Are You Really Listening to Me?

I was asked recently to speak at a seminar on The Five Love Languages and my topic was Quality Time.

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages describes Quality Time as “giving someone your undivided attention” and that it is a “powerful emotional communicator of love.”

Giving people our attention communicates that we are interested in them and that we are also treating them with respect. But for some people, it is the primary way in which they both show and receive love.

This idea is borne out by the following two quotes, the first by Douglas Steere and the second by well- known counselor, David Augsburger:

“To listen to another’s soul… may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.”

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

The similarity between the quotes is obvious because they both identify listening to another person as a key concept in giving someone quality time.

An ancient proverb also illustrates this by stating, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (Prov. 20:5).

I have found in my own experience that the development of good listening skills is a journey that takes a lifetime.

So what are some simple skills that can assist us along the way?

Good listeners make good eye contact. When they listen to you, they look you in the eye.

They do not constantly glance at their watch, look over the top of your head when you are speaking, text on their phone or look disinterestedly around the room.

Good listeners engage with you by making eye contact with you, seeking to connect with you personally.

Looking someone in the eyes is risky because it makes both you and the other person vulnerable to each other’s emotions. When you look into another’s eyes you see their pain, sorrow, laughter and joy.

When we look into each other’s eyes when listening we develop empathy for and with the other person and this naturally progresses to greater intimacy.

Looking a person in the eyes also conveys acceptance. It’s a powerful, non-verbal way of saying, “I see you and I accept you!”

A word of warning, however – eye contact does not mean boring a hole into the person’s eyes. Good eye contact is done naturally and from time to time it needs to be broken otherwise you run the risk of looking like an unblinking robot, completely oblivious of everything else.

Good listeners repeat back what they have heard. It need not be a verbatim report, but reflecting back at appropriate times in the conversation what you have heard the other person say is an excellent way to communicate that you are listening to them.

Good listeners do not interrupt. This one needs no explanation – it is pretty straightforward. Proverbs declares that the wise person “uses words with restraint.”

Good listeners do not make quick assumptions or judgements about the other person.

How easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming that we know precisely why a person is feeling a certain way without listening to them fully.

Equally damaging is our propensity to judge a person’s motives without fully listening to their story.

Wrong assumptions and unfair judgements have led to the breakdown of many a relationship when a simple, well thought out question would have clarified the matter and most likely have preserved the marriage or friendship.

These skills are simple and straightforward, but as I said earlier, they take a lifetime to develop and master.

Giving someone your undivided attention is a great way to communicate love and value to them.

We all love to be heard – but what a priceless gift we bestow when we truly listen to the heart of another!

Don’t Fake It this February

It’s February and this is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Sadly, what was once a time for lovers to declare and affirm their love for each other has simply become another exercise for retailers to encourage people to spend, spend, spend!

How easily our society is hoodwinked into thinking that spending money on exorbitant and highly priced gifts is the way in which you show the depth of your love for another!

Too often, when the gifts have lost their lustre and the initial *flush of romance has cooled, couples find themselves in the following situation described poetically by Adrian Plass:

Sunday is a funny day,
It starts with lots of noise.
Mummy rushes round with socks,
And Daddy shouts, ‘You boys!’

Then Mummy says, ‘Now don’t blame them,
You know you’re just as bad,
You’ve only just got out of bed,
It really makes me mad!’

My mummy is a Christian,
My daddy is as well,
My mummy says ‘Oh, heavens!’
My daddy says ‘Oh, hell!’

And when we get to church at last,
It’s really very strange,
Cos Mum and Dad stop arguing,
And suddenly they change.

At church my mum and dad are friends,
They get on very well,
But no one knows they’ve had a row,
And I’m not gonna tell.

People often come to them,
Because they seem so nice,
And Mum and Dad are very pleased
To give them some advice.

They tell them Christian freedom
Is worth an awful lot,
But I don’t know what freedom means,
If freedom’s what they’ve got.

Daddy loves the meetings,
He’s always at them all,
He’s learning how to understand
The letters of St Paul.

But Mummy says, ‘I’m stuck at home
To lead my Christian life,
It’s just as well for blinkin’ Paul
He didn’t have a wife.’

I once heard my mummy say
She’d walk out of his life,
I once heard Daddy say to her
He’d picked a rotten wife.

They really love each other,
I really think they do.
I think the people in the church
Would help them – if they knew.

