Heard

(Post #4 in a 5-part series collaboration)

By Aaron Pilant (bio below)

When I was preparing to get married twenty years ago, I remember some very important advice that the marriage counselor gave us both.  He said that communication is the key to any successful relationship.  He went on to say that if we could learn to communicate well with each other, our marriage would be a success.  No problem.  I like to talk.  She likes to talk.  Done.  Twenty years later, I have learned that communicating is not just talking, but being heard as well.  I have also learned that communication is not always verbal.  Actually, most communication is non-verbal.  The communication you are reading right now…non-verbal.

I am a Christian who committed his life to Christ at the age of thirteen.  My “salvation” experience occurred when I was alone in my bedroom late at night.  I had been struggling with this decision for some time.  I was wrestling back and forth.  That night was different though.  I remember being in bed trying to sleep, but I was unable to stop thinking about God and my relationship to Him.  I was raised in church.  My parents dragged me and my siblings to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.  I participated in church clubs and activities, but secretly I was battling in my inner heart and mind.  I knew how to give my life to Christ by surrendering to Him, but for some reason I resisted.  That night in June, I was back wrestling within again.  This night was different, though.  This night, I felt that I could no longer put this decision off.  There was a sense of urgency within me.  This is where I first remember hearing from God.

I think it’s important to know, I have never audibly heard God’s voice.  I have never seen writing in the sky.  What I heard was within.  I was given a vision of my reality apart from God.  Then I heard within myself, “Why are you waiting, Why are resisting me?”  The vision was unpleasant.  The question burned within my mind, my heart, my soul.  I finally yielded that there was no good reason.  I then poured my heart out to God asking Him to forgive me of my sin and stubbornness.  I then committed to following Him as my Lord.

So from that day I have worked diligently and sometimes not so diligently to hear God in my life.  I will say this-there are times when I can’t hear God.  But there are many times where I hear God speaking to me in my heart.  Every time I hear from God, it is within.  Sometimes it is words.  Sometimes it is peace.  Sometimes it is just a feeling.  I am usually able to determine that it is God when the communication that I am receiving is far from what I would naturally want to do or like to do.  They are always in line with His word and often confirmed through scripture being brought to my mind.

I want to conclude by saying God doesn’t always speak to me when I want him to…or speak to me in the way I want Him to.  There have been many occasions when I have pleaded God for answers and none came.  I have spent hours, days, weeks, and months waiting.  I do get frustrated when waiting for these answers.  Funny, though, I am soon reminded of Isaiah 40:31 or a verse very similar.  I think, though, there are very good reasons for the lack of answers at times.  I know that when the answers are not readily available I spend more time talking with Him, calling out to Him, pleading with Him, crying to Him.  I wonder if the reason that answers are not always so available is because God wants to spend more time with me.  Or probably more accurate, He knows I need more time with Him.  I have often been told that life is not about the destination but the journey.  I believe that our walk with God is the same.  If you can’t or don’t hear Him, He doesn’t want you to give up.  He wants you to spend more time with Him until He knows you are ready to hear what He has for you.  God speaks to us all.  We just need to learn to listen.


Blogger Bio:  Aaron Pilant married Erin Pilant nearly 20 years ago. They have a 16-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their very favorite thing to do as a family is go to Disney World, and they do it often.

Offensive Praying: Frequent and Natural

(Day 12 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Studies show that the key to any good relationship is healthy communication. If you ask a couple who have been married for 50 years what the key to marital success is, you will likely find out that communication is near the top of the list.

As relational beings made in the image of God, we all recognize this vital aspect of intimate relationships. J. Oswald Sanders said: “It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let other things go, but don’t neglect Him.”

Offensive praying: Just like conversations in a healthy marital relationship or a quality friendship, prayer should be frequent and natural.

First, how frequent should we pray?

