Covenant Relationships: Listen…for when words aren’t enough

This is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached. It’s a short little guidebook that walks through the Strings Attached Pledge and the development of covenant relationships. Enjoy!

listen to your heart
“I will listen for my friend’s heart more than her talk. I will not be afraid to listen to her struggles.”- Strings Attached Pledge

“As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

– Proverbs 27:19

Communication goes well beyond what we say with our words.

We know this well. Research shows that when we are under stress, less than seven percent of our communication comes from our words. The rest of the communication cues we send out come from our tone (38%) and our body language (55%). How often have you had a conversation with someone close to you and, despite the fact that everything she was saying to you was upbeat, you knew something was wrong? Did you know that our brains are set to scan systematically the people we talk with for visual, auditory and tactile cues to establish trustworthiness?  We automatically sense and register when someone’s words don’t match what the rest of that person is saying.

That’s because God created us to communicate through many more avenues than just the spoken word. Much of the meaning of our verbal communication is expressed beyond our words, through body language. Through our bodily posture, motion, countenance, gestures, tone and volume of voice, we express feelings that words may fail to reveal.  Our eyes and ears are constantly scanning situations for incongruity between the words that are being spoken and the message that is being sent by the heart.

When you are listening to your friend, listen with more than your ears. Engage your eyes and other senses, and trust your intuition when you feel something is off. This part is not difficult. God designed us to connect to one another this way. To “click in” with each other and understand one another from a place beyond the physical, from our hearts. We each have this ability and do it every day.

The hard part, the part we run from, is the next step.

Once we sense this incongruity, we must reach beyond our safe cocoon of indifference to extend support to our friend. This can be as simple as asking, “Are you ok?” and being prepared to hold your ground if floodgates open and emotional issues come up.

In her poem, “The Invitation,” Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes:

It doesn’t interest me who you know
Or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
In the center of the fire
With me
And not shrink back.

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Are you willing to ask the question when you know the answer might take time to wade through, and stand at the center of the fire and not be afraid of what you might see when the mask comes off and someone’s heart is revealed?

Covenant Relationships: The Power of Prayer

This is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached.  It’s a short little guidebook that walks through the Strings Attached Pledge and the development of covenant relationships.  Enjoy!

job and his friends

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” – Job 42:10

I love this quote from Job. Let me refresh your memory about the story.  This particular verse actually takes place within the Epilogue of the story of Job. Job has been through (literally) Hell on Earth; he has been faithful, but prideful; he has questioned God; and he has seen the error of his questions and repented before the Lord.  The Lord is angry with Job’s friends for speaking out against Him. He tells them to offer burnt sacrifices and Job will pray for them and that Job’s intercessory prayer will be heard. It is heard and Job’s friends are restored in the eyes of God. Job also, by praying for his friends, is restored.

How many times have you said to someone going through a tough time, or needing a little encouragement, “I’ll pray for you.”

I do it, often multiple times a day. It’s the standard Christian good bye.  “Hi, how are you today?”

“I’m fine, thanks!”

“Oh great…I’ll pray for you!”

That’s wonderful! But the real question is: how often do you REALLY do it? Do you REALLY pray for them?

I will be totally honest – I am preaching to the choir here! I have been really convicted of late to change this part of my Christian walk.

Here’s my challenge to you (and to me, too):

The next time you are confronted with an opportunity to pray for someone…STOP RIGHT THERE and do it! Right then! There are a couple of ways to do this:

First, you could simply say to the person you are talking to, “I would love to pray with you about that. May I pray with you right now?” If the answer is yes, well, then you know what to do.

Sometimes, however, the answer will be no. Prayer is a very intimate experience and some people are simply not ready to share that with you. They may covet your intercessory prayers on their behalf, but they are not ready to be privy to them.  This is ok, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t pray RIGHT THEN.  Just take a moment alone, and lift that person up in prayer. Your moment doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to be intentional. I find that not only does praying for others encourage a life of “praying without ceasing it also helps me to remember the prayer requests of the people who I run across in my daily life.

Thinking of the Book of Job, I often wonder at Job’s friends. They showed great loyalty by sitting with him.  They sat for 7 days and watched their friend suffer. They debated and thought and tried to coach Job through a solution to the problem.  Sometimes, perhaps they were not far from striking the theological truth. Sometimes, they were just plain ole wrong. But never once did they offer to do the one thing that all good friends should do. They never once offered to pray for Job.

