Balanced Communities

Community. Whether we want to be or not, we are in community. And lots of it.

  • Family 
  • Work
  • Church
  • Neighborhood
  • Politics
  • Sports
  • Charities
  • Hobbies

And the list could go on. And in all of these various communities we find ourselves in, we have a role as either a receiver or a giver; ideally, in the best of communities, we all work at keeping a good balance of actually being both.

We tend to focus on how much giving determines a community’s greatness. Generosity no doubt strengthens every fiber of a community. But let’s be honest; there are some challenges with being all about giving and disregarding the value of receiving. 

Jesus illustrated this in the scene where perfume was lavished on him. No one could out give Jesus. Yet he illustrated the humility to allow someone to give to him. Did he really need what he was receiving? Some thought no; he believed otherwise. A better question would be, how did Jesus receive the service from others that he taught them to give? In order to fulfill his own teaching of love and peace, he had to allow himself to receive it.

I’m not the best receiver. I’m a much better giver. What has helped my growth in receiving is this definition of community: experiencing Jesus’ love through other humans. I can’t control their giving and receiving, but I certainly can control mine.

Here’s to balanced giving and receiving in all our communities!

Give ‘Em What God Gave You

It’s possible for someone in my position to ask myself this question more than others; but the reality is we all ask it, consciously or not: “Why is this person in my life?”

Reality also is we can ask that question from a negative or a positive place. The negative place might contain spoken or unspoken expletives. The positive place would not; they would be replaced with a better question, something like this: “How can I fulfill the reason God placed me in this person’s life?”

When you read John’s account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (chapter 4), you get the sense Jesus asked this better question. It’s most likely what prompted him to start the conversation. He needed something from her, yet he wanted even more to reveal to her she needed something that only he could provide. The Father had brought them together for a reason.

If you were to make a list of those people you believe God has put in your life for a reason, who would make the list? What if you wrote their names down and then added by each name what that reason might be? It could be something as simple as to listen. Maybe a slightly bigger reason of to recognize. What if like Jesus, God has given you something unique that, with his help, only you could provide for this person? According to Paul in Ephesians 2:10, God’s already given you what you need to fulfill your reason. Nothing stands in your way. Go ahead. Give ’em what God gave you.

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 1)

(This is part one 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. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Mark: When you think of maintaining balance in a marriage, the initial thing that may come to mind is relationship.

John: It seems there are two things to consider. One, what do you individually have to do to bring balance to the relationship.  Second, how does the couple work together to keep balance in check.

Tonya: One of the things that I remember probably halfway through my marriage was a moment when I felt God spoke to me to tell me that as a couple you don’t complete each other; you compliment each other. God completes us. He’s the lover of our soul. We can’t find that in our spouse.  But we can compliment each other, help each other grow.  So I remember that moment when he made it clear to me that when I walk closer with him and stay intimate with him, I actually don’t need as much from my husband. I still want closeness and intimacy, but when I’m close with the Lord I’m not trying to get things from my husband that he can’t give me anyway.

John: That reminds me of the triangle/pyramid illustration for marriage you’ve probably both seen where the two in the marriage are at the bottom on either end and God is at the top.  The more the two work toward God the closer you are together.

Mark: I just literally drew that on my notes.

John:  As simple as that is, it seems to be an easy tool to evaluate where I am working toward God as a person and also how we are working together toward him.

Tonya:  That speaks to singles also.  If God is first and the lover of our souls, then it brings peace to those who maybe are in transition and not wanting to be single that they are still whole and complete.  They don’t need a spouse to complete them.

I remember my dad used to use the picture of a coffee cup to illustrate it.  The cup is full of the Lord, and everything else is on the rim.  So if it falls off, it’s not that it won’t be painful, like if you lose your spouse or kids, but you can survive if your cup is full of the Lord. That’s always stuck with me-keeping the cup full with God first.

Mark: In order to have a healthy marriage, you really have to see yourself as healthy and whole first and not seeing all your needs met in the other person but in God. There is nuance and tension between relationship and companionship. It’s foundational to not look at the other person as meeting all your needs, or you’re going to be disappointed.

Tonya:  Because no person is capable of that.

John:  In light of being a married person, what’s different that you have to keep in check in your relationship with God?

Tonya: I’ve been writing a series on preventing leadership exhaustion and just recently wrote on marriage. To be married and have children, it does take more focus and energy, so it’s a little harder. When I was single and just met my husband, I was on top of the world spiritually and had no interest in dating. But when you fall in love, it becomes more challenging to make sure you’re still nurturing your time with the Lord.  You have to work at that a little bit more. You have to work at finding that balance for your time alone as well as your time together. You have to learn how to grow and encourage each other together.

My husband and I are as different as night and day, literally. The way he walks out his faith is very different than me. So how do you do that together? Finding that can be a challenge.

Mark:  I agree. From a different angle, there is an opportunity in a marriage to more deeply grasp what is means to love unconditionally. In this work you’re talking about, there are many opportunities to love this other person. By love I mean way beyond the emotion and feeling.  It’s the service, sacrifice, and action of unconditionally loving this companion.  Sometimes it’s easier than others, but it’s always front and center. You get this tangible opportunity to love this person in the way that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure that is about balance as much as it the difference between being single and being married and the opportunity it presents in what it means to love someone.

Tonya: Sacrificially.

John: Tonya, referring back to your “everything on your plate” exercise you talked about last week, the plate just looks different. There’s more on the plate-another person, kids come along-your plate is just different. There’s more on it, so the balance is keeping a healthy relationship with God based on what’s currently on my plate.

