Relationships 101: It begins with knowing God

rocks people man happy worship sunset view clouds sky dark silhouette A twitter post by CommonWhiteGrl stated, “Being 18-25 is like playing a video game where u’ve skipped the tutorial & you’re just sort of running about with no idea how anything works.” Tell me about it. At this age we often feel overwhelmed, trying to figure out our lives: our educations, our careers, our relationships.

Of all of these significant aspects, I would argue that relationships are the most important. The relationships you form today are going to affect who you are tomorrow (more so, I would argue, than the career or educational path you chose). Most college kids are hungry for good, close friends. So to solve our problem, I wrote a post revealing the deepest, previous-to-now unknown, rocket-science, doctorate-degree-level, what-you-never-knew-before secrets about how to form and maintain a good relationship.

Okay, okay, maybe it’s not quite that secretive…and maybe it’s not quite that complicated…yeah…it might actually be common sense. BUT, I know this because I do it all the time: the common sense is so often forgotten. So, in this post I took up the menial task of reintroducing it–for my own sake if for no one else’s.

The Backstory

You know that passionate love and connection you feel between yourself and your best friend and/or significant other? No, seriously, think about your excitement to spend time with this person. This love and closeness is something we desire in relationships and it is delightful when we can make such connections. But, even if you think you have the closest of BFFs or the world’s best girlfriend, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

If you think you’ve felt love, passion, or belonging from any human before, I want to remind you God created that passionate love and if you think it’s strong between two humans, imagine how much stronger God feels that way toward you. As much as it means to wake up to a simple text saying “good morning” from your lover or best friend, it means so much more to God for you to wake up and say “good morning!” to him. He pursues you, desires you, and wants your love more than any human possibly could.

Therefore, if you really want good, fulfilling relationships, you have to start with getting to know God. 

I know God is so big, so unimaginable, so vast, so…everything. It seems impossible to know God and he sometimes feels so very distant. I know it. And I do not want to downplay God–he is way beyond us. I readily admit he is far too vast to understand. But, at the same time, he’s created each individual to be capable–in fact only fulfilled–when he/she has a close relationship with God. So in the face of this aspiration, I want to offer a variety of ways to stay connected with your creator.

Talk

We think we’re so technologically advanced when we can text someone anywhere in the hands clasp pray person people ring still bokeh portrait black and white world and they can receive it in a matter of seconds. How much cooler, though, is it that we can talk directly, without any time or technological boundaries, to the creator of the universe? And what kind of friends don’t talk? Realistically, how many of us, if asked about our relationship with God would have to answer–if answering honestly–“Well, we aren’t really talking anymore”? Let me tell you, in relationships, that statement is never a good sign…

Talk to God as you would talk to your best friend. Tell him how your day was. Tell him what is bothering you. Tell him what you’re excited about. Tell him why you are angry with him. Like a patient lover, he’s standing right by your side, just waiting for your attention. He wants your heart and wants your real self. Talk to him–even if you are only saying stupid things. He knows already, but he wants to hear it from you. Sometimes you and your best friend talk just to hear from each other what you already know. That’s what God wants.

Listen

But good friends don’t just talk, they listen. Jackie Kendall and Debby Jones, in their book Lady in Waiting, do a great job of describing this: “Even when someone is very special to you, you do not get too excited with a steady monologue. Listening is an important part of developing closeness with someone else. If you want to get to know the Lord, you must seek Him not only with a whole, clean, and pure heart, but also with a listening heart.”

mountain valley hill cliff rocks landscape blue sky clouds people man sitting alone mountaineer hiker hiking climbing sunny day daylight travel outdoors summer adventure Very few people would argue this point. But how does one listen to God?? One obvious answer is through reading his word. You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: God’s word is a love letter to you. I bet it’s been a while since you’ve read God’s word as carefully as you would read a love letter… But you can also listen to God through a sermon, through reading inspirational books and blogs 😉 , or even through admiring creation (which he spoke into being). Sitting outside and staring up at the clouds, thinking about who God is definitely counts as listening to him.

Hang Out

The intense desire you have to spend time with a best friend or significant other is the way God feels about you. He looks forward to shared time and loves for you to be aware and accepting of his presence even in menial tasks. Just as even washing dishes is more fun with a friend, being aware and accepting of his presence in any circumstance can count as “quality time.”

