Followership

By: Kevin Lowry

following duckies

 

Leadership. We hear the word everywhere these days. It seems like every time we turn around, another seminar, book or webcast is promising to help us become better leaders.  Leadership development opportunities abound, and for good reason. By learning the principles and examples of great leaders, we internalize important virtues and increase our positive influence on others.  Leadership is important. In fact, the leadership of Pope John Paul II is one of the reasons I became Catholic. I have studied the topic for years, even to the point where my MBA program concentration was “Applied Leadership” (whatever that means). I’m not sure that study actually made me a better leader, but it did help me to appreciate the value of good leadership in our lives and admire those who seem born to lead.  So imagine my surprise when my dad sent me a reflection he recently wrote on followership.

With a diverse background as missionary, entrepreneur, academic–and Presbyterian minister converted to the Catholic faith–Dad has long been in leadership roles.  Why focus on followership?  We have all seen countless examples, thankfully, of great leadership – the ultimate model being that of Jesus himself. His leadership focused on the service of others, hence the birth of “servant leadership.” It’s an approach that focuses leadership efforts on facilitating the success of the followers, for mutual benefit.  And yet, when we talk about developing leadership skills, we are often focused on becoming better leaders ourselves. The danger inherent in this approach is that, unlike Jesus, we have a proclivity to selfishness. All too often, we see examples of people striving to become better leaders only to use their leadership positions as means to advance their own careers or agendas. This misses the entire point (and opportunity) of good leadership.  So what about followership?

Followership is intrinsically other-centered, as is true leadership. To excel in followership, our task is to facilitate the success of the leader, to the mutual benefit of both leader and followers.  Note that both leadership and followership, properly understood, are aimed at helping people to be “good and faithful servants.” So how does this work in practical terms? Here are a couple examples from a context most of us can relate to: the workplace.  I have a friend who is a successful attorney. Jim respects his boss’s authority, works like crazy to make her successful, trusts her implicitly, and speaks positively about her even when she’s not around. He uses his gifts to help her succeed, and this is frequently reciprocated.

Another friend, Diane, demonstrates followership in a different context. She works in a nonprofit advocacy group that takes public positions on issues pertinent to its constituents. Diane instinctively defers to her boss even when they hold divergent perspectives. With tact and affirmation, she has learned to ask questions to draw out her boss’s thinking, often resulting in better solutions. Their skill sets are complementary, so, through Diane’s followership, she makes her boss more effective.  Why is good followership not practiced widely, and even used as a pejorative? Perhaps it’s our cultural tendency toward narcissism – many of us want to be leaders in all our relationships. When we’re not the leader, we’re quick to pass judgment, often imputing selfishness to their motives. If only we were leading, things would be better!

Yet, in life, we play both roles. Being a good leader is important, but so is being a good follower. The difference is that, while we’re trained extensively on leadership, we don’t pay nearly as much attention to followership – even though we tend to play the role of follower more frequently.  All of this may sound like so much navel-gazing, but ideas really matter in our daily lives.  We all know the price we pay for poor or misguided leadership. The last century was rife with high-profile examples – Hitler, Stalin and Mao, for starters. Unfortunately, there are also countless examples of bad leadership on a small scale. These negatively affect our governments, organizations and families. Think about the impact corrupt bureaucrats, dishonest executives and neglectful fathers often have on people over whom they have some measure of power.

It’s just as easy to come up with examples of parallel consequences, both large and small, for failures of followership.  Consider just one. As we all know, the devil is a master strategist. Over the past few hundred years, his “divide and conquer” approach to Christianity has visibly reduced the influence of the Church around the world. Jesus desired unity for his bride the Church and, through our sinfulness, we have let him down.  So here’s a question: what if Martin Luther (whose writings led to the Reformation) had embraced the notion of authentic followership? What if he had reacted differently to the very real abuses going on in the Church at the time (that , striving to preserve the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ and trusting our Lord to bring about good from the situation? Might we have avoided the pain and division of the reformation and its aftershocks, and at the same time effected real and needed change within the Church?

The foundation of good followership is trust – not in our imperfect leaders, but in Jesus himself.  “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  So go ahead and attend that leadership seminar. Read the book. Take in the webinar. Just don’t forget that we also need to work on becoming better followers. When our boss (or our bishop) succeeds, we do too.

You’re Talented! Encouraging Others

By: Kevin Lowry

appreciation

My oldest son Christian was born with a gift for fixing stuff. Anything, really. So while he lived at home, he was our home improvement guru, plumber, and handyman. Even more important, he inherited the computer gene from my Dad — a gene that completely skipped me. When the wireless network went down, or we experienced various and sundry computer problems, Christian was our go-to guy.  So that’s a good thing, right? Christian contributed to the family’s needs, learned a bunch of valuable skills in the process, and gained some personal satisfaction through having his talents appreciated by the rest of us.

