10 Messy Christmas Tips (Courtesy of Clark Griswold)

Clark GriswoldThis post is a Tuesday Tip related to: We Wish You a Messy Christmas!

Clark Griswold can teach us something about how to live this holiday season.

Because most of us have a little bit of Clark in us, don’t we? It’s why we laugh so hard when he stands in the doorway and lets fly a string of expletives while his brother-in-law is kidnapping his boss. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can relate to the feeling.

Clark lurks inside of us—the ultimate parent, seeking to perfect every family moment. The bigger the moment, the more intense the desire for perfection. And Christmas can feel like a pretty big moment.

But the more we try to perfect it, the more stressful the season becomes. Because the world doesn’t magically snap into order during Christmas and life doesn’t suddenly become easy. It’s messy, so Christmas is going to be messy, too.

I think Clark can teach us a thing or two (or ten) about how to live messy and joyfully this season:

  1. Cut down your own tree. Quit being efficient. Stop looking for the perfectly symmetrical tree. Go cut down your own imperfect tree. Just remember to bring a saw. Digging it out by the roots would be bad for your back.
  2. Be playful with angry motorists. People are tense this time of year. You don’t have to be. When someone cuts you off or yells silently at you behind their windshield, be playful. Throw them a wave (but keep all five fingers up).
  3. Go shopping and make a jerk of yourself. The stores are a zoo this time of year. People are rushed and rude. But you don’t have to be. Make a jerk of yourself in an entirely different kind of way. Take a good book and choose the longest lines. Play hide and seek amidst the clothing racks. Sit down and try out the toys in the kids’ section.
  4. Decorate slowly and make mistakes. Take your time. No one will remember what your lights looked like. But your family will remember the way you did it. Set aside a day for it and get everyone involved. When the first ornament breaks, cheer and celebrate with a glass of eggnog.
  5. Don’t buy a pool. Stop stretching yourself financially this holiday season and notice a ton of the stress instantly evaporate. Downgrade the gifts. Buy fewer, spend less. Half of it will be broken or forgotten by February anyway. Maybe even wrap up your Jello mold and give it away.
  6. Tell your neighbors what you really think. No, not like Clark did. Identify a neighbor or friend you have appreciated this year. Find a way to express this to them. Be vulnerable. Don’t worry about how they will react. Give them the gift of your sincere affirmation.
  7. Invite your in-laws to town. Enough said.
  8. Spill food everywhere. Don’t wait for the dog to get into the trash or for the kids to spill the first orange soda on the white carpet. Have an official “spilling ceremony.” Get it out of the way and quit worrying about the furniture.
  9. Break something in the house. Afraid something will break with all the kids running around and family coming and going? End the suspense now. Break something. Maybe right after the spilling ceremony. Just don’t use a chain saw.
  10. Kidnap your boss. Okay, don’t do this. That kind of stuff only happens in the movies.

Still not ready to take Christmas a little less seriously. Go watch the movie. I’m sure Clark has a few other lessons I’ve forgotten. And may your Christmas be messy and merry.

QUESTIONS: What holiday traditions do you have that celebrate the messiness of the season? Any ideas to add to this list? Share in the comments!

DEAR READER, My new eBook is ready! I’m so thankful for your readership and want to express that gratitude by giving the book to you for free. On December 11, the Tuesday Tip post will be replaced by a post about the eBook. And if you are a subscriber and receive the posts by e-mail, your e-mail that day will contain a link to the download of the eBook. I hope you enjoy! Also, if your e-mail inbox looks anything like mine, you are receiving plenty of e-mails this month (Cyber deals galore!). So, the December 11 email will be the last Tuesday Tip until January. Let’s all make some extra space in our inboxes and our lives this holiday season…

TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

How to Say You’re Sorry and Mean It (Or Not)

This post is a Tuesday Tip related to: One Sentence That Will Change Your Life

We were in the midst of our morning scramble—three kids to school and two parents to work. The kids grabbing backpacks and the parents grabbing their sanity. My nine-year-old son had volunteered to ride with me. But I was running late—putting on socks and brushing teeth and wishing for another hand—while his mom was already walking out to the car.

And this third grade boy of mine wanted to get to the playground as soon as possible.

“Daddy, I’m going with Mom.”