And just as you enjoy spending time with your BFF or significant other in groups, you can hang out with God in groups–that’s what churches, discipleship groups, and worship nights are for. These are marvelous ways to celebrate God with other friends. mountain nature sky sunny sunrise summer sunset sunlight sunshine green grass sea water ocean lake man people reading book bible sitting alone bench But, also as you enjoy spending time with that one friend one-on-one, so you ought to spend time one-on-one to really connect intimately with God. Set aside some alone time* to talk with God, to listen to God, and just to sit silently with God. You’d do it with your boyfriend/girlfriend/bestfriend. Do it with God.

*Are you really alone if you’re chillin’ with God?

Become Obsessed!

You know how lovers are obsessed with each other and simply can’t get that special someone off their minds? Well, God’s obsessed with you and would love for even a small portion of that obsession to be reciprocated. Thinking about someone is a way of bringing that relationship into the present (see my post: Relationships in the 3-D). Randomly thinking about God throughout the day is a way to evoke passion in your relationship. Take your prayers before meals more seriously, place Bible verses in obvious places to randomly get your attention, think about a time when God has come through for you.

Many of us feel so overwhelmed about deepening our relationship with God that we tend to simply push it off. Or we forget how desperately God is pursuing us, waiting for so much as a little awareness from the humans he created in his image to share his love with. Or we get so caught up in life that we get distracted. But life is short and unpredictable. And God is waiting. So please, don’t let God’s greatness be an excuse for starting or growing deeper in the best relationship of your life.

“Don’t ask if you don’t like what I have to say!”: Relationship-oriented vs. task-oriented comm

Image result for chicken noodle soup

When I lived at home, all the kids in the house had one night per week where they were assigned the task of making dinner. One of my sisters was always looking for suggestions. I remember one day when she came into my room and asked, “BethAnn, what should I make for supper?” “I don’t care,” I responded, looking up from my homework. “I love your chicken noodle soup and rolls.” “No, I don’t really have time for that.” I made another suggestion, “Your Stromboli is great…” She looked a little annoyed, “That’s a lot of work!” “Okay, well…I like your meatballs in cream sauce.” At this point she was definitely flustered, “Why do you always expect me to make all the hard meals?” My expression changed to annoyance as well, “I don’t care what you make; make whatever you want!”

For Pete’s sake! I hadn’t cared in the first place, I was just offering suggestions so that she had some ideas to brainstorm from. It’s what I would’ve wanted. And I was even complimenting her and her cooking left and right, for crying out loud. If she didn’t want suggestions, why in the world did she ask?!

Most of my regular readers are familiar with my favorite Deborah Tannen quote: “What seem like bad intentions may really be good intentions expressed in a different conversational style” (p. 151). This episode between my sister and me demonstrates this quote to a “t.”

I really hadn’t cared what my sister made for dinner. No matter what she made, I knew it would be good. But if I had just said, “I don’t care” and went on with my homework, it would look like not only didn’t I care what we had for dinner, I also didn’t care that she was struggling with the decision. Therefore, I thought I was showing love by offering suggestions–and especially in my compliments. I had great intentions. But they weren’t communicated in my sister’s conversational style.

I was focused on the task: we need ideas for what to make for supper. My sister was taking a more relational approach: find out what the other person is in the mood for, and how much he/she is feeling up for before actually worrying about. While my way of making suggestions was to offer very specific options and branch out from there, my sister was expecting very generic suggestions–getting a notion for how she was feeling, which could then be specified. She would’ve felt the care I was trying to offer had I instead started with, “Well, how much time do you have?” or “What do you think of something with pasta?” because these questions would be focusing on her before focusing on dinner. With this being her expectation, my specific suggestions came across as demands–and high demands at that, which is why she felt offended by what I had meant in love.

Task-oriented or relational-oriented communication can be something as simple as starting with specific suggestions and branching out or starting with general suggestions and narrowing in. And yet even this which sounds like such a small deal can cause quite a mess! It is these sort of small variations that I didn’t recognize until I started studying communication. Which is part of the reason I feel studying communication is so worthwhile and so applicable.