Then he moved out.

After he left, we struggled. Christian received many phone calls, pleading with him to fix the latest computer glitch. His talents shone through with greater intensity than ever as we recognized how integral he had been to our daily lives. Not only did we miss him, we were bereft of our fixit guy.  In the workplace, we often find that the same thing happens when a colleague leaves the organization. Sometimes, we appreciate people most after they leave.  One of the drivers of organizational achievement is simple: effective teamwork. It’s matching shared purpose with diverse talents. Regardless of whether you’re a Fortune 100 global enterprise, or a sole proprietor who outsources certain functions, teams are capable of doing great things. Teams of people. People who like to be appreciated.

So here’s the challenge: next chance you get, express appreciation for someone else on your team. Pay her a sincere compliment, send him a short note of encouragement, buy him a cup of coffee, whatever. Don’t wait until they leave the organization to let them know you appreciate their efforts. This actually accomplishes multiple purposes — it increases employee retention, builds teamwork, and meets the very human needs to belong, and feel valued. A timely compliment can have a powerful impact on our co-workers — and our relationships. From a spiritual perspective, it also recognizes God-given gifts being put to good use, and affirms the individual’s value and dignity as a person.

So how did things with Christian turn out? Well, he became an information technology professional. The family still struggles, but his talents, along with those of his long-time buddy and business partner Michael Aquilina, are responsible for the existence of this web site.

Striving For Balance

By: Kevin Lowry

happy coupie

My wife got run off the road today.

Some guy was in a big hurry and didn’t like the fact that Kathi had slowed down to merge onto the highway behind a school bus full of children. So he accelerated from behind her car, and drove up beside her, forcing her onto the berm. After almost causing multiple accidents, he weaved his way around further impediments in his road (OK, people in his road) and exited precisely five cars in front of her further down the highway. Unbelievable.  He was so focused on achieving his objective (whatever it was) that he risked untold carnage and mayhem. If things went badly, innocent people, including women and children, could have been hurt.

In thinking about this incident, I was struck by the thought that the same could be true if men develop a disordered dedication to work.  That sounds crazy, right? But how many of us struggle with work-family balance? And how many people do you know who are divorced, at least in part, because of ridiculous work schedules?  Kathi and I have struggled mightily in this area over the years. When we were young parents, I worked like crazy. My schedule at the CPA firm was insane, and our first three kids came along in two years and eight months flat. On top of it all, Kathi had premature labor with our third child, and was on strict bedrest for the last four months of the pregnancy. After our daughter was born, it became apparent that the work-family balance thing wasn’t working, especially as I headed into tax season. That was the first time we hit a wall. I don’t recall her exact words, but Kathi said something like, “It’s either the job or me.”

I chose her, and changed jobs.

Now, I’m crazy about my wife. Always have been. But it probably didn’t feel like it to her. I just wasn’t spending enough time at home to meet my responsibilities as her husband. So I’m glad I chose her. Through her, I also chose our kids.  Fast forward a few years. Once again, I was working like a maniac. We were up to six kids, with Kathi expecting our seventh. But there were medical problems. This time, we weren’t sure the child would make it past birth, and beyond that, the diagnosis was grim. It seemed like life was spinning out of control. Another decision point.

I chose her (and the baby) again, and changed jobs.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The changes we made took time, the process was messy, and we struggled with uncertainty, conflict, and self-doubt. We prayed fervently, discussed possible solutions, and consulted with trusted priests, family members and friends. Changing jobs isn’t always the right answer. But in over twenty years of marriage, with children (now eight of them), a house, a mortgage, and a career that has caused plenty of bumps and bruises, here are a few thoughts on that elusive notion of balance from a male perspective:

