Focus on the Behavior, not the Motive

undoContinued from here.

None of us enjoys being reprimanded, no matter how gently it is done, but without any sort of reprimand, we won’t grow. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, and we all have blind spots that we will never see unless someone else points them out to us, preferably in a gentle and loving manner.

If you believe you need to redirect someone else, first go to the Lord in prayer about it. God does not expect you to change everything that needs changing at the same time, and you should not expect that of other people. Pray for God’s guidance on whether you should say anything at all. If you feel the Spirit leading you to do so, pray for the Holy Spirit to speak through you so the conversation will be constructive. If you sense that God is telling you not to say anything at this time, pray for God to help you forgive your friend and let it go.

If you choose to have a conversation with your friend about something that needs to change, pray and think through how you would best receive constructive criticism from someone else. Use the gentlest words possible, with love as the framework. Most people accept constructive criticism best from someone who they know truly loves them. Often, the negative reaction to constructive criticism is not about the criticism itself but in reaction to feeling shamed or rejected. Thus, constructive criticism should always been spoken in a way that communicates loving redirection.

Also, communicate how the other person’s actions made you feel without making assumptions about the person’s motives. Personally, I receive constructive criticism well so long as people do not accuse me of motives that are simply not true, which is a childhood trigger for me. As long as someone provides constructive criticism in a loving way, I will consider that person’s viewpoint, even if I do not agree with it. I will pray over it and follow what I believe God is telling me to do. I recognize that each of us sees the world through our own filters, and sometimes constructive criticism is really more about the other person’s worldview than about anything I am doing.

However, if the person attributes a motive to me that is off base, I have trouble processing the criticism because my focus goes to why someone I respect has such a low opinion of me as a person. I certainly make mistakes, but I rarely intentionally set out to hurt another person. Calling a mistake to my attention does not hurt me, but accusing me of intentionally hurting another person does because it is simply not true.

Always remember that only God knows what someone else is going through and what is driving his actions. If you feel led to provide constructive criticism, stay focused on the behavior without making assumptions about the motives, and communicate the truth within the framework of love.

[Graphic: Cartoon of  Grace standing behind the computer keys of Ctrl and Z = “undo.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Speaking the Truth in Love Requires Love

drawing_heartContinued from here.

There is someone in my life who used to have the gentleness of a sledgehammer – she certainly spoke the truth, but she hit me over the head with it, leaving me with a splitting headache. That is the opposite of speaking the truth in love.

God is never initially harsh with people. His conviction is gentle and only grows harsh if it is necessary to bring about change, and He only uses harshness after repeated gentle attempts remain fruitless. Even then, his “harshness” is for our own protection, much like when a parent yells at a toddler who did not obey the gentle instruction not to walk into the street and is now about to run into traffic. The parent doesn’t start out yelling at the child – the harshness only comes after gentle reminders are ignored to the point that the child is now in imminent danger.

Jesus is gentle and humble, and as his disciples, we need to be the same way:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” ~ Eph. 4:2

When others have crossed your boundaries, speak truth, but do it in a loving way – in a way that is gentle and kind. Give them the benefit of the doubt that their behavior was unintentional. Let them know that you love them, and let love provide the framework for your gentle words of redirection.

For example, let’s say you have a friend who frequently cancels plans at the last minute. The sledgehammer response is to yell at her, telling her how selfish she is. A gentler response sounds more like this: “I love our friendship and cherish the time that we spend together. I was really looking forward to spending the afternoon together and am disappointed that you had to cancel. In the future, could you let me know as soon as it’s looking like you might have to cancel so I have time to make other plans? I hope we can get together again soon. I really miss you.” While both approaches are speaking truth, only the second one is doing so in love.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace drawing a heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love Requires Truth

real_talkContinued from here.

I used to be a huge people pleaser. I had no sense of self-worth and believed that if anyone ever saw the “real me,” she would run from the room screaming. To keep people in my life, I would twist myself into a pretzel to please them. I could put up with just about anything so long as the other person wouldn’t leave.