Work in progress

Photo Credit: Alexander Baxevanis (Creative Commons)

I’ve always cherished taking him to school, and he must have seen the shadow of disappointment in my eyes, because he immediately retracted his statement. With a look of anguish, he said, “No, I’ll go with you.”

How easily we can become the one who takes care of everybody, the compulsive pleaser…

I saw the internal drama play out: get to the playground with my friends, or keep Dad happy? For my son, Daddy still wins, but for how long, and at what cost to this little boy?

I saw it play out, and I tried to assure him it was okay to leave with his mother—I told him not to worry about me—but to be honest, I don’t think I handled it very well. I wish I had said, “Aidan, yes, I’m disappointed, but that doesn’t mean you have done something wrong. In this case, there is no right and wrong. You get to choose. It isn’t always your job to make everyone happy. And what I want for you is to choose the thing you most want this morning, to choose it completely and to live it joyfully.”

I think many of us “big kids” also need to get better at living the gray areas of life—the times and places where there simply is no right and wrong. We need to own our choices, live them fully, and if we make mistakes, we can also live our apologies to the fullest.

So, today, think a little bit less and live a little bit more. And then when you lay your head on your pillow tonight, review your day. Not compulsively, but honestly and deliberately:

  1. Do I regret anything about today? Is there anything I did that I regretted in the moment? Is there anything that I look back upon now and feel regret about?
  2. Should I feel regret about it? Am I compulsively seeking perfection, feeling responsible for everyone else’s feelings, feeling not good enough no matter how hard I try? Or did I make a legitimate mistake that requires an apology?
  3. If the answer is yes…I do feel legitimate remorse about that and I need to apologize. Resolve to do so. Decide who you will apologize to, what you want to say, and in what medium you will say it. Now, rest easy and let sleep take you!
  4. If the answer is, “I don’t know…” Decide how you will discern the answer. Will you pray, set aside a specific amount of time to meditate upon it, or talk to a trusted friend about it? Make your decision about discernment. Now, rest easy and let sleep take you!
  5. If the answer is no…say to yourself, “I am worthy, even in my imperfection.” Repeat it, until you start to believe it just might possibly be true. And now, you guessed it, rest easy and let sleep take you!

As you become more comfortable with this process, you might find yourself spending more time on the playgrounds of life, giving yourself permission to play and to live freely. And on life’s playground, you might discover the person you were created to be.

Are you ready to play?

Question: What would you be more free to do if you lived in this way? Share your thoughts in the comments

TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

Why You Should Stage an Entertainment Strike

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: Why Dirty Dishes Are the Biggest Threat to Your Marriage

By the beginning of October, our house had become a war zone. Oppositional kids, sibling rivalries, constant irritability and tears. My wife and I put our heads together—a couple of psychologists assessing the situation.

As it turns out, we realized our kids were constantly hung over.

Better Than Widescreen?

Photo Credit: Glenn Brown (Creative Commons)

The amount of “screen time” (i.e., television cartoons, computer games, Wii, iPod apps) had insidiously increased. They were like drunks, starting with a beer here and there and finally putting down a case per day. Whenever a screen was turned off, they went into instant withdrawal. Hooked on external stimulation and excitement, dealing with ordinary life was like detoxing.

And detoxing can get ugly.

So, we declared October “No Screens Month.”

It was touch and go for a while, but I’m happy to report they all survived.

But most importantly, they’ve had to relearn what to do with their boredom. Old favorite toys re-emerged. My boys have discovered how to make machine gun noises with their mouths again, and my daughter has simply discovered the joy of her own voice. In fact, she doesn’t ever stop using it.

They’re even sleeping better. Why? Because part of falling asleep is learning to be bored. To exist in that space without external stimulation and simply wait for sleep to take you.

I don’t think my family is alone in this. In my clinical practice, I work with many adolescents who believe they shouldn’t have to be bored. For the next generation of adults, boring tasks are considered to be unnecessary and oppressive. And it will undermine their ability to thrive in this world.

Because even the most wildly exciting lives have their fair share of boring, monotonous moments. Boredom is simply a part of living. An important part of living.