  1. Put your priorities in order. Here’s my list, for what it’s worth: God, my wife, our children, my career, and everything else. Yes, my wife is more important to me than my kids. Not that they’re unimportant, rather she is super-important. Marriage is a vocation, and a sacrament. The best way to be a true leader in the family is to model virtue, to serve, and to pray like crazy. We need to imitate Christ in our lives. Some days I do better than others, and you probably do too, but we can never give up. Now here’s the challenge: our daily routine needs to reflect our priorities.
  2. Only do God’s will. We always have time to do God’s will. If there isn’t enough time in the day, consistently, there are things on our to-do list that shouldn’t be there. Are we spending more time on social media than talking with our spouse? If you’re trying to find things to put aside, ask yourself what you would give up if your wife or child were extremely ill. Don’t wait until it actually happens. By the way, our seventh child David’s story ended pretty well.
  3. Work things out with your wife. If you’re called to run for President, you’re going to be putting in lots of hours. Make sure your wife is completely on board. That shared sense of calling is awfully important — it doesn’t make things easier, but if you’re on the same page about what God wants from you as a couple, that shared purpose will help you through the rough spots.
  4. Live beneath your means. This is incredibly important. Kathi and I got out of balance early due to our implicit expectations of a certain lifestyle. This led us to take on debt and place a disordered emphasis on outward appearances. It’s a trap, avoid it like the plague.
  5. Work like crazy when you’re at work. Don’t indulge in frivolous discussions about sports or workplace intrigue. Get your work done, do your absolute best and go home. Schedule a date with your wife each week, put kids’ events on your calendar, and treat your family as even more important than your most important client or even your boss.
  6. Protect your marriage. Guys are visual creatures, so never buy into the “I can look at the menu as long as I eat at home” mentality. Guard your eyes. Maintain emotional distance from women who are not your spouse. Treat them with honor, like you would want other men to treat your wife in the workplace. Speak positively about your own wife. NEVER complain about her, especially to other women.
  7. Stop and ask for directions. When you have trouble balancing, ask your wife for her advice — and her prayers. She probably knows you better than anyone else, and might have insight that would help you make things work. Just like we don’t usually stop to ask for directions when we’re lost, we also don’t ask for advice from our wives nearly enough.
  8. Love your wife. This sounds trite, but if we treasure our wives properly when we’re at home, there would be a whole lot less consternation when we do need to work extra hours (for short periods of time, not as a lifestyle). Remember why we fell in love. Think about her many good qualities. Pray for her. Offer up small sacrifices for her. Think of what an honor it is to be received, with all our weaknesses, as a husband.
  9. Facilitate one on one time. Make sure you set aside time just for your wife, without distractions. Kathi and I used to make time for getaways — perhaps a weekend every three months, and a week at least once a year. I’m talking about just the two of you, without kids. Family vacation is another week, and of course kids need “me and my dad time” too.
  10. Don’t bring work home. Speaking of distractions, don’t bring work home with you if at all possible. I’ve not always succeeded here, but it’s important — particularly in this wired age — to turn off the cell phone, back away from the computer, and engage with our families.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are lots of ways to improve, and we need to fight this battle every day. With God’s grace, and plenty of determination, it’s also one we can win.  Our family is more important than our career. Let’s do our best to act like it.  Oh — and let’s drive safely too!

Are You Goal Oriented?

By: Kevin Lowry

teamwork 2

Have you ever been so focused on achieving your goals that you’ve run people over in the process?  I sure have. In today’s workplaces, it’s more important than ever to meet our goals, and we’re under lots of pressure to be productive and efficient. Unfortunately, this can cause plenty of interpersonal problems, since we all act differently when we’re under pressure.  Here’s one illustration of what not to do. A friend of mine became very unpopular at work by being so focused on achieving her own goals that she treated co-workers as distractions! Unfortunately, this story didn’t end well. She completed her own tasks efficiently, but couldn’t understand why the rest of the team resented her. The situation caused so much turmoil in her department that she ended up leaving the company.

So how do we avoid this pitfall and its various permutations? Particularly for people of faith, how can we achieve legitimate goals — and love one another like Christ loves us?  One of the cool aspects of being Catholic is having so many tremendous role models, past and present. When it comes to achieving goals and valuing people, one of the best examples I can think of is Blessed John Paul II.  Andreas Widmer, a Swiss Guard during the pontificate of John Paul II, wrote an outstanding book entitled The Pope & the CEO in which he describes an astonishing interaction with the Pope. Andreas was a young man at the time, spending his first Christmas away from home. On Christmas Eve, as the Pope went about his duties (achieving goals), he noticed that Andreas was new and immediately recognized Andreas’ sadness. The Pope took just a few seconds to speak with Andreas, precious seconds that Andreas recalls vividly years later. Here’s how Andreas describes the incident in the book:

“That was all I needed. Someone had noticed my pain, someone had cared, and that someone was the Pope himself. In that moment, I felt comforted. Now, looking back, I feel amazed. Here was the leader of a billion Catholics, at the height of some of his fiercest battles, occupied with the most overwhelming and impossible problems of the century, yet he was still sensitive enough to perceive the emotions of a twenty-year-old guard whose sole job was to blend into the background as he passed.”