Growing a love that lasts a lifetime is not the result of expensive gifts or grand declarations of extravagance.

Love that lasts a lifetime is forged in the fires of adversity.

It is the fruit of a couple who honestly face the truth about themselves as individuals and are prepared to work for positive change and growth.

Love that lasts a lifetime grows in the seedbed of honest communication.

It is born out by travelling the hard road of dealing with one’s junk.

It is recognising that the person you are married to or in love with is not perfect…and neither are you.

It is learning to accept those imperfections in each other and realising that they can actually work in your favour.

There is enough fakery and pretend love in the world already, so why continue to go along with it.

We have become so enamoured with the version of “love” portrayed on our TV and computer screens that we have forgotten what the real thing looks like!

So do something radical this Valentines’ Day.

Instead of an expensive gift why not invest yourself into your relationship?

Ask yourself what it is that you truly love about your partner.

Write them down. (In a card or a letter – not an email – remember what writing is?!)

And then give it to your loved one.

Spend time together talking about the things that you love about each other.

And then plan and dream about how you can build on that in the coming year.

Don’t settle for what our culture says is true love – discover it’s wonder and beauty for yourselves!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Finding the path to ‘oneness’

There is something very special about seeing an elderly couple who have been married for many years still walking hand in hand with each other.

For me, it is a beautiful and symbolic way of declaring that they have taken the journey of life together and they still choose to do so.

At some point in a marriage ceremony words along the lines of these will be made: “and they shall become one flesh.” It is an ancient way of describing the marriage relationship and it is filled with promise, potential and possibility.

Promise because when two people marry they begin a lifetime journey together toward “oneness”.

Potential because two people come together with different gifts, personalities, ideas, abilities and backgrounds that can be fused together to achieve what they could not do alone.

And possibility because of all the good that they may achieve together!

It is important to understand then, that oneness is not something that is immediately achieved once a couple has said “I do”.

Oneness is a lifelong journey, taken together and toward which couples progressively move.

I have been thinking about this for some time and recently I came across this description by Chuck Swindoll concerning the topic of oneness. (It’s always nice to find an author who agrees with you!):

Becoming one flesh suggests a process, not an instant fact. Two people with different backgrounds, temperaments, habits, scars, feelings, parents, educational pursuits, gifts, and interests don’t immediately leave a wedding ceremony in perfect unity. It is a lifelong project requiring wisdom, understanding, and knowledge … The whole idea of mutual acceptance, giving, listening, forgiving, belonging, and direction was implied. It is two individuals willingly blending into each other’s lives, desiring to share with and thereby complete the other.

‘One Flesh’ also has to do with the physical aspect of marriage. The sexual aspect of marriage is essential to the marriage as much as the leaving and cleaving. The success of the sexual relationship between husband and wife is directly proportionate to the success of the other areas of intimacy in marriage — emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social.

What I am aware of though, is that many marriages do not experience this idea of oneness at all, even less are they moving towards it.

The question arises, in spite of the definition just given, what exactly is oneness in marriage?

It is certainly not some “mystical” experience that a couple has and which lifts you to a higher plane in your marriage!

Oneness is essentially a strong bond of unity that is built between a man and a woman as they grow in their love, experience and support of each other through the many changing facets of life.

Interestingly, when Jesus said that He and His Father were “one” it was the same word used to describe a couple when they become one.

In other words, oneness flows directly out of a deep relationship of truly knowing one another.

If this is the ideal for marriage that is held up for us, then how do we get there?

It is tempting to think of oneness as the goal of marriage, but to me that reduces it to one more thing to do in life. Authentic and fulfilling marriage is not about ticking off a list of KPIs to ensure a successful relationship any more than it is about following the “10 Steps to a Successful Marriage” kind of approach.

Oneness in marriage is best seen as a journey or trip that a couple makes together over a lifetime toward a destination of security, wholeness and freedom and it will be a journey that is never quite fully reached because the couple will always be discovering something new along the way!

I describe this journey as the pathways to oneness and I will share some of these with you over the next few months!

Putting each other first in every stage of life

By the time you read this article Karen and I will have celebrated 36 years of marriage and as I write these words I realize how far into the fourth decade of our life together we are!

When we embarked on our journey of marriage all those years ago we were inspired by the words of the poet, Robert Browning who wrote:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be…

It wasn’t a pipe dream that we shared. We had a genuine desire expressed through our marriage vows to continue to grow in our love for each other through every stage of life.