I wonder what would have happened if they had?

Covenant Relationships: Commitment and Time

The following post is an excerpt from my 2010 book, Living Life with Strings Attached. Enjoy!

photo-two-girls-talking-on-dock-1

Real relationships require a couple of non-negotiables to flourish: commitment and time.

Webster defines “commitment” as: the state or instance of being obligated or emotionally compelled. Of course, it also defines commitment as consignment to a mental
institution, but for now let’s stick to the first definition. 🙂

I like to substitute the word, “covenant” for “commitment.” A covenant is a “binding agreement or pact.” So, in essence, Strings Attached relationships require three things up front.

First, they require COMMITMENT. In order to build deep, trusting, friendships you can count on to help you with everything from plunging your toilet to moving to offering a shoulder to cry on, you have to be emotionally compelled to act for your friend from day one. You have to be committed to caring for your friends.

Secondly, they require COVENANT. Did you ever prick your finger, watch your friend prick hers and then press them together, becoming blood sisters? My best friend’s mom was a bit of germ-o-phobe, so we became “toothpaste” sisters instead. But, I remember clearly the
day we sat in her little playhouse in the backyard, with the sign on the door that said, “NO BOYZ ALLOWED!” – as though that ever kept her little brother out – and pressed our thumbs, slathered with toothpaste, together while boldly declaring that we were, indeed, blood sisters and
would always be there for each other. We were nine and understood the idea of a covenant relationship more clearly than most adults do today. That day we made a pact to stand by one another.

God was clear about the nature of covenant relationships. They are the kind of relationships we were created for –that He created us to have with Him. It is full-fledged commitment. It doesn’t mean just knowing and understanding Him, but caring, loving and fully surrendering to His overarching plan for our lives. Walking with Him, interceding for Him with others, and
fulfilling our active role in the relationship.

He built us to be blood sisters with each other. He wants us to model our heavenly relationship in our physical relationships on earth.

The third thing these relationships require is TIME. All things grow with time, and that includes friendship. Time is one of our most valuable and valued commodities. True relationships are built with time spent together, learning about one another and understanding one another.

So are you willing? Are you ready to form deep and long lasting strings attached relationships?

Break out your toothpaste, sisters, ‘cause here we go!

Covenant Relationships- A Word from Ann Voskamp

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

I had an entirely different post scheduled for today….

One about being present and listening to a heart rather than a word.  It was a good post (no worries, look for it next Friday!) But then I read my friend Holley’s blog and it was just so perfect.  It so fit my word for the year and so fit how I am seeking to live my life this year (and for many to come), I just had to share it with you….

We can all find ourselves pulled into negative conversations from everything from the weather to politics to what great aunt so-and-so did last week. The start of a new year always feels like the blank page of a new journal so guarding our words and helping others around us do the same is perhaps more important now than ever.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen. – Eph. 4:29

So if you find yourself in the middle of gossip or a gripe fest, what can you do?

Here’s my go-to list of three kinds of questions to ask to help the conversation get back on track…will you jump over with me to Holley’s to read the rest?  There’s a free printable download of the graphic above in it for ya :)…

And a little song to drive it all home… 

Words by Hawk Nelson

Covenant Relationships- Grapes of Friendship

It starts simply.

Friendship, that is. I think folks try to make this complicated.  It’s not.

It’s sometimes scary.

It’s sometimes intimidating.

It’s sometimes really uncomfortable.

But it’s not complicated.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Forming a connection is as easy as eating one grape. I get this analogy from my chiropractor who introduced me to this concept several years ago as a way to describe the sure-fire, change-your-life strategy to change your life…gradual, step-wise change.

Yep, I said GRADUAL….which most generally translates to “takes time.”

So it goes like this- add one grape to your daily diet today, each day thereafter add another grape. (The diet advice is free 🙂 )

Today eat your cheeseburger and fries, but eat a grape first.  Tomorrow, eat two before your cheeseburger and fries; the next day three, and then four..until eventually you don’t have room or the desire to eat the greasy stuff anymore.  