This story (along with many others in the book) has inspired — and convicted — me ever since the first time I read it. I tend to be… ahem… a little on the preoccupied side, sort of like an absent-minded professor minus the Ph.D. Think about the goals of Blessed John Paul II. They were enormous goals! Can you imagine the impact of someone with such goals taking an interest in you personally? Even for a few seconds?  Yet on a lesser scale, this is what we’re called to do. Achieving goals is important. At the same time, people are the primary goal of our lives. Serving people, honoring people, sometimes just noticing people. And getting our work done! For some of us, the balancing act doesn’t really come naturally. But we need to do our best.

Our work serves legitimate human needs, and by treating others as precious to God, no matter who they are, we honor our Lord. Let’s pray for one another, and do our best today to remember Blessed John Paul II’s example. Let’s take a few precious seconds today as we go about achieving our goals and reflect the love of Christ to someone else. After all, serving people is the goal of our work.

5 Reasons to Speak Positively about your Spouse at Work

By: Kevin Lowry

coworkers

“Sorry, I can’t do it tonight. The old ball and chain gets ticked off if I’m out late.”  How many times have we heard derogatory comments like this about spouses in the workplace? Even worse, snide remarks can give way to all-out whining: “My husband is such a jerk sometimes” or “My wife completely lost interest in me after we began having kids.”  Sacramental marriage should be in a different league than this, but we all live in a culture that hasn’t done the greatest job honoring the institution. In reality, we also know that even the strongest sacramental marriages sometimes go through serious challenges.

So what’s a good Catholic spouse to do?

Well, brace yourself for some good news. There are things we can do to honor our spouses in the workplace, and not be swayed by the cultural winds that sometime blow all around us. How about this one: always speak positively about your spouse at work. Why? Here are five reasons — and they just scratch the surface.

  1. Complaining about your spouse lacks class. Oh, maybe it’s fashionable to gripe and assume an attitude of superiority over your spouse. But does that make it right, and does it really make you happy? Probably not. Besides, if your spouse is such an idiot, what does that say about you, the person who made sacred vows to him or her?
  2. How you speak can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever noticed how good spouses make each other winners, and bad spouses make each other losers? Words matter. Speaking with honor is part of acting with honor — even when your spouse isn’t around.
  3. It protects your marriage. Even when things are rough at home, airing your grievances at work is the wrong venue. Co-workers who complain about their spouses open up an avenue for support from other co-workers, including those of the opposite sex. This can progress to inappropriate emotional intimacy, and worse.
  4. It’s good for your career. Many of the virtues that make for a faithful spouse also make for a great employee or co-worker. Besides, getting in the habit of speaking positively about others (including your spouse) behind their backs helps build a better culture for everyone in your workplace.
  5. It’s good for your coworkers. We are affected, for better or worse, by the attitudes and behaviors of our co-workers. Demonstrating charity and understanding towards our spouse might just inspire others to do the same.

We can’t single-handedly change the state of marriage in the world, but we can do our best to honor our own marriage vows — and our spouse. Speaking positively about our spouse in the workplace is a great way to improve our marriage, our workplace, and our walk with Christ.

Make Your Work An Act of Worship

By: Fr. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O.

man working from home

Has man’s God-given vocation been entirely lost sight of?  Look around you. You live in a world that has lost faith. Religion has been replaced by work and achievement. In such a world, men take work very seriously. They want nothing less than perfection in it. Hence, their goal and their norm of judgment is efficiency. Consequently men are judged not by what they  are,  but by what they can  do.  No wonder your economic world wobbles. It has lost its center of gravity.  Your primary vocation, like that of every other human, is to  be,  not to  do.  Your life’s aim is holiness, not efficiency. God and godliness, not production, is your goal, for you have an immortal soul; you are not a machine. Every work and every profession, even the highest, is but a means for man to express his inner wholeness and to acquire more holiness; none of them is ever to become any man’s idol or total absorption.  You are now grappling with truths that have been horribly distorted in your day. Twist them back into shape so that you will be able to live twenty-four hours a day as a human, a child of God, and not spend a great part of your life on earth as a robot that keeps going through the motions so that it can make a living, but which is really only waiting for the whistle that will allow it to go out and play.