1 Thess. 5:16-18 says:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

We understand this to mean that we should always be in the attitude of prayer. We should always have the lines of communication open with God. If I only spoke to my wife on a single occasion during the week or only when I need something it would strain the relationship. If I only call my friend when I need him to help me I probably shouldn’t expect to keep him as a valued friend for long. However, if I take the time and effort to be purposeful about engaging with my wife or friend I will soon discover that the relationship grows closer. God wants a relationship with us. He wants that relationship to grow and build. Pray without ceasing.

Second, how do we make prayer a natural part of our life and not a mundane task?

It didn’t take me long as a Christian to learn that if I did not set aside a daily time to pray, the busyness of life would take over and get in the way. To not prioritize prayer is to prioritize something else. At the same time, I also learned that when I emphasize a set time to pray, I have the tendency to begin treating it like just another item on my to-do list. I can fall into the trap of checking God off and forgetting Him. A task oriented approach to prayer can lead to neglecting the Lord throughout the day. Don’t give up though! Ask God for help. Like communication in a healthy marriage, by God’s grace, a healthy prayer life develops over time. Stick with it, always.

“Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God.”  – Oswald Chambers

By Doug Hull

 

Childlike Simplicity

(Day 5 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

In many cases, prayer is a subject that comes easy to new believers. Just like a child to his/her Father, we realize how small we are compared to the greatness of the God of the universe. Because of this, we are quick and willing to go the Lord in prayer, laying all of our burdens before Him. After all, He cares for us. 

…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Something begins to happen to that childlike simplicity as we mature as a Christian. When we begin to grasp the nature of God and the fact that He is all knowing (John 16:30), that knowledge begins to affect the way we pray. Why should we pray if God already knows our need? Why should we share our heart with God if He already knows the contents of it (Matthew 6:8)? Greater still, why should we pray if God is ultimately going to work all things together according to the council of His own will?

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… (Ephesians 1:11).

It is at this point that we need to have our mindset reshaped as far as how we think about prayer. Prayer is less about how we get things from God and more about our relationship with God. Bluntly framed, God is not in need of our prayers. He is not frantically waiting to act until we ask Him to intervene in our lives. He is not “shook” nor can He be shaken. God is the sovereign creator and King of the universe. He is, of His own self, independent and self reliant. More specifically though, He is our God. He entered into covenant relationship with us through faith in the work of His son. This makes us His children. Childlike praying offers us an opportunity to know Him better, trust Him more, and understand deeper the vastness of His love for us. 

It has been said that communication is the key to any relationship and it is never more true than with our relationship to our Heavenly Father. God uses this communication not so much to change a specific circumstance in our lives but more to change us as faith followers. Simply put, prayer is a means of grace that God uses to shape us into the image of Christ.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

This causes me to think the way Paul thought…that in every situation, my immediate circumstances are less important compared to the “surpassing value” of gaining Christ.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… (Philippians 3:8).

By Doug Hull

Onward (book review)

A few weeks ago I saw Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, interviewed about his book Onward. He and his book’s message intrigued me, so I downloaded a copy. Plus, I needed to check off a book on leadership in my 2018 reading self-made requirements.


Onward did not disappoint. It was even more than I expected. A bottom line summary is the book tells the story of the transformation of the company in 2008-2009. This transformation involved many things which required excellent leadership by Schultz and the partners he empowered to lead at various levels in the company.

The writing is strongly narrative without too much direct leadership application. However, here are a few leadership principle highlights:

  1. Communication is always important, but it is even more essential when things are not working. Ensuring that communication is narrow, clear, and repetitive to set expectations wins people’s trust.
  2. A core capacity of leadership is the ability to make right decisions while flying blind, basing them on knowledge, wisdom, and the ability to stay wedded to an overriding goal.
  3. People have to stay true to their guiding principles. To their cores. Whatever they may be. Pursuing short-term rewards is always shortsighted.
  4. How leaders embody the values they espouse sets a tone, an expectation, that guides their employees’ behaviors.
  5. Growth for growth’s sake is a losing proposition.
  6. Every enterprise and organization has a memory. And those memories create a path for people to follow.