Because my priority was the other person not leaving, I was often not truthful with them. I set no emotional boundaries, and when the other person stepped on my toes, I would not speak up because I feared they would leave. In long-term, emotionally intimate relationships, I would put up with pretty much anything … up to a point. About once a year, I would blow, and the other person couldn’t see it coming. For 364 days of the year, I would smile and act like everything was fine. Then, on the 365th day, the person would do the exact same thing, I would blow, and the other person wouldn’t know what hit her. This was my fault, not anyone else’s, because I was not being truthful when I said everything was OK.

Paul told the Ephesians…

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” ~ Eph. 4:25

I did nobody any favors by bottling up my feelings and withholding the truth about what was bothering me. If I had simply been obedient to God and been truthful the first or second time a friend canceled our plans at the last minute, then I could have spared myself months of stewing over it as well as spared my friend the embarrassment and awkwardness of being told in a contentious manner how I felt about the behavior. Pretending that I was OK with behavior that bothered me was a lie – I was withholding the truth to manipulate the other person into staying in a friendship with me.

Today, I am much more gracious. I decide ahead of time what my boundaries are, and when they are crossed, I give myself two options: (1) speak the truth in love; or (2) let it go. As an example, I have a dear friend who often has to cancel at the last minute because of the season of life she is in. When I make plans with her, I know it’s a 50/50 shot whether we will get together, and I am OK with that. Thus, I have no truth to speak to her about this because I have already decided that I will let it go if it happens. However, if it’s something that I will be unwilling/unable to let go, I will speak with her truthfully in a gentle manner, which is the subject of the next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting on a chair by a plant below the words, “Real Talk.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love Requires Speaking

zipped_mouthContinued from here.

While it might appear that I am stating the obvious, speaking the truth in love cannot happen unless we first speak. I have lost more than one close friendship without a word being spoken. For whatever reason, the former friend chose not to speak to me about what was bothering her, instead opting to pull away without telling me why. She would stop contacting me and either ignore or greatly delay responding to my attempts to connect. These were close friendships that fizzled out because the other person chose not to speak.

Many people (and women in particular) are so afraid of conflict that they refuse to speak when they believe their boundaries have been crossed. They would rather let a relationship die than have one uncomfortable conversation to address their concerns. This is not kindness. Jesus, Paul, and numerous prophets loved others enough to speak words of exhortation when they were needed. They did not expect the people to figure it out on their own without the use of words, and they loved the people enough to have the uncomfortable conversation rather than lose the relationship.

While not every difference of opinion needs to be addressed, the more emotionally intimate a relationship has become, the greater the responsibility you have to speak up if something is not working. Don’t assume that the other person can read your mind and knows that his or her behavior is bothering you. And don’t assume you know what is driving the other person’s behavior. Love the other person enough to have a conversation about your concerns rather than simply pulling away until the relationship dies. If the season of this relationship has ended, both will intuitively know it, and the friendship will fade in a way that if your paths cross again, you will experience joy upon seeing each other again, not awkwardness. However, when one pulls away without saying a word to the other, it leaves the other person confused and hurt as she continues trying to emotionally invest in someone who has left the friendship. That’s not kindness.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a zipper for a mouth. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love

two_centsPaul told the Ephesians that maturity in Christ and speaking the truth in love are interconnected. He went on to say that our words should be used “for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). Using our words to build up other people rather than tear them down is an area of growth for most people, myself included. In this blog series, we will explore what it means to speak the truth in love.

Our words have power. Here are some proverbs showing how powerful our words can be:

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
but the speech of the upright rescues them.” ~ Prov. 12:6

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” ~ Prov. 12:18

“The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but gracious words are pure in his sight.” ~ Prov. 15:26

“Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” ~ Prov. 16:24

If you consider that God spoke the world into being and that we were created in God’s image, we should recognize the God has entrusted us with a heavy responsibility in giving us speech – a gift and responsibility he did not give to any of His other creatures. Our words have power, as you have likely experienced yourself. Harsh words can cut like a knife while kind words can instill hope and courage.