Realize first that while all men are  created  equal, all men are not  born  equal. Far from it! Some are born with silver spoons in their mouths; others with a pick and shovel by their side. In his encyclical on labor, Leo XIII showed that society always was and always will be stratified. God so wills it, as is evident from the fact that “among mankind, differences of the most important kind exist: people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength. Unequal fortune is the result of unequal condition.”  But note well that for attaining their last end, for getting back to God whole and holy, each human has been liberally endowed by His Maker. No man has grounds for complaint. You may not be gifted enough to conquer the world, but you have more than enough to conquer your sinful self – and that is,  of course, the only conquest that counts. In eternity, you will not be judged on productivity, but only on Christlikeness. Hence it is essential that you learn how you can grow in Christlikeness while at work, for work you must. It is the God-given law of life.  Work is part of God’s plan for humans. But God is your Father, and God is all-good. Therefore, the work potentials He gave you must be for your happiness.

WORK IS HOLY

The second step is easy. If work is God’s will, it must be sanctifying; for, in ultimate analysis, sanctity is only doing the will of God. Therefore, work is a sacred thing; it is a “sacramental” – an outward sign that can give grace. Hence,  you can go to work for the same reason you go to church to worship God! Work is a religious thing. It is holy.  That view, of course, is the antithesis of the way many modern men conceive work. They exalt it, but only by a complete reversal of values and truths. The person who helps produce impersonal goods is placed far below the goods he helps to produce and is thus completely dehumanized. Pius XI exposed this situation in his  Quadragesimo Anno,  saying, “Conditions of social and economic life are such that vast multitudes of men can only with great difficulty pay attention to the one thing necessary; namely, their eternal salvation.” But you can combat those conditions and overcome that very real difficulty. All you need to do is to think with the mind of Christ and will with the will of God; then you will go to work for the same purpose you go to church.

Is that possible? Well, you are what your thoughts are. A man is his mind. What are your thoughts and motives for going to church? The same can be had for going to work, for first it is God’s will. Therefore, you can make it an act of obedience to your Father. Faith, hope, and charity are already exercised in that one act and attitude of mind.  Have you ever realized that, in making you a worker, God has given you a share in that universal Providence by which He governs the human race and in His act of conservation by which He keeps the world in being? If you are a farmer, you well know you work hand in hand with God in the production of food for man’s body and, hence, indirectly for his soul. The multiplications of bread and fishes, twice told about in the New Testament,  were truly marvelous happenings. Yet St. Augustine is right to laugh at those who marvel, as he points to the relatively few seeds that are sown in the earth and the millions that are fed from their harvests. He reminds you that this annual miracle is due to God just as much as those multiplications you read of in the Gospels.

But God’s Providence does not end in the fields. He rules the entire process from the sowing of the seeds to the growth, the harvest, then the threshing, milling, and marketing. He has a hand, too, in the baking of the bread and putting it on your table. So, in all truth, every human who helps in the process is actually working hand in hand with God.  This truth brings Heaven very near. Prunes may grow in California, potatoes in Idaho, peaches in Georgia, wheat in Kansas, and corn in Kentucky; beef may be raised in Texas, and hogs butchered in Chicago. But none of these commodities will ever be served at any table miles and miles away unless all sorts of men and women cooperate with God in producing, processing, preserving, shipping, selling, and preparing them. So everyone from the grower to the boy who pastes on the labels to the housewife or the hired chef are God’s helpers – so that you may have a meal.  Viewed in that perspective, how can work be anything other than worship?  Since Adam fell, work should be a sacred thing! For it can be offered to God in thanksgiving for the pardon He extended to the sinner, as expiation for the sin committed, in petition that there be no more falls, but rather an ever-increasing adoration of God’s will and His Providence. But those four ends are the four ends of the Mass. Hence, your work can be, and should be, Eucharistic: sacrifice and sacrament.

In the Roman Empire, before Christ and Christianity, slaves did all the work. The so-called cultured class deemed it beneath their dignity to toil. But since the Son of God became the village Carpenter, no truly cultured person can look upon work – hard, manual labor – as anything less than ennobling, even deifying.  The Council of Trent has taught that the Passion and death of Christ were the principal means He used to redeem mankind. That explicit bit of dogma teaches you implicitly that it was not on Calvary alone that Christ redeemed. In other words, when Jesus was down in Nazareth working on wood, He was redeeming mankind just as truly as when He was on Calvary nailed to wood. It tells you that when Jesus’ hands held a plane or a saw, He was doing His Father’s will and thus making salvation possible for you, just as truly as when these same hands held spikes and were held by them! The Son of God was redeeming men at the carpenter’s bench in the obscurity of Nazareth just as surely as when He was followed by crowds that would take Him and make Him king  – just as surely as when He was followed by that other crowd that had taken Him, mocked Him, and crucified Him for being King!

Credit to Fr. M. Raymond of  CatholicExchange.

"My Partner Hates My Job!”

