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Lynne's Blog

Letting go of agendas as we listen

Saturday December 6 2014

Letting go of agendas as we listen

Eleven years ago our son came to us asking advice about whether we thought he should marry his girlfriend of three years. They were both 23, and he felt that was too young to get married. My husband and I agreed with that assessment, but we also agreed with him that this lovely young woman was just about the best thing that had ever happened to him.

After our son talked through the pros and cons of getting married, I said: “Yes, you’re both too young to get married, and yes, she’s an absolutely wonderful person. You have a tough decision to make.” For the first time as a parent, I genuinely did not have an opinion about what he should do. Previously, I struggled and prayed about whether or not to voice my opinion. This time, I truly didn’t know what he should do.

I’ve looked back on that moment many times. The quality of my listening changed when I realized I genuinely didn’t have an opinion, and that I genuinely wanted to support him in whatever he decided to do. Yes, I would pray for guidance for him, but it was his (and her) big decision to make, not mine.

In the past three years I’ve been researching, teaching, speaking and writing about listening. I have come to believe that many of the same listening skills and listening obstacles apply both to listening to people and listening to God. One of the biggest obstacles comes from having an agenda while listening.

That agenda might be our certainty that we know what another person should do or believe, which I so frequently experienced as a mother of teenagers. My kids would talk about something they wanted to do, and I could see so clearly it wasn’t a good idea, and my struggle in the conversation was to find wisdom. What was the best way to influence them?

(These are the opening paragraphs of an article that was recently published in Refresh Journal of Contemplative Spirituality. Read the rest of the article here. If you'd like to receive email updates when I post something on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right colum of this webpage.)

Five myths about friendship today

Tuesday December 2 2014

Five myths about friendship today

Last week I wrote about imaginary friends, and this week I’m continuing the friendship theme. The Washington Post has a wonderful “five myths” series: Five Myths about Ebola, Five Myths about Billionaries, etc. So I wrote a similar post based on what I learned in dozens of interviews of people age 12 to 85 for my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual Age.

Myth: The biggest friendship challenges of our time come from the many impersonal ways to communicate.

I heard three major friendship challenges expressed over and over in interviews: mobility, busyness and new ways to communicate. Many people see the new ways to communicate as helpful aids in the light of all the mobility and busyness, even while being concerned about them.

Myth: Younger people don’t value face-to-face contact with their friends.

Almost everyone I interviewed, across the span of ages, affirmed that they prefer to see their friends face-to-face. Many people said they view electronic communication as a way to stay in touch with friends, so that in face-to-face encounters, they can begin from a point of connection rather than having to catch up on all the details of life.

Myth: Younger people are oblivious to the way they are impacted by the new communication technologies.

Teenagers and young adults talked to me about going on Facebook fasts and leaving online gaming communities. They talked about their longing that their relationships not be impersonal and technology-driven, and about not wanting to be mindless consumers of information about people. They talked about all the things they do to try to be faithful to their friends. The careful thinking about healthy relationships I heard was inspiring and uplifting.

Myth: Facebook always nurtures impersonal friendships.

Teenagers talked about staying in constant contact with their friends on Facebook as a way to show love. People of all ages talked about reconnecting with old friends through Facebook, being able to pray for friends because of news posted on Facebook and being able to give and receive support through Facebook. Others talked about their frustrations with Facebook, saying that it’s too easy to be superficial in your relationships if you rely on Facebook too much. I heard about a wide variety of friendship experiences from people who use Facebook, and some of those patterns seemed to have many healthy components.

Myth: Your age will determine the forms of communication you are comfortable with.

I did hear generational patterns in the way people talked about communication with friends, but I was also surprised by the variation within generations. For example, consider two people in their mid-thirties. One of them told me that she loves to write and receive long emails from friends. The other thirty-something won’t read more than the first three sentences of an email. People ranging in age from teenagers to sixties use Facebook and texting enthusiastically, and other people across that same age range told me they hate Facebook and texting (yes, including teenagers!). One real challenge with friendships today is that in any circle of friends at any age, there will be wide variation in the forms of communication people use. I think this is one of the biggest friendship challenges of our time that is not being discussed very much.