And we need to learn how to live it well. Here’s how:

  1. Declare an entertainment strike. Within your four walls, decide what things your family routinely uses to escape its boredom. Declare a strike of a particular length. A day, a week, or a month.
  2. Identify the tasks you find most boring and monotonous. Decide now you are going to begin enjoying them, whatever it requires.
  3. Choose your boredom. On the UnTangled Facebook page, doing laundry was one of the most often identified dreaded-boring task, so let’s start there. Plan to take twice as long on the laundry than you usually do. Go slowly.
  4. Be mindful. Allow the task to engage all of your senses. Smell the sweet mixture of fabric softener and warm cloth. Notice the range of colors represented, watch the mixture of light and shadows on the wrinkled cloth. Feel the warmth of the clothes on your hands as you fold them. Notice the various textures. Listen to the ripple of the sheets as you flick them flat, or the snap of a towel, or the rustle of the pile. Taste…okay, don’t taste. As your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the task.
  5. Be grateful. As you find yourself increasingly open to the boredom, notice the things for which you are grateful in this moment. Something about the task. Or the good things that doing this task enables you to have in your life. Or any other reason for thanksgiving that comes to mind.
  6. Do it all over again tomorrow! 

When we are able to bring our attention mindfully to our boredom, to enter into it and anticipate riches beneath the surface, we will almost always end up in a place of gratitude. And that kind of boredom is rich, indeed.

Questions: What keeps you and your family entertained? How do find ways to limit them and learn to enjoy the rest of life? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

You Can’t Love When You’re Staring at Your Lap

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: How to Annihilate Your Out-Group (The Way Jesus Did)

Several weeks ago, I was riding the commuter train into Chicago. I was raised amidst farmland, and trips into the city still give me butterflies. So, as the train approached the Loop, I put away my phone and prepared myself to disembark.

faded billboard

Photo Credit: boxchain (Creative Commons)

I gazed out the window into the crumbling industrial district on the western edges of the city. My eyes were drawn to the side of a large, forlorn building, where a billboard had long ago been painted onto the brick façade. The paint was faded and chipped and I squinted to read the words:

“Advertise Here!”

I wondered to myself why the advertising space had fallen into disuse.

Until my gaze returned to the inside of the train.

Where almost every passenger was looking into their laps. Staring into their mobile devices.

We can’t even be advertised to communally anymore. Because we’re all looking down, inward, nurturing our customized lives. Is it any wonder that we get used to having what we want, when we want it? Is it any wonder we end up isolated and lonely? Is it any wonder every other person begins to feel alien and other?

What is the answer? To download a social media app?

I don’t think so. I think the answer is to look up again. I think a sense of community thrives on everyone looking at the same things. And we are losing that ability.

So, today, look up.

  1. Leave the phone at home. Wait for the panic about that to pass, and then just do it!
  2. As you go through your day with your eyes up, attend to the people who are passing in and out of your life.
  3. Give them names. If you have any kind of opportunity, actually ask them their names.
  4. Tell a story to yourself about who they are and what they’ve been through today. Make them come to life again in your world.

You may just feel your heart breaking open for people again. You might discover they are the same kind of different as you.

Question: When you put your phone away and attend to the world, what do you enjoy about the experience? What makes it hard to do so? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

How to Discipline Our Children with Love (Instead of Frustration)

Rebel

Photo Credit: Murtada al Mousawy (Creative Commons)

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: How to Find the Promised Land (In Less Than 40 Years)

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.

When my kids rebel, I forget what it was like to feel completely powerless in life—to eat when others told me to eat, to sleep at the dictated time, to be forced to spend my day in this school and to complete that homework.

I forget that feeling, and instead of trying to recall it, I fume about disrespect and fret about what kind of people they will become. And I respond to their rebellion with more domination. But it never works.

And the forgetting doesn’t stop there.

We forget what it was like to have our most prized possession destroyed or lost or taken away. We forget how it felt to have everyone stare at us when the teacher singled us out. Or how strange it was for our body to be changing in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Or how chaotic it felt to have only the most meager sense of identity and then be thrown into the boiling cauldron of high school. Or how much more important friends were than family. Or how terrifying it was to finally graduate college and then wonder, “Now what?”

We forget all of it.

And if we forget, how can we ever find a place of empathy? How can we ever come to a place of understanding from which to connect and lead our children? If we don’t remember—if we don’t seek that childhood-place in our own hearts—I think we abdicate our role as family leaders.