I experienced years of ongoing, severe child abuse between the ages of 6 and 11, and the verbal abuse was the hardest to heal from. Physical wounds heal, but harsh words can continue to wound for decades if the wounded do not learn how to forgive, which was my story for a very long time. As Christians, we need to take responsibility for the words that come out of our mouths and apologize & make amends when we don’t. Nobody speaks the truth in love naturally – it’s a discipline that we must learn. I hope this blog series helps with this process.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting behind a desk that says, “Just my two cents.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Victorious Living through Victorious Thinking

Continued from here.

Holding every thought captive to Christ is simple: it’s just not easy. It is simple because God has given you the power to choose what you think about. It’s not easy because it feels natural to allow your thoughts to flow freely without questioning them. Victorious thinking takes effort: passive thinking takes none. I choose to challenge and control my thoughts in obedience to God’s Word, which is why I generally live in victory these days. And when I don’t, I know how to get back on track.

I blogged previously about a method I learned about through Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, which I shared about here. In a nutshell, whenever I catch myself allowing my thoughts to run rampant, I’ll press the pause button by saying,

God, help me do this right. I know you love me, you are good, you are here with me right now, and you are in control. It doesn’t matter what I see or what I feel; it matters who you are. I know my God is able. You were faithful before; you will be faithful again. Help me do this right.”

This five-step response stops my runaway thoughts dead in their tracks and helps me shift my focus so it includes God.

I generally don’t struggle with runaway thoughts in the first half of the day, likely because my hour of quiet time before starting my day gets me off to a strong start. However, as the afternoon turns into evening and I have been juggling one issue after another, I’m more vulnerable to becoming passive about what I am thinking. When I find myself feeling “off” toward the end of the day, I remind myself that God will give me a “do over” tomorrow. I thank Him that his mercies are new every morning, which helps me go to bed with hope for a better day tomorrow. I do not allow myself to wallow or engage in a pity party. I have been to enough of those in my life, and I know where they lead.

If I can learn how to hold my thoughts captive to Christ, then so can you. It takes time, effort, and repetition, but you can learn how to walk in victory by challenging your thoughts and replacing the negative ones with God’s truth.

[Graphic: Cover of Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Courtesy Amazon.com.]

How to Change Your Thoughts

i_dont_think_soContinued from here.

What are the specific steps for changing your thoughts so you can change how you are feeling? The first step is to stop putting your thoughts on autopilot and take responsibility for your thoughts. As soon as you realize that you are feeling anxious or depressed, press the pause button to your free-flowing stream of thoughts and pray for God to show you truth. Pay attention to what you were thinking about, and look up scriptures that address each concern.

For example, let’s say you were thinking about not having enough money. Meditate (focus your thoughts on) on Matthew 6:25-34, where God promised to meet your needs. Were you thinking about how somebody wronged you? Meditate on Romans 12:19, where God promises to take up your cause for you. Also, mediate on Matthew 5:43-45 and do what it says: pray for the person who wronged you.

It is true that your problem is big. It is equally true that your God is much, much bigger than your problem. You get to choose where to focus your thoughts. If you are passive about your thoughts, they will natural gravitate to your problem, zooming in on the size of the problem so that it fills the entire frame of your attention. However, you can be active about your thoughts by zooming out so that the frame includes God. When God is in the frame, even the largest problem will be dwarfed by the size of your God because He is so much bigger than any problem.

Despite people’s belief that they can multitask, the brain actually only focuses on one thing at a time. (Multitasking is simply shifting your attention from one topic to the next in rapid succession.) You can choose what that one thing is. If you choose to focus on what you cannot handle on your own, your feelings will reflect that thought and weaken you. Conversely, if you choose to focus on God, feelings of joy, peace, and contentment will flow. It’s entirely your choice.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking under the words, “I don’t think so.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]