(If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up in the right hand column of this webpage under “subscribe.” This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)

Imaginary friends

Sunday November 23 2014

Imaginary friends

When I was three years old we lived in a neighborhood with very few children, so I created my own friend. My imaginary friend played with me and my Raggedy Andy doll every day. We drank tea together at the little table my parents bought for me. My imaginary friend got me through that year. When I was four and we moved to a new place, I jumped into friendships with real life children.

Characters in well loved novels function like imaginary friends in my life today. After a busy work day, I like nothing better than to curl up with a familiar novel. It feels like being with friends in a non-demanding way. I know what the characters will say and do. I enjoy spending time with them.

I truly believe I don’t use novels as a way to escape from real relationships. When I’m tired, I simply don’t have the energy to meet up with friends, phone them, write them an email or check on Facebook to find out what they’ve been doing. The familiar characters in novels meet some of the same needs that would be met by getting together with a friend.

I was wondering if this was a little bit crazy when I heard some people talking about the television show West Wing.

“Those people are like my friends,” one person said. “I love to play a DVD of the show before I go to bed at night to have a little time with those people.”

Someone else said, “After that show was cancelled, I found I missed spending time with those characters.”

A few weeks later, I was reading A Memoir of Jane Austen, written in 1870 by her nephew, J. E. Austen-Leigh. He writes about some of the favorite characters in the Jane Austen novels, “who have been admitted as familiar guests to the firesides of so many families, and are known there as individually and intimately as if they were living neighbours.”

There’s a lot of black and white thinking about friendships these days, perhaps precipitated by the rise in social networking. I am continually amazed at the polarized views about Facebook that I hear. People seem to view it as all bad or all good. Why can’t we have a more nuanced approach?

The same applies, in a smaller way, to the question of imaginary friends. Some people will probably read the first six paragraphs of this post and decide that I must be wildly neurotic. And they may wonder if I have any real-life friends at all.

If I spent all my free time with familiar characters in novels, I would worry. If I expected all my real-life friendships to mirror the friendships in the TV show Friends or the friendships in novels, I would be treating my friends unfairly. But I don’t. I spend time with familiar characters in novels when I’m too tired to communicate with living human beings. Sometimes I learn things about friendship from novels, which is a nice bonus. And when I’m not reading, I do my best to love my real-life friends as much as I can and as often as I can.

When I did the interviews for my book on friendship, Friending, I heard so many polarized views about friendship today. In the book I have advocated for friendship practices centered on the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13, which mirrors the character of Jesus. Whether we’re talking about imaginary friends or Facebook use, our criteria for evaluation ought to be the characteristics of love modeled after Jesus Christ which requires some careful reflection, analysis and prayer. 

(If you'd like to get an email notice when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on The Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

Monday November 17 2014

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

I’ve been speaking and writing about the Sabbath for almost a decade, but I recently had an aha experience about Sabbath keeping in my life and its connection to other spiritual practices.

Much of my speaking and writing flows out of my own Sabbath observance, which is close to its 35 year anniversary. When we were young adults, my husband and I lived in Israel for 18 months. Our apartment was in a Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv, so everything was closed on the Sabbath day. Everything. We didn’t have a car, and the busses didn’t run, so it was a day with incredibly few options and a very slow pace.

For the first few months, we chafed at the sense of confinement, but later we relaxed into the rhythm of six days of activity and one day of vastly reduced options. When we returned to Seattle, we decided to adopt a Sabbath pattern of our own. Thirty-five years ago, Christians weren’t talking about the Sabbath at all, so some of our friends thought we were a bit weird.