Besides the narrative of the New Orleans conference, worth the purchase of the book alone, this is the quote I most liked:

Wherever the location, the best beans – the ones with enchantingly complex flavors and compelling characters, known as arabica – grow under some degree of stress, like high altitudes, intense heat, or long dry periods.

This truth exemplifies the story of Onward. We can all learn from these beans. We can all be on the mission of moving onward.

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: Besides making decisions together and balancing giving and getting, what other commitments are their between you and your spouse?

Tonya: The hard and fast commitment to the Lord is certainly there. But I also believe in the strong commitment to grace and forgiveness. You are going to hurt each other; it’s part of human nature. So a commitment to give each other grace and to forgive is very important as well.

John:  Does that get easier?

Tonya:  We’ve been married over 25 years. I do feel like we’ve found a certain rhythm. It’s interesting though, because it feels like we are coming back to the beginning-getting into emptynesting.  We spent the first five years without children, so we had a lot of time together to hangout and be spontaneous. Now we are getting back to that. Parenting for us had different stressors because we saw the world so differently. So now flexing that muscle is a little easier.

Mark: I wish I could say it’s gotten easier for us. I still resist the apology.  In fact, in some ways I’m more quick to give apologies to my kids than to my spouse.  I don’t know what that is. My wife is always so graceful and forgiving. You would think with all the mistakes I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had to apologize that it would get easier, yet there is still that resistance like, “I don’t won’t to have to admit that I made a mistake, that I could be wrong in this situation.”  All those things are me, not really the relationship. Maybe that’s more rough edges that still need to be smoothed out. We both recognize the importance of it and offer it fairly freely to each other, but it’s the coming to ask for it part that still requires swallowing the pride and just apologize.

Tonya: I wouldn’t say that’s been an easier thing for either of us either, but it’s amazing how much better it feels when you do it. It’s so freeing but so hard to do. It’s true for a lot of people. It’s hard to humble ourselves. It’s probably even harder for those of us in helping professions. We are supposed to know better. For me it was, I mean come on, I’m the therapist.  I’m supposed to do everything right. That’s just not the case.  We’re all human.  We’re all going to have issues. My favorite saying has always been, “Everybody has issues and the one who says they don’t have issues is a liar and that’s one of their issues. “ Acknowledging that is not always easy.

John: I know when forgiveness is challenging for me-not to ask for it but to give it-what I’ve learned about myself revolves around my expectations. Number one, I have unmet expectations of that person. Number two, my expectations were mine, they weren’t theirs. A lot of times I made up the expectations; we never talked about it, and they didn’t live up to it. All of that right there is on me. And the more I can look at it, “This is more your fault than their fault. You’re going to need to work on your own perception of them and lower it,” there’s where the grace comes in. I have to work at looking at them the same way God does.  I can’t have a higher standard than he does.

My challenge has been more about giving the forgiveness than asking for it, for that reason, which is a very judgmental perception.  I grew up with that, so it’s innate in me. I’m very quick to judge, very quick to create unagreed-upon expectations. Those are my things I have to deal with, not theirs.  And I’ve learned I need to say that to them. “I created an expectation here that we didn’t talk about, and we didn’t agree upon.  I am sorry for doing that.” And for me, by the time you get to that stage, I’ve usually totally forgotten about the thing that I was irritated by. “I don’t even remember what we are upset about here.” The core issue is that our relationship is built on some shifting sand.

Tonya: Expectations are huge. I love that my husband’s first question when I brought this up to him was, “What do you mean by balance?” Our expectations may be different. I think we have to talk through our expectations. “What does vacation look like? What does time together look like?” Not clarifying that is a big issue and gets a lot of people.

Mark:  The antidote to that is just communication.  And not just communication like what’s on the to-do list, but deeper communication. Going deeper into other issues is critical and healthy, and will relieve some of the pressure of these unmet expectations.  Creating the dialogue where you can talk about it is how relationships grow.  It’s critical.