I have a friend who says that comedians are the truth-tellers. I think Brian Regan tells us the truth about how we forget:

If we want to lead our children, we must first find the place of a child in our own hearts. But how do we do this?

  1. Ask. Instead of telling our kids what they should do and feel, we can ask. Take them out for hot chocolate and a conversation. No guidance or instruction from you. Just listen.
  2. Remember. Find a memory in your own heart. Not a memory of a similar situation, but an experience of a similar feeling. Stay there, don’t run from it. Attend to the feeling, recall the setting. The sights, sounds, smells. Journal about it. Immerse yourself in what it was like.
  3. Be parented for a week. Submit yourself to the same standards as your children. Put your spouse in charge of “parenting” you. When you snap at somebody, go to time-out for a minute. When you refuse to share your stuff, you lose it for the rest of the day. When you don’t do your chores, your wallet gets lighter (no allowance for you!).
  4. Be playful for a week. This is the fun one. Lose yourself in play. Recall what it was like to be able to lose yourself in that kind of freedom. Relax into it and enjoy it. Adopt the mind of a child.

Does this mean we just understand our children and then let them do whatever they want? Absolutely not. But it means that when we do say no or set a limit or dole out a consequence that we are doing it from a place of deepest empathy.

And isn’t that what our children need most from their parent-leaders? To know that, as children, they have limits—they aren’t completely in control of the world, they aren’t the beginning and the end of all things—but that even within those frustrating realities, they are a beloved child, cared for deeply, and understood by the people that matter most to them.

Question: How do you empathize with your children? What experiences of childhood do you try to remember in order to be an understanding leader? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

10 Ways to Make Life Messy (and Beautiful)

Digging in the dirt

Photo Credit: Micah Taylor (Creative Commons)

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: The Mess Will Set You Free!

Last Thursday evening I was driving my son home from guitar practice and got an emergency call from my wife. While picking up a late dinner, she’d been in a car accident with my two youngest children. Everyone was okay, but the kids were hungry and she asked me to pick them up and take them home for dinner.

When I arrived at the scene, I saw the back end of our van smashed in. I pulled in, and I began to roll up the windows to my car, so I could get out and lock it.

I didn’t know my son was craning his neck out the back window.

Until I heard strangled, plaintive grunts from the back seat.

I quickly lowered the window and he let out an anguished cry. Part pain, part anger at my seeming abuse and betrayal. Outside my car, the little ones were indeed crying and crabby, standing hungry behind the wrecked van.

An absolute mess.

A part of me—the part of me that says life is supposed to be orderly and composed and if it isn’t then somebody is at fault—wanted to be angry, to blame and shame someone for something. But then I heard inside the echoes of a lecture by Ann Lamott: “The grace of age is radical self-acceptance.” Reminding me life is messy, and we human creatures are messy, and life isn’t about eliminating the mess, it’s about embracing the mess.

And I felt a sense of peace steal over me. And with it came beauty.

I noticed the glistening tears of my beautiful daughter, and I was grateful. My son’s anger, though misplaced, was a blessed reminder that he usually trusts me so when I screw up it really hurts him. The caved-in van was a graceful symbol of the temporary nature of all material things. And there was my wife, comforting the elderly immigrant who had caused the accident. And I was grateful for the opportunity to witness real love.

An absolutely beautiful mess.

I think perhaps we begin to accept our messy selves—begin to embrace the beauty of our flawed and broken being—by first accepting the chaos of everyday living.

Would you try with me? Would you try to accept the messiness of life? Perhaps even embrace it and revel in the beauty? If we are going to do so, I think we have to do more than tolerate mess when it happens. I think we need to create mess.

Here are ten ideas:

  1. Start a food fight at the dinner table.
  2. Get into the longest line at the supermarket. Intentionally.
  3. Declare a week of no picking-up. The kids will love you, you’ll have more free time, and you might just relax into the mess.
  4. Declare a month of no yard work. When the leaves fall, throw the kids a rake, let them pile in and worry about it later.
  5. Don’t go to the grocery store this week. Cook with whatever you have in the house. Find ways to make it fun. Chocolate syrup on stale cereal? Absolutely!
  6. Make one Facebook status per day about something messy in your life. Don’t ask for comfort. Ask for celebration
  7. Pick a wall in the house for drawing on. The kids will, once again, love you.
  8. Instead of a tablecloth, use newspaper. And no plates.
  9. Let the kids dress themselves for a week, no matter how ridiculous it looks. Intentionally wear mismatched socks to work.
  10. Make no plans for an entire weekend. Live moment to moment. Go to a park if that’s the mood. Or go to a homeless shelter if that’s the mood. Let it be messy and unplanned.

