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: 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- 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.  

Listening to the Heart

3. I will listen for my friend’s heart more than her talk. I will not be afraid to listen to her struggles.

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

– Proverbs 27:19 (NIV)

 

Communication goes well beyond what we say with our words.

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 consistently 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:

1) ask the question when you know the answer might take time to wade through,

and

2) 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?

Don’t be afraid to listen to your friend’s struggles.

Next time you are in conversation with a friend, ask her specifically, “What’s challenging you right now?” Don’t push, just listen and provide support unless and until she asks for help.

“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, ‘What are you going through?’”

– Simone Weil

The preceding was a excerpt from the book Living Life with Strings Attached.  

Guest Post- How to Be an Encourager

Welcome Company Girls! Thanks for tuning in..today I am featuring a guest post by Sheila Wray Gregoire of  To Love, Honour and Vacuum…she rocks! Enjoy and be sure to check out the post below to find out how to get your copy of Living  Life with Strings Attached, released March 1st!

There are some days when I’ve just about had it. Recently, when baby-sitting a friend’s two preschoolers, I realized how much one can forget in the six short years since both of my girls have been out of diapers. On that day, the three-year-old got into the paints when I wasn’t looking. I discovered him sitting atop the kitchen table, making interesting designs on his clothes. After taking one look at him, I decided he was too far gone to interfere with now. I just gave him some paper and figured at least this would keep him busy for a while. And it did. It kept him so busy he didn’t realize when he had to pee. My table got the worst of it.

But even my days with my own children can be disheartening. I really enjoy cooking, and sometimes I make these sumptuous meals, lay out the silver, sit down with excitement, and watch the kids’ faces drop. Even though they know it’s definitely not in their best interests to voice any complaints, they sit, dejected, and suffer in silence as they look at all the yucky green stuff I sprinkled on the chicken. I want to enjoy the meal, but the whole atmosphere is ruined. Don’t they see what I went through for them?

Some of us have jobs that make us feel that way, too. If we work at a place where morale is lower than a double-jointed limbo dancer, everybody is grumpy.

We Need Encouragement

The problem, whether at our jobs or at home, is not necessarily that the work we do is miserable, or that the job is too hard. It’s that nobody appreciates our efforts. Attention only comes our way when something goes wrong.

Living that kind of life, with no positive feedback, can be like living a slow death. Even when we have pursued a life which we feel God has called us to-a career we feel proud of, a family we’re raising that we love, a business we’re starting-that inner sense of motivation, satisfaction or vocation only takes you so far. We are social beings, and we’re made to need positive human interaction.

That’s what poisons so many marriages, and causes employers to lose the best people. These bad feelings, even if they don’t stem from huge issues, can start to add up as, brick by brick, we build up walls between us. Soon there doesn’t seem anything left to hold us together.

Acknowledge What Other People Do

How can we stop this impending death? My grandfather, after every meal, would always smile and thank my grandmother. “Mother,” he would say, “that was wonderful,” whether it was or not. He was acknowledging the effort and the love that she put into that meal. When we don’t acknowledge that love, too often it flickers out.

Don’t Wait for Them to Make That First Step

Much as we may know this kind of appreciation is vital, though, when we’re feeling unappreciated, it’s really hard to appreciate anybody else. We’re each waiting for the other person to thank us, before it even occurs to us to acknowledge them. It’s strange how we’re often the most critical with those we’re the closest to. We can be kind to strangers, but are we kind to those who really matter? And when our lives feel like endless to-do lists, taking time to encourage someone seems overwhelming. Why should they need it? I’m keeping up with all my work without anybody fawning all over me. Why should I fawn all over anybody else?

That’s a dangerous, though understandable, attitude. Many of us are tired. After that day with four kids, I certainly was. But think about those around you. Why not break through that wall today, before it becomes too high to climb over? You may think you’re tired now, but don’t sacrifice the people who comprise your support system. Take my advice: whether you’re at home or at work, stop reading, smile at the person nearest you, and say thank you for something. You’ll be tearing down bricks, and that’s ever so much better than piling them up.

Do you feel overwhelmed with all the things you need to get done? Get your FREE household organization charts, including chore sheets, checklists to make sure you’re putting first things first, and more!

Sheila Wray Gregoire is the author of four books specializing in marriage and household organization. She blogs athttp://tolovehonorandvacuum.blogspot.com

Living Life with Strings Attached! It’s HERE!

My much anticipated (mostly by me;) new book, Living Life with Strings Attached is here! There are several ways for you to get your hands on one!

1) Check out the “Resources” page on this site, and simply click on the “Buy at Lulu” button. Living Life with Strings Attached retails for $9.70 plus shipping and handling.

OR

If you are looking for a more socially conscious way to buy this book, send a check for $15 to:

Strings Attached Ministries, PO Box 187, Lowell, AR 72745

and $5 of every order placed will go toward purchasing school uniforms for teenage girls in Brazil so that they may attend school (go to http://www.seegirllead.com). Be sure to send an email to stringsattachedministries@gmail.com (or leave it in the comments section) to let me know where to ship your SIGNED COPY!