Tonya: Communication is the number one thing that couples come into counseling for.  They say, “We need to improve our communication,” which usually means, “We fight alot.” There’s that balance of understanding we are different and we communicate differently. I like to tell the story of me and my husband.  I have a lot of words and he has very few.  So when I would ask him questions, I had to learn to be quiet, bite my tongue, and sit for a long time because it would take him a while to formulate the words he wanted to share. I had to learn patience. He didn’t talk like my dad; my dad’s a talker.  My husband is not. So I had to learn to accept him for who he is and give him that room.

John: So how has communication grown from when your first were married to now, twenty years later?

Tonya: In order to communicate well you have to make time.  The idea you can have quality relationship without quantity is just false.  You have to make time.  This comes back to how you balance time in your marriage.  I like the work of Joyce and Cliff Penner.  They talk a lot about the intimacy in a marriage.  They say that you need to have some eye-to-eye contact every day, whether that is hugging, embracing, even if it is just for a few minutes together.  They are also committed to praying together. So they focus on spiritual, emotional, and physical contact every day. They talk also about weekly time as a couple. I tell the couples I’m working with to find at least two to three hours a week that is just them.  Then that talk about once a quarter getting away together for a full day, then they talk about once a year going on a vacation just the two of you.  All those things are super important.  Time together helps build that communication.

Mark:  I asked my wife for her thoughts on this topic last night, and she came back to a couple of things that have been present with us.  The first is being intentional, which is exactly what you’re saying.  That’s a word that we use all the time, sometimes as a reminder, sometimes as an encourager. The other thing she said was more comical.  She said, “Remember when our kids were toddlers, and we couldn’t even communicate in complete sentences because of getting interrupted by screams, or something on the floor, or food flying across the table?  We couldn’t get a sentence out without being interrupted.”  That was difficult, but it comes back to being intentional to maintain the balance. Now the difficulty is it’s just different. As you progress through life together, the needs change.  Now we need to steal away together because our kids are older, they stay up later, and there’s not as many quiet places in the house that we can go.  It just changes, and you have to be able to dance with it.

Tonya: Those young years are some of the hardest and have the biggest strain on a marriage. I have vivid memories of my husband walking in the door from work, and all three of us being on the floor crying. Those were tough days. We also didn’t have the financial means to get away. But the intentionality was being there together. He came home, took over, gave me a break, and we were together in the kitchen with kids on our feet. Finding those moments in those years is possible.

Mark: The thought I have always used is maintaining a relationship is a lot like exercise. It doesn’t happen on its own.  If you don’t do it, you atrophy.  If you are doing it, you have to keep it up.  It’s not a one-and-done thing.

Tonya: I want to reemphasize the power of commitment. My parents were divorced multiple times along with other family members; that was my example. My husband comes from a family with no divorces.  So we made a commitment that divorce was not an option. Leaving was off the table.

John: Mark, when you compare this to exercise, I immediately think of goal setting.  So, I’m curious if goal setting is helpful, and how do you do it if it is.

Mark: That hasn’t been part of our equation. It is a little bit how we are wired.  For us it comes back to two things.  Number one, we were and are best friends. We had a long dating period and were able to develop a friendship that is just phenomenal. We’ve continued to maintain that friendship.  There is a natural desire and draw because of the depth of the friendship.  The other thing is going back to the commitment and intentionality of making this work.  We recognize that if we don’t there could be pretty tragic consequences, and we don’t want that.  We don’t want to let it get to the point that it’s on life support either; then it’s not benefiting either of us.

Tonya: I don’t know if it’s a goal or not, but we made the decision that we were going to be first. We were not only going to be able to say our priorities but walk our priorities. In the last five years, maybe we have some unwritten goals. We’ve talked about life after kids, things we’d like to do. Travel is a big things for both of us, so how do we set our finances up for that to happen. Neither of us relish the idea of retiring and setting around the house all day; that’ll never happen. My husband has some vision for mission work and different things, so those are goals to set up life that we haven’t necessarily sat down and written it out on paper.