By: PaxCare Staff

husband working

Finding a balance between work and relationships is a challenge for everyone, but what if you and your partner disagree on what the balance is?   It is not uncommon for one partner to feel like everything is “just fine” while the other partner feels more and more that he or she is chasing after a mate who is having an all but adulterous relationship with a job.  How a couple handles this conflict is dependent in large part upon whether they are in a dating relationship or they are already married.  The dating couple is still in the process of evaluating whether God has truly called them together to be each other’s best hope for becoming everything he wants them to be in this life and to help get each other to heaven.   When the dating couple experiences conflict around work, they have to ultimately decide whether God is asking them to make work sacrifices for the sake of the relationship, or if the relationship is a distraction from work God has asked them to do.

Once a couple has taken the step for marriage, however, they have made a covenantal   commitment (that bond which unites two people as God unites to us)  to each other to “forsake all others” that threaten the primacy of the marital relationship–including work.   From a Catholic perspective, marriage is a vocation.   That is, it is the primary way a person works to become who God wants him or her to be in this life, and works to get ready for heaven in the next.   In other words, love–not work–is the ultimate purpose of human existence and our vocation (which, for the married person, is marriage) is the place where we learn the most about what it takes to love God and others in the deepest and most perfect way.   Work exists to support the vocation, not the other way around.   Because of this, spouses have the right to claim the best parts of each other, not just what’s left over when they finally leave the office.

This can be a difficult problem to negotiate when one spouse thinks everything is “just fine” and the other is angry about how much work is taking his or her partner away.   In these times, the partner whose work ethic is being called into question has to resist the temptation to hide out behind the, “I’m happy and you’re not, so you’re the one with the problem” excuse. If your mate is unhappy in the relationship, then there is a problem that you are both responsible for attending to. Often this will mean that the spouse whose work is causing conflict will need to scale back. Sometimes, though, it is not so clear-cut.   If you are confused about the best way to organize your priorities and whether it is your work ethic that is out of order or your spouse that is too needy, you will probably need to seek counseling to learn new tools for meeting your own needs while making sure your mate’s needs are being met as well.

Finding real balance means displaying both the humility to admit you don’t have it all figured out and the willingness to learn how to make sure   you and your mate find everything God wants you to have in this life–a deeply loving relationship and rewarding work. If you are struggling with balancing work and your love relationship, contact your PaxCare Tele-coach to get the help you’re seeking. Call us to get the skills you need to succeed.

 

That They All may be One

By: PaxCare Staff

electric touch

Everyone longs for connection.   We all crave closeness but it can seem so elusive at times.   In the  face of the struggle to fulfill that desire to be in synch with others, we can often despair that it was ever meant to be.

We shouldn’t.  The Theology of the Body  reminds us that we were created to live in unity with God and others.  And, of course, this idea  is deeply rooted in scripture.   Genesis (2:18)  asserts that it was God’s intention from the very beginning that we would live in intimate  communion with others.   Jesus, himself, prayed for the unity we all crave  in John 17:20-23 where he said,

   “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.”

 The desire for unity that is written on the human heart points to this call to ultimate unity between God, us, and all of humankind.

A Taste of Heaven

All of us have experienced at least  flashes of this unity in our lives.   Every once in a while, God gives us a taste of that connection for which we were created and to which we are destined.   Even if it  is rare, most  of us have had that experience of being in the presence of someone who, for some reason, in that moment, makes everything seem peaceful, makes connection seem easy and  helps it all   just “makes sense.” Whatever you call it, it is a universal longing of the human heart and our happiness depends on our ability to fulfill that longing.

Unity and Holiness

What does it take to cultivate this sense of unity with others?   Most people would say, “time” or “quietness” and to some degree they’re right.   A person needs both of these things to cultivate the qualities that contribute to their ability to be in synch with others.   That said, it’s possible to have this sense with someone even when you don’t have a lot of time and are in a noisy crowd of thousands.   For instance, people who experienced Pope John Paul II, or Mother Theresa, or even now, Pope Francis, will tell you that even if they only got a few seconds with one of these holy people, they were made to feel like they were the only ones who mattered in that moment.   There was a transcendent connection—in the middle of the chaos of the crowd—where one felt “in synch” (in synchronicity) with the other. (Note:  Synchronicity  is the  experience  of two or more  events  as  meaningfully  related, where they are unlikely to be  causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence. The concept of synchronicity was first described by  Carl Jung, a  Swiss  psychologist, in the 1920s.) Source: Wikipedia.