And there have been many stages!

There were the early years where we did not have much money but somehow (with God’s help!) we managed to get by.

Then came the parenting years where we learned to juggle work commitments with the demands of growing children as well as carving out time for ourselves.

Navigating the teenage years was never dull. Everything from staying up until 2.00am, waiting for your child to get home from camp, he or she having driven there for the first time, through to meeting the young man who would like to date your daughter. (Always an interesting experience!)

Then suddenly, you find that all of your children have either married or left home and you enter the phase known as “empty nesters”. I have learned that this term is actually a myth because grandchildren start arriving and they all seem to find their way to Gramps and Grammy’s house!

Our nest is rarely empty these days!

Here’s the thing. I can honestly say that I love my wife more deeply now than I ever have and she can say the same about her feelings for me.

I do not say this to boast or to gloat.

Because of the nature of my work I come into contact with many marriages where couples are living lives of “quiet desperation” and there is no sense at all of deep connection with each other.

The last thing I want to do here is to give the impression that we have it all together, because we do not.

So despite our imperfections, why can I say that our love continues to grow?

The following thoughts come to mind.

From the outset of our marriage we decided that after God, the most important relationship in our lives was our marriage.

We love our children, grandchildren and our friends. But none of those relationships has ever taken precedence over ours. (This also includes our work life).

Far too many relationships come to grief because couples pour all of their energy into these other areas only to realize, too late, that when these are gone, they are left with a husband or wife that they barely know.

We have made time for each other.

Whether it was time at the end of each day catching up with each other or going out together, quantity and quality time as a couple has been a priority for us and we reap the benefits of this today.

We have also prayed together.

This has become a sharper focus for us in more recent years and we have found through sharing with each other about what God is doing in our lives, our intimacy has grown deep.

Praying for each other about “life stuff” always enhances intimacy.

Simple things like these have enabled us to walk the path happily of growing old together.

It can happen for you as well and it doesn’t mean that you have to do what we do. Discover what will work for you and above all, start doing it!

Because Robert Browning was right – the best is yet to be!

Enough for me … enough for you!

FOR A FEW YEARS now my wife Karen has selected a word to meditate upon and use as a theme for her life throughout the year to come. It is an enriching experience because it serves to focus her thoughts, prayers and actions at a personal level and in her relationships with others, including me!

As I reflect on my own life over the past twelve months, the word “enough” is a great description of how my life has been.

During this past year, God led me into the wilderness again, and along the way, He turned my thoughts to Psalm 63, written by David when he too, found himself in the wilderness.

David recalls moments when he has seen God’s power and glory – God Himself – in the house of worship (verses 2-5). He writes,

“I have beheld…your power and your glory…”

“What was it he saw?” I wonder. “And when have I seen evidence of God’s power and glory in my life?”

More importantly, David saw God in the sanctuary. I take this to mean that God Himself is the One we seek, a greater blessing by far than His acts of power and glory.

So right there in the wilderness, David chooses to praise and rejoice in God. His will be a life of constant praise and of giving glory to God with his words and songs. And the reason for all of this is a quite remarkable statement in verse 3-

“Because your love is better than life…”

To know the love of God in your life, and the peace, comfort and security this brings, is a greater gift than life itself, even in the wilderness. For David, this is enough –

“God Himself is enough for me and my soul is satisfied.” (v5)

The message for me was straightforward enough: “No matter what I might be facing right now, God is all I need!”

The Christmas/New Year period can be a very lonely one fore many people. They suffer through the break up of a marriage, family or friendship that “came out of left field!”

“I didn’t see it coming…” is a sad, but often heard refrain from many broken-hearted souls.

The devastation of losing someone that you had invested yourself in so completely can leave you feeling as if you will never recover or be a whole person again.

If that is you right now, I want you to know that there is real hope. Your circumstances may not change, but I can assure you that God has not forgotten you, He loves you deeply and He can be enough for you.

I am learning, in my times of being in the wilderness, to choose

To live a life of constant praise to my Father and to thank Him every day.
To live my life for His glory.
Above all, to rest in the peace, comfort and security of God’s love for me.

In the wilderness, I find I am able to tell God how much I love Him; I can thank Him for every good gift in my life – His love, family, friends, life itself – and for teaching me again about humility and my need to depend utterly on Him.

In this my soul is satisfied – in and with God Himself.

He is enough … and He can be enough for you!