Mark: One last thing about this topic I’d like to bring up is space for “me time.”  I’ve become more aware of this importance. It maybe more personality driven, but I definitely need time away from the kids and my spouse. It can take various forms in order for me to recharge, reset, unplug from some of the responsibilities. Recognizing and taking the opportunity helps maintain balance.

John: I’ve always maintained as a single person and in talking with other singles who may not be happy in their singles status, “If you can’t be happy in this status, I’m not so sure you’re going to be happy in a marital one. You better be able to figure out how to be happy in this state so you don’t bring stuff into a marriage that doesn’t need to be there.” 

Tonya: Figuring out what “me time” looks like is key.  I remember asking my husband, “Is there a night a week I can go away and do something that I would like to do?” And the same for him. That was important and gave us something to look forward to.

John: That relates to something I wanted to bring out from a singleness versus couple basis. I believe single people have to come to terms with living life outside of the expectations they believe others have of them to be like. I had to really work on it, and probably didn’t find the balance until about ten years ago, my late thirties. I finally stopped saying yes to things out of the mindset that an invitation to something meant I had to do it. Just because I may come across to some people as an extrovert doesn’t mean I am one and therefore must be one or continuously function as one. That took me a while, and I’m going to guess it probably takes single people longer than married couples. They don’t have to deal with this challenge under their roof.  I can do what I want at home and don’t have to figure this out with my spouse. A couple is forced into figuring this out. A single person is going to be much more balanced if they just own who they are and not try to live in the mindset, “Everybody expects me to do this, so I must need to do this.”

Tonya: It comes back to that expectation thing again. So we all have to get to that place of living for an audience of one.  How do we put God first?  We’re all constantly learning and growing in that area.  You’re right, I think it is more of a challenge for a single person.  My husband who is an introvert and has to have time away, I can notice when he’s getting frazzled.  I can say, “It seems you need a little break here.” We can see that in each other.  A single person has to monitor that on your own.  Of course, the Holy Spirit can speak to you and help you be okay with the possibility of someone being mad at you for not meeting their expectations.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

Tonya’s

 

 

The Gift of Balance-Family & Parenting (Part 1)

(This is part one of three for the second topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. In part one on the subject of family and parenting we address one question.)

What are the most important areas to maintaining balance in leading your family?

John: To get the ball rolling here, the three things that came to my mind when I thought over this question were discipline, communication, and values. What I mean by communication is that it’s consistent. Whatever we are communicating has to be consistent with our values. You can’t best determine your discipline and communication if you don’t know what your values are. 

Tonya: Early on, we found Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. He gave some cool ideas about writing vision statements for your family, so we did that. You know, “What’s our compass pointing north for our family?” Communication was one of those important pieces. Making sure there were times we were sitting in circles, seeing each other eye to eye-couple time, one-on-one time with the kids-with the intention of making sure the kids knew they could talk. Those were helpful to us early on.

Mark: Early on in our family building, we were convinced a healthy marriage was foundational. This meant time away with each other as well as time away alone. We joked with the kids, “We didn’t choose you kids, but we chose each other. After you’re gone, it’s still going to be us choosing each other.” So there was the spousal marriage relationship first. The other thing that we were pretty convinced on was that we wanted to be family-centric not kid-centric. We had witnessed, while out grocery shopping and mall shopping and just being out in public, kid-centric families. We wanted life to be about family as a unit together.

Tonya: Covey talks about that, creating atmosphere where we are all for each other. We are helping each other reach their dreams. I like that mentality.

Mark: Yeah, as kids get older and they are getting pulled in various directions it is important to emphasize that we are here for each other. You know, there is no playbook or rule book to follow; it’s a little trial and error as you go. Having values established up front makes it easier when it comes to making decisions and choices down the road.

Tonya: Learning to live out of your values has been on my heart lately. That is important for the kids. Letting them see you walk the talk.