Christian mystical theologians tell us that this ability to experience and create moments of unity is a sign of holiness.   Since God is one, and gathers all things into himself so that all may be one, the closer we draw to God, the more we are able to experience unity and share that experience of oneness with another.

Cultivating Connection:   Four Qualities

So we see that the ability to be in synch with others isn’t so much a product of our environment as much as it is a state of being, a mindspace if you will, in which it becomes possible to take down the barriers that separate us from each other and, in turn, create intimate connection.   Psychologists who study these states of being as they naturally occur have identified 4 qualities that enable a person to cultivate that sense of connection with another.   We all have the potential to exhibit these qualities and chances are we already exhibit them to some degree or another.   The trick is to develop them  to the degree that  we can experience them consistently and simultaneously.    The four qualities that lead to this sort of soulful connection between people are known by the acronym  COAL; Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance, and Love.    Let’s look at each of these qualities.

COAL Fuels Connection

Curiosity  is defined, in this context, as the genuine and honest desire to know another person; their  story, thoughts, feelings, and heart.   This type of curiosity is driven by a sincere desire to understand the other person and appreciate the world through their eyes.

Openness  is the  willingness to leave my comfort zone for sake of connection with the other.   We often resist opportunities to see the world through others because it can be disturbing  to our own sense of reality.    A healthy sense of openness allows us to leave our own worldview intact while we try on the worldview of another.   The goal of openness is not so much agreement with the other as it is understanding of the other.

Acceptance  is the willingness to hear  the other person’s  thoughts, feelings, ideas and life  story without judgment.   This is especially tricky for Christians because we believe, rightly, in absolute truth.   It can be hard to feel that I can be accepting  of another’s experience and still be committed to the proposition that there is a right way to live and a right path to walk. Often, curiosity and openness will lead me to encounter people who are very different from me and who’s own worldview clashes significantly, even violently, with mine.   Acceptance of the other’s worldview does not necessarily mean agreement.   It means that I am willing to understand that the other persons views represent  a sincere and honest  attempt on their part  to meet their needs or fulfill their good intentions.   The means by which they attempt to meet those needs or intentions may be deeply flawed, and I might think that it would be better if they changed, but in accepting them, I respect how they came to have the views they do and I respect the needs and intentions that drive those views.   For Christians, this concept might be best expressed as the spiritual practice  of  charitable interpretation.

Loving  represents a  genuine commitment to working for the good of other.   No matter how much I may disagree with someone or how different they may be from me, I actively demonstrate my commitment to doing what I can to making their life easier, more pleasant, more edifying, and healthier in whatever way I can.

The more  we intentionally cultivate these four virtues in  our life and relationships the more likely it is that we will have those flashes of connection, those moments of synchronicity and unity that satisfy the ache in our hearts for intimacy.  The closer we come to fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that all might be one in Him.

Yelling isn't Communicating

By: PaxCare Staff

yelling

I talk to a lot of people who have a hard time with their temper but excuse it by saying that they are just being honest about their feelings.

I think it’s important to remember that your emotions are God’s gift to you, and not the people around you. When you are angry about something, that’s the Holy Spirit’s way of prompting you to look at a  potential  injustice.  Having been prompted, your job is to pray about whether the injustice is something in your environment, or if it has something more to do with your unreasonable expectations about how life should work as opposed to how life does work.   Either way, there is a problem to be solved and prayer will help clarify both the nature of the problem and the direction you should take.

Create Solutions, Not More Problems

Having prayed about your feelings, the next step is to prayerfully reflect on a respectful course of action.  If the course of action requires addressing a problem with someone, the rule of thumb is, “Lead with solutions, NOT emotions.”  For example:

 

A.  Leading with Emotions looks like this:   “I can’t believe you’re such a selfish jerk!  I have to do everything around here!”

B.  Leading with solutions look like this:   “I’m really overwhelmed.  I need us to sit down and come up with a plan for getting things together for our company this weekend.”

 

Now, there are a host of irrational thoughts that stop a person from doing B instead of A—but they’re all irrational.   If you tend to do A more than B, you’ve let Satan get in your head and he’s going to tempt you to actions that will drive the people you love away from you.

Don’t Hide from Your Problems

The second challenge (beyond the variety of irrational thoughts) people offer to this advice is, “Well, that’s just the way guys think about problems, not women.”  No.  That’s the way rational men and women think about problems.   Look, both men and women are equally capable of tantrumming and both men and women are equally capable of being reasonable, proactive, and effective.  If you find that you can’t consistently pull this off, don’t hide behind your gender.  Get the skills you need to be a more effective man or woman of God.  God wants to use you mightily, but he can’t do that if you love your emotions more than you love him or the people he’s placed in your life to love and serve.