Some people told us we were legalistic. We were stunned by their comments, because we had experienced the slow pace and reduced options of the Sabbath as a major gift that we wanted to keep on receiving. Sure, the fourth commandment calls for a Sabbath, but we never experienced it as an onerous command. We had learned to receive it as a gift, and we wanted to keep receiving that gift.

My recent aha moment came when I compared Sabbath keeping to having a daily quiet time. In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that a daily quiet time in the specific form of cognitive-based Bible study and intercessory prayer is a non-negotiable, something all Christians have to do. I have often tried to have a daily quiet time in that form, and I have succeeded only intermittently. I have felt a lot of guilt around my quiet time failures.

I think about my grandfather, who grew up in a family with a very rigid Sabbath practice. For his parents, a quiet Sunday Sabbath was non-negotiable, and little boys were forced to sit still for one whole day every week. My grandfather stopped attending church as a young man, and seldom darkened the door of a church for the rest of this life. Far from being a gift, for him the Sabbath was one of the factors that drove him from the church.

Encouragement to have a daily quiet time didn’t drive me from the church, but the guilt associated with my failure to measure up hasn’t done much to nurture my faith. Yet the Sabbath has taught me oceans about God’s grace and love for me. The Sabbath has been a factor in shaping me into a person who loves God, receives good gifts from God and tries to respond in faithful service. The Sabbath has helped me understand that my form of a daily quiet time needs to involve stillness and silence, not serious study of the Bible and not just intercessory prayer.

We call spiritual practices “disciplines” because they require an act of the will and persistent obedience. Yet it seems increasingly clear to me that the necessary discipline and persistence need to be rooted in receiving practices as gifts rather than as obligations.

My questions of the day: what Christian practices in your life feel like a gift? Do you perceive any ways they are shaping you?

(If you'd like to read some articles I've written on the sabbath, click here and scroll two-thirds of the way down the page. You'll find a half dozen articles about the sabbath. Here are links to my Sabbath book and my Sabbath Bible study guide. My book Joy Together has a chapter on communal Sabbath keeping. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. If you'd like to receive an email when I post something on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "subscribe.")

Words matter

Sunday November 9 2014

Words matter

My husband remembers her as peaceful and serene. I remember her as a contented woman with a cheerful, almost fey, personality. Remembering her makes me smile because being around her was a joy.

Lately I’ve been thinking about this particular woman. We knew her when we were in our thirties. Perhaps I’ve been thinking about her because I’m so concerned about the lack of civility in public discourse today. I wrote about that last week.

Words shape us. Words give us lenses through which we view the world. We need to be so careful with words because of their impact on the us – the one speaking or writing the words – as well as on the hearers or readers.

This woman I’m thinking about was slim and pretty. I always knew there was something a bit odd about the skin on her face, but I never really focused on it because her lovely personality and graceful way of moving overshadowed anything about her skin. After I had known her for several years, I learned that she had been in a car accident when she was about 10. The windshield exploded into her face, and she had hundreds of small scars on her face.

The plastic surgeon told her mother that the most important thing the mother could do was tell her daughter she was pretty. So this mother obeyed the surgeon, and the result was a confident woman who was lovely inside and out, even though she still had tiny scars all over her face.

Words matter. The words that come out of our mouths can indicate what’s going on in our hearts and minds. Jesus is absolutely right when he says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Sometimes, though, our hearts are in the right place, but we simply don’t speak the words of affirmation or comfort that we’d like to say. Perhaps we’re afraid to sound stupid or vulnerable.

Words help us describe reality, and words shape the way we understand reality. James uses the metaphor of the tongue as a rudder that steers a ship. Sometimes we need to speak up, in a positive or encouraging way, so our own hearts and minds will be steered more profoundly in the direction of love. And we need to speak up, with encouraging and gracious words, in order to describe and even shape the reality of the people God has put around us.

(This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. If you'd like to receive an email when I post something on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column of this webpage.)

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