifice that’s made a way for me to join Him in heaven.  

Because of Him, because He is Love, I seek to cultivate patience and kindness but eschew envy, boasting, and pride. 

Because of Him, I pray to be loving, not self-seeking, and pursue a forgiveness lifestyle. While He’s definitely the reason I rejoice in the Truth and pray for perseverance, I don’t always understand Him. 

Maybe I’ve come to a crossroads, feel desperately in need of His direction.  So, I set out to sincerely seek God’s will for this decision by following these verses:

5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act… Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him… Psalm 37:5 & 7 (ESV)

When I use the verse above to manage my relationship with the Lord, I:

  • make a commitment to follow God’s leading
  • trust He’ll guide me 
  • am still before Him, waiting patiently for His answer 

And nothing happens. 

Because I know that some prayers take time, I continue to seek God.  I search scripture to confirm that others have prayed similar prayers and received answers.  Friends joyfully invite me to celebrate with them because God has graciously given them not just an answer, but the one they desired. 

However, my prayer is still unanswered.

After a while, there’s a temptation to tell myself a story.  “Crucial Conversations” says I’m trying to give meaning to what I’ve observed.  I’m making a guess at God’s motive behind His behavior…to explain why He isn’t responding to my prayer. 

And then—here it is—I add a judgment:  I’m not worthy.  I’ll never be good enough.  Dramatically, I wonder if God has a hierarchy like Mom with her squirrels and sparrows.  Does God love me?

Based on my own made-up stories, my body responds with an emotion:  rejection, sadness, pain, grief.  And I’ve made up this story all by myself. 

In spite of God’s Word telling me again and again that I’m loved by Him (1 John 3:1), my made-up story begins to have an impact on my relationship with Him.  This intermediate step, this making up a story happens so quickly and with such subtlety that I often don’t, we often don’t, realize its danger nor understand why the joy of our salvation is fading. (Managing relationships is hard!)

As you’ve been reading, has the Holy Spirit reminded you of a situation where you might have made up a story?  Have you made a harsh judgment that’s causing you pain?  What can you do?

To get past the pain, I’ve found this verse helps:

Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14 (ESV)

  • Recognize which are facts and which are stories. For me, a judgment based on a made-up story is evil. First, turn away from the evil of making up a story and making a judgment.
  • We need to re-focus on doing good by acting like love. We need to see what love looks like and check if we match: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1st Cor. 13:7 NIV
  • And for the last phrase of Psalm 34:14, “seek peace and pursue it,” we need to repent, confessing we’ve made a judgment based on a made-up story. Confessing a judgment brings forgiveness allowing relationships to be restored.

you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 (ESV)

Do you know my Lord? 

Have you met Him?