To discover more ways to communicate effectively while respecting your God-given emotions, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!  To talk to someone one-on-one about any and all the challenges you may be experiencing as described in the above, call your PaxCare Tele-coach. Talk to us to get the solutions you need to succeed.

5 Tips to Make Your Resolutions Stick

By: Therese J. Borchard

resolutions

I know what you’re thinking: another cheesy, goody-two-shoes article on how I can keep all those goals I’ve set going into 2014. If you abhor such articles (like 10 ways to de-clutter your bathroom), then keep on reading. I’m like you. Normal.

1. Bribe yourself.

A so-called parenting expert that I read last week claimed that bribing your kid to get him to do something was an example of irresponsible and ineffective parenting. I suspect that the same man sits in his quiet and tidy little office cranking out advice like that while either his wife or nanny is home doing the dirty work. Let’s face it. Bribing is one of the most effective tools to get anyone–your kid, your stubborn mother, your golden retriever, or yourself—to do something.

My running coach used this brilliant method to train me to run 18 miles. Before our run, he hid Jolly Ranchers along our route, every two miles, so he’d say to me when I wanted to stop, “In another half-mile, you get a treat! Come on, you can do it!” And like a rat spotting a half-eaten hotdog, I’d run to the candy. You want to make sure you stick to your resolution? Bribe yourself along the road there: at the one-fourth mark, one-half mark, and three-quarters mark.

2. Team up.

Think of the buddy system from Boy Scouts. Teaming up with someone means that you have to be accountable. You have to report to someone. Which brings down your percentage of cheating by 60 percent, or something like that. Especially if you’re a people-pleaser like me. You want to be good, and get an A, so make sure someone is passing out such reviews.

Also, there is power in numbers, which is why the pairing system is used in many different capacities today: in the workplace, to insure quality control and promote better morale; in twelve-step groups to foster support and mentorship; in exercise programs to get your butt outside on a dark, wintry morning when you’d rather enjoy coffee and sweet rolls with your walking partner.

3. Throw in a gimme.

This is to ensure on December 31 of next year, you will have succeeded at one goal. So make it an easy one: “Throw out my Christmas sweater with a sequined reindeer,” “Pitch my golf-ball socks with two huge holes in the toes,” “Give away my Yanni CDs,” “Frame the family photo I had taken two summers ago.” You see where I’m going with this one? Heck, if you list a bunch of gimmes, then you’ll feel even better about yourself come next December.

4. Allow some backtracking.

I think most of us say “to hell with it” around the third week in January because it takes that long for the brain to realize it is going to need a motherlode of discipline to keep the resolution, and our goal isn’t so newish and cool anymore. Like last May, when I decided to eat according to the “Skinny Bitch” diet. I consumed hummus and celery for three weeks straight, feeling fantastic every time I fastened my loose jeans. Then I got really stick of hummus and celery, so sick of them that I still can’t eat them to this day.

We need to go into our resolution knowing that we are very likely going to mess up in a few weeks, or maybe days, and that’s okay, because for every two steps backward we make another half-step forward. Technically, then, we can categorize it as “progress.” Moreover, if we lose our black and white thinking, and adjust our vision to see more colors— situations and events in which we can’t just eat celery and hummus— then we’ll be able to hang onto to our resolutions until February, and maybe even June!

5. Wear some resolution bling.

Let me explain this one. It has something to do with my obsessive-compulsive self, and being raised by a lot of nuns who held a lot of rosaries and holy water, other faith objects. I need reminders–ideally 234 of them–to refresh me on goals, promises, and prayers I recited myself in the morning with my coffee. And because tattoos are expensive and well, permanent, I go with jewelry, medals, and beads I can hang on to.

So, for example, my resolution this year is to worry less and trust God more, especially financially: to be a little more relaxed, in general, and to try to let the big guy upstairs deal with it before I take it from him, throwing a hissy fit. This is essentially the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things I can’t change, and to know the difference between the things that I can’t change and the things I can. So I wear a serenity prayer bracelet, each bead symbolizing part of the prayer. My keychain holds a large cross with the Serenity Prayer engraved on it, and it makes a jingling sound as I drive, to remind me that the pea-brained fellow in front of me who won’t let me around him is one thing I can’t change.

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These helpful tips don’t just apply to New Year resolutions but to any any effort you might make in your daily life to form a new habit or resolution. For more help, contact your PaxCare tele-coach.  They  can help you find faithful solutions to any and all of the challenges addressed in this article. Call us to get the support you need to succeed.