Monday, January 28, 2013

The Art of Listening

image As we all work harder to be more inclusive in our circle of friends to make sure there are no more strangers in the ward, we need to make work harder to improve our listening skills. The foundation of great communication is built upon a listening ear.

So, what can we do to improve our listening skills? Here are some easy suggestions:

1. Ask sincere questions. Let’s be honest, there really is such a thing as a dumb question. I would say a dumb question is one where you really don’t care about the answer, you simply used the question to fill a void.

image We need to view questions as a treasure map. Questions provide us clues to help us get to know that person with whom you are conversing. So tailor your conversations to give the other person an opportunity to help you get to know them better.

2. Carefully note how your questions are answered. Yes, as you seek to get to know someone better you run the risk of asking something that is too personal. This is not a disaster unless you fail to catch on.

image For example, it is typically non-threatening to ask about someone’s family. But let’s assume the person you are trying to get to know just heard that his or her parent’s separated.Well, now a normal question has the potential stir up some raw emotions.

The sensitive person will notice the difficulty of the situation and try to steer the conversation a different direction.

image 4. Don’t be an expert. When trying to create an atmosphere of open communication, it is frustrating when you automatically assume the role of expert on each topic. No one wants to be around someone who knows everything.

Instead of being an expert, seek to understand why the other person feels the way they do. You don’t have to agree with them. But it is not a good idea to always make your disagreements known.

image 4. Verify that you clearly understood the answer. Before you assume you understood what someone just said, take the time to verify that you really understood. Sometimes people don’t communicate clearly. Sometimes we don’t listen completely. It is better to ask for clarification than to assume you understood and do the exact opposite of the person expected.

image 5. Find a way to incorporate what you learned in the relationship. When you discover small nuggets of information, look for ways to meet the other person’s needs by providing them something they mentioned in the conversation. This small act of kindness will go a long way to improve a friendship.

None of this stuff is hard. Just listen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

No More Strangers…

image One of the great challenges facing Christ’s early church was overcoming the natural and centuries old divisions between Jews and Gentiles. After Peter received the revelation that Gentiles had as much right to join the Church as did Jews, the stage was set for conflict. As the Apostle Paul was the foremost missionary to the Gentile nations, we see this division through his eyes.

Christian congregations in Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, and Rome all struggled to create a sustainable atmosphere of unity. But in Ephesus, the strains caused by this difficult division seemed most prominent. To combat this schism, Paul wrote:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God… Ephesians 2:19

image This doctrine of unity is extremely important to each of us as we are all part of a ward community. We all come to this community from different backgrounds. We all have different personalities. While we may have the church in common, we still have fundamental differences in how we feel our religion should be practiced. This is normal.

Yet in spite of these differences, we all have one thing in common. We all need each other.

image The problem with friendship in a singles ward is that there is a pervasive feeling that any attempt at friendship between the men and women is simply a prelude to marriage. I want to make it clear that I view this cultural constraint on friendship to be abhorrent. So much so that I think this oppressive pressure to marry is one of the greatest obstacles to the sense of community we all need to be fellow citizens with the saints.

My goal for this ward is simple. I hope that each member in this ward could go to any apartment or spend time with any ward member and feel sincerely accepted and cared for.

Yes, we do have this in abundance. But we can do better. How can we breakdown the remaining walls that make some of us feel like strangers and foreigners and live by Paul’s vision of each of us being fellow citizens with the saints?

image While I do have suggestions, and I have stated them in previous blog posts, I am asking each apartment to come together over this weekend and discuss small and simple things you can do to foster greater unity. Look for small and simple things that can help expand your established circle of friends to include all ward members.

The key to remember is that friendships are more valued when they are sincere and not burdened with hidden agendas.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

10 Habits of Highly Successful Relationships

image Because we have a covey of Covey’s in our ward, (and we anticipate a new Covey some time in March) I thought it would be cool to borrow (okay, plagiarize) one of Stephen R. Covey’s most famous titles. But not wanting to assume myself equal to Br. Covey, I one-upped him – actually three-upped him.

image While Br. Covey presents seven habits for highly effective people, I am proposing 10 habits for highly successful relationships.