Developing connection, a crucial step in the process of building covenant relationship, is like eating one grape.  Today a connection starts by a simple, “Me, too.” The hard part is speaking up- putting yourself out there and LITTLE BY LITTLE opening up to another human being.  Start with the ‘small talk’ and work your way into deep conversations.  It takes time to build deeply connected relationships, but they are so worth it.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ “

– C.S. Lewis


Guest Post: Start Your Own Friendship Brunch

My friend, Mary DeMuth, over at Live Uncaged, writes about…well, she writes about just about anything.  I follow her blog on a regular basis because she always has something great to say about words-smithing, about what it means to be a ‘successful’ writer, mother, woman of God and friend.  A few days ago, she shared this post with her readers about her annual friendship brunch.  If you have read my book, you know that I am a big fan of eating….and also breaking bread with friends.  🙂 When I read about this tradition of hers, I felt compelled to share it with you guys. Enjoy!

I don’t remember when I first started this, but I believe I lived in Seattle, which means my friendship brunch started in the roaring Nineties. A friend of mine had created her own yearly brunch with friends, and I had the privilege of being a part. When life moved on, I decided to follow her inspiration.

So every year around Christmas time, I invite friends to a brunch. This year was my biggest yet, with 14 guests. I had to add a table onto my table to make everyone fit. But it was worth it.

Why? Because there are just so few moments we take these days to celebrate friendship, to ask good questions, and to share our hearts. I started by telling everyone how I knew each person. (I was the common denominator of all the women, so it was fun to share how I met each one.) It was interesting to see how the stories interconnected. Some of us went to the same church. Some of us met when my husband was in seminary. Several of the friends had actually visited us when we lived in France. All of the women have prayed for our family in different, cool ways.

The next question I asked was, “From what you’ve gone through this last year, what one thing do you want to do differently next year? In other words, what did you learn and what do you want to put into practice?”

Mine? I’ve seen how this year has…why don’t you jump on over to www.marydemuth.com to read the rest….I know you’ll enjoy it!

Covenant Relationships- To Be Real

I sat across from him at the table and fidgeted a bit.  He smiled with his disarmingly sheepish grin.  He had asked me to be real with him….to take off the diplomat words, kid gloves and vagaries and point the sword of my thoughts and words directly at him.

I squirmed with the weight of it.  Real words are heavy boots that kick down doors and open us up to vulnerability.  He was my friend and deserved the real, vulnerable, open me.  He deserved to hear that I thought his plan was self-absorbed and full of fear.  He deserved to hear that he had become my brother and I would be sad if he stayed on his current path.  He deserved these words…real ones….but didn’t get them….

Because I was afraid of being real.

He walked away from me that day not knowing – my real thoughts, my real feelings, or, frankly, my real advice- and I have regretted it ever since.

If we are to open ourselves up to covenant relationships, we have to learn to be real.

We all know this, right? We hear words like authenticity and integrity all the time.  But, to live these out takes guts. Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
How right is she?  It’s not easy to check our need for validation at the door of our relationships and be open and honest.  But it is the first skill that needs honing in the quest for covenant relationships.  We need to know how to Be Real.

But how do I do that?  How do I let go of the need to be “just right” and know that who I am right now is “enough?”

It starts simply, with the acceptance of your true identity.

“…you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.” – Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

When we begin to accept ourselves, our stories, our wounds and brokenness as part of the Beloved child of God each of us is, the courage to be real is cultivated…and the result is absolutely beautiful.

Stay Connected,

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

– Brene Brown

 

Covenant Relationships: The Series

This blog is the first in a yearlong series exploring the idea of Covenant Relationships. I’d love, ultimately for this to be an ongoing conversation about love, friendship and deeper relationship with God, so would you comment below with your thoughts? Or better yet, consider guest posting on a topic you think might fit?  Send me an email at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com.


If I were to sum up in a word what Strings Attached Ministries is all about it would be relationship.  With others, with God, with ourselves- our heart here at SAM is to help Christians people find and build deeper, meaningful relationships in their lives.  This year, I’d like to take some time to be intentional in having a conversation about what practices and disciplines living the connected life requires and what roadblocks stand in our way.