John: So while y’all have been talking, my brain has been focusing on the challenge to think about this question as a family of one. Two words are coming to my mind: contentment and respect. Maintaining contentment is huge for a single person. You can choose to be discontented for a whole bunch of reasons and look for it in many wrong ways. Being content in whether your singleness is lifelong or seasonal is part of keeping balance. And I say respect because there is a level of respect that a single person has to own for themselves, much like the respect you have both talked about relating to being family focused. Finding the level of self respect that keeps you balanced rather than seeking it elsewhere is also important.

Tonya: When you live out of those places of contentment and respect, you also live out of those places where you know how to say no, places that will be healthy for you.

John: As part of your role as parents, you are training your kids in what it really means that God loves you. It’s not just that you love them; God loves them. We all have that journey to walk through. Whether we are a family of one or twenty, every person in the household should live out of the fact that God loves them first. When I live out of that, whatever I get out of the rest of the people in the house is icing on the cake. 

Tonya: That used to be one of the favorite things I said to my boys when they were little. When I’d tuck them in I’d say, “I love you as much as I possibly can, but I don’t love you the most. It’s God who loves you the most. He will always love you better than your mom and dad.” I always wanted them to understand that.

Mark: The idea of contentment resonated with me. There have been seasons in my life where I missed a previous one or am looking past a current one and I had to be reminded to be content in this one. I’m on the floor changing a nasty diaper, and I can’t wait until diapers are gone. And then I realize that what that comes with is this child has grown, and this phase is no longer here, and the child will be different. So that contentment concept plays in my life and certainly in a married context as well. I have chosen some of this, and it is what I want even if it’s not always glamorous or pleasant. I’ve always said, “Golf will always be there. My kids will not.” So I can be content in being an involved dad today rather than chasing that white ball around the course. That will always be there. The kid’s focus is where I need to be today.

Tonya: I think we’re reevaluating all the time. You get off track and come back and say you have to reevaluate. I remember one time when my oldest son was probably eleven or twelve years old and was playing ice hockey, which we did a lot of, and he said to me after practice one day, “Mom, I looked up in the stands, and you and dad are the only parents there. It makes me feel so good that you are there watching me.” It reinforced for us that the hours of sacrifice were the right thing. There were a lot of other things we could have been doing, but this mattered most. And now that I’m sitting on this side where he’s now twenty and in New Jersey and my youngest is seventeen and a senior, I’m going, “I would go back to diapers.” That time is so short.

John: You just gave us all a great illustration. The child of God is always looking for his father in the stands of life. As you said that I thought any child wants that from their parent, and as a child of God we are looking for that as well.

5 Suggestions on Filling the Empty Space, you know, or, I mean, not

“Uh,” according to dictionary.com, is an interjection used to indicate hesitation, doubt or a pause.

In listening to interviews and conversations, it appears “uh” has some family members. Their names are “you know” and “I mean.”

We all use forms of interjections. You should do some self-, “out-of-body” listening to your own conversations to observe how you fill empty space. Empty space is unnecessarily feared. Empty space is the space between one person’s statement and the next person’s statement in dialogue. If this space is feared, one tends to either talk over the other person or start a response before fully developing the thought in their mind. In either case, the interjections may not reflect the best offering to good dialogue or articulation.

To grow in being comfortable with conversational empty space, here are five suggestions:

  1. Pause: You won’t appear ignorant if you choose to pause before giving an articulated, developed reply.
  2. Develop: You appear less confident by stammering through an undeveloped answer than by taking time to develop your answer during the empty space.
  3. Listen: Listen to the wording of any question in order to use it to better begin your answer. For example, in replying to “What did you think about the President’s speech yesterday?” say, “The President’s speech yesterday was interesting and here’s why I say that. The President said…”
  4. Consider: Consider the need for a pregnant pause. Often the silence of the empty space is the best answer. You might call it marinating.
  5. Breathe: Your audience, even if it’s an audience of one, will breathe with you. In many cases, the speed of the conversation causes you to feel pressure to fill the empty space. You can take control of the speed of the conversation, certainly your side of it, by just taking a nice, deep breathe occasionally. Create ebb and flow. Hit the refresh button.