Please note that a highly successful relationship does not imply, nor does it exclude one that leads to marriage. Rather, a successful relationship is one where both parties are are edified – let’s call it friendship.

1 Practice personal, impromptu visits. Most people like a short, unplanned visits at their apartment. Such visits help the one being visited know that he or she matter.
2 Provide sincere handwritten notes. No one hates a Cheer Note. But we do not have to restrict sincere, positive notes to once a week. If you something positive to say to someone, write it down and share it with them. A handwritten note means much more than a text, e-mail, or Face Book post.
3 Promote quality not always quantity time. We are all busy. Nothing is more annoying then someone dominating your time when you have an assignment due or a test to study for. But everyone can spare 3-5 minutes a day to chat about any topic. Be sensitive to each other’s time. But be a part of each other’s lives.
4 Prevent hidden agendas. Refrain from assuming that every relationship must lead to marriage or it is not worth exploring. Focus on every relationship leading to friendship. Don’t let this oppressive culture of marriage spoil your need to be a friend.
5 Get to know everyone’s names. Calling someone by their name shows you cared enough to learn it. It is all right to ask someone their name several times until you learn it.
6 Sit by someone different each week at church. This is a simple and highly effective to fostering friendships. The awkwardness of sitting next to someone you don’t know fades quickly.
7 Provide instant, positive feedback. Whenever someone does anything nice for you, no matter how small, reciprocate by providing instant, positive feedback. The chance of that person doing something nice for you again increases dramatically.
8 De-emphasize the importance of physical attraction. I am serious about this one, but understand I am fighting strong cultural eddies. A sustainable relationship is built only upon commitment and consistent kindness, not physical appearance. In my opinion, seeking a relationship based on physical appearance represents an unrighteous judgment which offends God.
9 Listen more, talk less. The art of communication is best learned by listening. Carefully craft your conversations so listening leads to greater understanding. Then both are edified.

Niceness is neither wasted nor forgotten.

Kindness is never wasted. It may not bring instant rewards but it is never wasted. Seek for small and simple ways to show kindness everyday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Consider the Lilies

imageConsider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you…” Luke 12:27-28

image As I have contemplated the needs of this new ward, I read the preceding verse and had an epiphany. Christ is offering, here, the only sure way each of us can overcome those horrible feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that tend to inflict each of us.

Many years ago, I took my Priest Quorum on a hike up Mt. Timpanogos. They wanted to hike at 10:00 p.m. to summit before sunset. As we neared the meadow created by a natural bowl in the rock formation, we paused from our hike to rest.

image It was a dark, moonless night so we had no idea what the terrain looked like as we all laid down to sleep for a few minutes. It wasn’t until our descent from the summit, when the sun had replaced the moon, that we were all overawed by the beauty of this small mountain meadow.

The wild flowers were an bloom and presented a majestic rainbow of colors. To this day, that beautiful image millions of mountain flowers is imbedded in my mind.

Yet, as gorgeous as that scene was, in a matter of days it was gone. The flowers would either die in the sun or give way to the snow. It was a transient, temporary beauty.

Now ask yourself, if God is so willing to create a meadow with such stunning but temporary beauty, only to let its slip away in the rapid passage of time, how much more effort does God put into you?

Each of us is of infinite worth to the Father. He loves and cares for us far more than He does His beautiful mountain meadows. If we could but catch a glimpse of how God views us, we would rarely, if ever, question our own self-worth.

image God is doing all He can to bring you back to Him. He is fighting your fights. He is lifting up your arms that hang low. He is strengthening your feeble knees. He sends legions of angels to watch and care for you. Why?

Because you are His child and He loves you.

So, when those moments of despair come, and the will. When you feel unloved or unlovable, and you will. Consider the lilies. “If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you…”