Tonya:  One of the things I’ve done since then has to do with a bull’s eye.  God is in the center, then your spouse, then your children, then your friendships, and then your ministry.  When I would teach pastors I would ask, “How do you do ministry starting with God and moving through your marriage, and then also back in?” The idea is that you don’t just make your own decisions.  They have to go through God, your spouse, your children.  It has to be right for your family first, then out through your ministry. But that’s for all of us in all the things that we do.

When I asked my husband about this, one of the things he said was that we make decisions together. So we make big decisions together-work decisions, moving decisions.  They take time and money, and impact everybody. So many of the leaders I work with have trouble grasping the impact of their decisions on their whole family. So this idea of using the bull’s eye was a different way to help them see it.

Mark: That’s an excellent point of being on the same page. Tonya, you and your husband are different.  My wife and I are very similar, so it’s fairly natural for us to be together on a decision and think the same way. That comes very easy.  For others who have differing personalities, it may be harder but it’s not less important.

Tonya: For sure, and I would not have any clue in how to just flow in a situation like that because we totally see the world through completely different lenses.  But you are right, so one of the things it comes back to is commitment. We made a commitment that means something; we meant it. When decisions have been harder, we’ve come back to our commitment to our vows, to taking the time to work it out. A lot of couples fall apart in those moments. “You don’t see it my way.”  They start to fall apart because they don’t have that strong commitment.

Mark: The picture coming to my mind is the balance between giving and getting in a relationship.  A commitment from both sides makes that easier. It’s harder to do when you feel like you’re the only one fighting. If both people work to be about giving first before getting, it’s like the oil that just makes the machine work better. The machine may break down at times, but the oil provides the lubrication when the friction comes when you are doing life together. Staying focused on the giving part first makes it more likely you’ll get the things you need out of the relationship as well.

Tonya: That’s right. When you are focused on giving and giving, your spouse will most of the time turn around and give back. You’ll get what you want when your heart is to give.  It’s that upside down thing we talked about before.  God’s kingdom is not the way the world’s kingdom is.

It’s Ok if They Say ‘No’

When someone tells us no either directly in conversation or indirectly in their actions, we are tempted to take it personally. We are most tempted to do that when we were expecting a yes.

In my @youversion reading plan today, the topic was that God is a giver, in particularly a giver of choices. Here’s a quote from the reading:

When people say no, he allows it and keeps on loving them. God is a giver. And one of the things he always gives is a choice. But like a real giver, he also gives the consequences of those choices. He respects boundaries because he created boundaries in the first place. 

So if you want to give and love like God does, you can give others a choice to say “No…

  • …I don’t forgive you”
  • …I don’t want your help”
  • …I don’t like your decision”
  • …I don’t want to talk right now”
  • …I don’t understand where you’re coming from”
  • …I don’t agree with you”
  • …I don’t think you’re right for this position”

When you give them the loving choice to say no, then you will less likely take their no personally. It’s their choice. Give it to them. It’s okay if they say no.

Word to the Groom

Had a first today. Went to a men’s event for a groom getting married this summer. We were asked to bring a used tool for his tool box. But not just bring a tool, also give a life application that tool represents and share a relatable Bible verse. 

I took a tape measure. Lots of application could be said using that object. You could talk about managing your money, keeping good margin in all areas of life, even who’s boss when it comes to decorating the house, even at the holidays. But I went down the Luke road. If for no other reason, because these verses (Luke 6:37-38) actually have the word measure in them.

Do not judge, and you would not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. But with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Good relationship advice straight from Jesus’ mouth:

  • You don’t want be judged or condemned? Don’t do it yourself.
  • You want to be forgiven and to receive? Forgive and give.
  • The amount/measure you do these things will determine the amount you receive them.

Many good measured years to the bride and groom!

Know Your Season

There are aspects of a job, of being a parent, of living that are a given that they should always be present. These aspects often actually go through a season where they are heightened to another level of intentionality or necessity. Solomon wrote about these examples in Ecclesiastes (see chapters 3&8). 

Here’s a directional question that could help you get more out of your seasons. Do you know your current season? If so, what intentionality are you getting out of it? If not, how could you determine the nature of your current season? Consider these possibilities:

Season of margin or rest or fun or renewal

  • God actually made this clear from the very beginning (Genesis 2; Exodus 20). He designed you with a seasonal need for rest. The more you intentionally seek it the better that need will be met.

Season of focus/little margin/doing

  • “…a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…” You probably spend most of your time in this season. A more directional question to ask yourself is what are you focused on right now and for how long-what is God’s intent for your current focus/doing.

Season of giving

  • You should live with a giving spirit. Some seasons call for more intentionality of giving, not just living in that spirit. For instance, giving care for an unhealthy loved one or providing shelter for needy family members.

Season of receiving

  • Last week someone reminded me that givers and doers are not good receivers. Givers and doers, how can you keep giving and doing if you never go through seasons of receiving? Here’s a key word: balance.

Know your season. Have intention to get the most out of your season. 

Know your season. Balance rest and doing, giving and receiving. 

“She’s a black hole”

I asked my massage therapist today this question: “If you worked all day on the same body type, would it make you more or less tired?” Here’s his reply:

It’s not about the body type that determines how tired I am at the end of the day. When people get on my table, they bring a certain energy with them. Some people just drain you. Others give back, and more, what you are giving to them. I have one client that makes me tired. It has nothing to do with her body type. She’s just a black hole.

He has a point. Which begs this question: how does one work to be more of a giver than a taker?

10 suggestions:

  • Listen more
  • Ask questions
  • Give less opinions, particularly unsought ones
  • Show appreciation
  • Pause more
  • Refuse to complain about anything
  • Offer solutions 
  • Admit weakness
  • Confess wrongdoing
  • Compliment

These are things I work on. How do you work to be a giver not a taker-not a black hole? Leave a comment about your giving.