I stumbled across this idea mid-sentence as I was speaking at #Small Town 2012 earlier this month.  As I was wrestling with the insurmountable task of speaking about developing covenant relationships online in ten minutes or less, I made the comment that I “could write an yearlong blog series on this topic and not even scratch the surface.” Hmmmmm…

So here we are, a few weeks later, doing just that.  So this year, let’s have a cup of tea and chat about relationship….and how to make it richer. I thought we would start off by defining what I call covenant relationships.

The word covenant is defined by Webster’s dictionary as:

“Covenant: a usually formal, solemn and binding agreement between two or more parties.”

So in this sense a covenant relationship is a relationship with commitments and obligations.  It is solemn and binding, it has consequences…it is a “strings attached” relationship.  It is the type of relationship God models for us in His relationship with us. It is the type of relationship we were created for.

Most often, when I speak about covenant relationships, people very naturally think of marriage, but I believe God created us for covenant relationships with our family and friends as well.

Over the next year, on Fridays, we will take an in-depth look at what I believe the hallmarks of a covenant relationship are, what practices we need to put in place to learn to develop these in our own relationships and how to overcome the roadblocks that stand in our way.

One last thing (and a confession), it took me three edits to finally commit to writing on this topic once a week on a specific day.  Those of you who have followed my blog long know that I am not always consistent with my writing.  I am making a commitment to you to try harder in this area.  Will you help me?   I could sure use your prayer, your encouragement and, perhaps even your words.  

#Small Town 2012: So Much More than a Conference

On Stage at #Small Town 2012
Photo by #140conf on Instagram

Two weeks ago a traveled to the middle of Kansas to talk about covenant relationships.  This, in and of itself, is not a new thing, but the format and the experience were a whole new world.

Earlier this year, I was selected as a speaker for a State of Now/#140 Conference called Small Town 2012 in Hutchinson, Kansas.  This ‘twitter’ conference is an interesting event that brought together speakers from all of the country to speak about the effect of social media on small town America.

From the website:  

The State of Now (#140conf) events provide a platform for the worldwide online community to:      listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business. It creates serendipity in talking to each other, sharing ideas across industries, and exchanging thoughts with people like you and not like you. To put it in rural terms, we’re going to cross-pollinate some ideas. Or think of it as hybrid vigor: your new ideas are much stronger than the ideas that brought them about.

Ummmm..yeah, so not my usual women’s banquet.

And quite honestly, the moment I received my acceptance letter from the event coordinator, Becky McCray, I began struggling with where I would fit in this conference. After all, this is about small towns…and while I technically live in a town with 5,000 people- it’s really more of a suburb of a larger area.  I don’t live on a farm, I’m 4 miles to the nearest mall, I can walk to the nearest Wal-Mart…and a load of other reasons paraded through my brain as to why I didn’t think I would have anything in common with the folks I would find there.

Oh, and did I mention, each speaker only has 10 minutes?  Yeah, you know this is an unfathomable request to ask me to get to the point in that amount of time.

So for weeks I mulled over what to say…and in the end, I came back to the core message of Strings Attached…covenant relationships are about how YOU interact with the people in your life….online and off.

So I packed up my bags and headed to Hutchinson.  When I arrived, I was excited to learn that the receptions and get-togethers planned were in awesome venues like the Kansas Underground Salt Museum and the Cosmosphere.  I met super cool people- veterans of this conference who’ve come year after year, who settled my nerves, and, by telling me their stories, held open a space for this newcomer to fit in (Thank you Dennis,Simon, Patsy and Gigi). And on the day of the conference, I got to see real, open hearts. People who, yes, spoke about how social media had changed their lives, but not with numbers and anecdotes, but with stories about fires raging through their hometown and family illnesses and droughts that nearly bankrupted a family(Thank you Dave, Lanna and Carrie).

The stories were amazing, but the people knocked my socks off. For that I am grateful that I ignored all the voices telling me how different I was, and let me see how common our human experiences can be.  I’m grateful for the friendships that were forged and new partnerships that are budding from this event. (Thanks, Angela and Melissa for the great talks). And I’m grateful for the opportunity to share a message that might be a little outside the box for a conference like this, but that was certainly well received and honored (thanks again, Becky, for the opportunity).

I hope to return next year, but until then, why don’t you take 10 minutes and check out my talk?  Or if you have a little longer, watch through the rest of the videos.