Understanding how these small expectations can upset whole conversations helps us to extend grace to others and calm ourselves down. Especially when we learn to see the good in both, it can also help us to understand the other person and to communicate better with him/her in the future. Obviously I’m not always going to remember that my sister might prefer general suggestions before specific suggestions, but when I start to sense her growing tense, I’ll remember and because I understand this facet of communication better, I’ll be able to speak in her language. I’ll remember she might be asking more for the relational connection than for literal dinner suggestions. And this is fine too, because I love my sister and would be happy to show her this 🙂

What experiences have you had where you had good intentions but the other person didn’t seem to sense that? Do you know someone who asks for suggestions or advice and then gets angry when you offer it? Could the differences be attributed to something as small as task focus vs. relational focus? Could you re-asses the situation and see some of this principle at play?

Leave me comments or suggestions! I want to hear from my readers 🙂

Why Sarcasm?

Screenshot 2017-03-29 at 6.36.47 PM - Edited.pngI love skiing. I’ve had the opportunity to go quite a few times and have seen the slopes at their busiest. One day, when my friend and I were going through the rental system, the place was just the opposite–it was practically dead. As the woman handed us our skis, my friend stated sarcastically, “Wow, it’s really bustling here!”

The employee’s response made my friend and me want to laugh. “No!” She exclaimed passionately–perhaps with a tad bit of annoyance–“You should see what it’s normally like. We aren’t busy at all right now!” As soon as we both stepped outside we chuckled at the fact that the sarcasm hadn’t been picked up on and, thereby, how stupid we must’ve looked to the employee.

Sarcasm has a bad rap. It can be seen as disrespectful, and has been stereotypically assigned to the rude teen who rolls his eyes at his parents and responds in some snarky way to some wisdom they offer. For the record, I am not condoning this sort of behavior. I believe that–especially those of us who call ourselves Christians–should always, always portray respect, even when you don’t necessarily admire the other person. Just like every other aspect of communication, sarcasm  is a tool and needs to be used responsibly. That being said, in the right circumstances and used appropriately, I think that sarcasm is a creative way to engage with communication. I feel that understanding what sarcasm is and why we use it can help to present sarcasm in a friendlier perspective and admire it when it it’s worth being admired.

Why do we college kiddos enjoy using sarcasm? For inspiration on how to address this question, I turn back to my favorite communication expert: Deborah Tannen. The first thing Tannen brings up is how humans like to challenge themselves. We like to create more and more elaborate skills, inventions, and ideas. Life gets more exciting when we embellish what would otherwise be the same old, same old. We do this in communication too. When skiing, the emptiness of the rental building was so pronounced that my friend wanted to say something. But why state the obvious, boring fact: “this place is kind of empty”?

So we use sarcasm to add a little style to the statement. It gives communicators a bit of a challenge and adds interest. Tannen explains it metaphorically, saying, “The speaker feels clever for having pitched a curve ball, the hearer for having caught it” (p. 71).* If sarcasm can be pulled off like this, the game is well worth the effort. Of course, there are times, like my example, where the trick isn’t pulled off so cleanly. “But if the curve is not caught–if it hits someone in the head or flies out of the ball park–no one is happy. The communication ball game is temporarily brought to a halt” (p. 71).*

Recognizing that sarcasm can be taken the wrong way, I would encourage responsible and thoughtful use of this form of communication. But, when used appropriately, I believe we can have a greater appreciation for sarcasm by understanding some of the nuts and bolts of it.  When you use or hear sarcasm, admire the puzzles we can make out of every day communication. Recognizing what is behind sarcasm can make it that much more interesting to those of us who use it (and perhaps that much more understandable for those of us who don’t).

What are your experiences with sarcasm? You readers from the younger generations, when do you use sarcasm? Do you appreciate it or find it too dry? I’d love to hear any thoughts.

I’d also be especially interested in hearing from those of you who are past the college-age audience that I typically write to. Could you see yourself admiring sarcasm or do you view it as always disrespectful? When is sarcasm appropriate and when isn’t it?

I don’t feel like this topic is addressed very often and would be happy to write a sequel if I receive enough thoughts from you readers 🙂

*Tannen, D. (1986). That’s not what I meant: How conversational style makes or breaks relationships. New York, NY; Harper