Does this sound crazy? I think it might be a little crazy. But accepting our orderly, comfortable, shame-filled existence is even crazier, isn’t it?

Comments? Why stop at ten? Could we get to 100? Share your ways of making life messy and beautiful in the comments.

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TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

How to Make Loneliness the Foundation for Connection

Marriage and Loneliness

Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral (Creative Commons)

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: Marriage is for Hopelessly Lonely People

About two years ago, I was walking out of a pub with a friend when he turned to me and said, “It was good to talk to you tonight. I feel a little less alone in the world because of it.”

A little less alone.

It felt just right. No burden to take away all of each other’s loneliness. An acknowledgement that companionship can happen in the midst of a mutual loneliness. Perhaps even because of a mutual loneliness.

I think we often give this kind of grace to our friends. We hope for connection with them, but we don’t expect that connection to resolve all of our lonely feelings.

But I don’t think we give our spouses the same grace. We expect them to take away all of our loneliness. And when they don’t, we blame and criticize and resent.

Our marriages are not intended to erase loneliness. Rather, they are intended to be a place where our loneliness is shared. In marriage, we connect with each other in our loneliness, not to get rid of our loneliness.

When we embrace this, we can disrupt the cycle of blame and foster a mutual vulnerability through the sharing of lonely experiences:

  1. Identify your earliest memory of feeling lonely. With your family, in a classroom, on the playground, on an operating table. Whatever it may be for you.
  2. Identify your most lonely memory (prior to marriage). A time when you felt completely on your own. Perhaps even abandoned, discarded, neglected.
  3. Share these memories with your spouse. Apologize for times you have expected them to take away all of your loneliness.
  4. Ask them if they have any similar memories of loneliness. Listen.

If both partners are willing to engage in this kind of intimacy, they will generally report they feel “a little less alone.” But what they mean is: for the first time I feel understood, and cared for, and appreciated, and close to you.

Comments? I can live with that. How about you?

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TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

Discover Patience in a Day

Silence

Photo Credit: ialla (Creative Commons)

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: Patience is Not a Virtue, It’s a By-Product

We think patience is about waiting like a good little boy or girl.

But it’s not.

Patience is the sense of peace that grows out of letting go of what we want, facing the pain in our hearts, letting the internal temper tantrum quiet down, and then listening to the redemptive whisper that is always murmuring just beneath the surface of our suffering. We know impatience does violence to our relationships, and we are desperate to find this still place of love in which we can meet the people we cherish.

Is there a roadmap for doing so? I don’t think so.

But I’m going to describe one path, and I’ll leave it up to you to tell me where it takes you…

  1. Schedule it. Set aside a day for patience-building. Sunrise to sunset. This is the most important step. Without a wide-open day gaping before you, the temper tantrum will not have time to go quiet. Make whatever sacrifice it requires. Get a sitter, cancel obligations, disappoint somebody.
  2. Get away. Choose a place that is secluded and quiet. Away from home where distractions will beckon. A place you will not run into anyone you know. Preferably, a place you won’t run into anyone at all: a bench in a forest preserve, a retreat center, a church sanctuary in mid-week.
  3. Disconnect. No phone. No books. No phone. No music. Did I say no phone? Just a pad of paper and a pen. None of your normal methods of distraction. I’m guessing you’re getting a little queasy at this point. That’s okay. It’s the heart stuff coming up; you’re already beginning.
  4. Pick on somebody. Choose one relationship to be the focus of your day. Choose someone you care about deeply but who has been testing your patience. You are going to write them a letter today.
  5. Listen to the temper tantrum. You will spend your morning embracing your frustration and impatience. Listening to the temper tantrum. Begin by identifying at least five negative thoughts and/or emotions that arise when you think about the person. Write each one at the top of a separate page. Spend 30 minutes on each page. Do not censor any thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Record whatever comes up in relation to that thought or emotion. Remember, it is your censoring and running from your internal temper tantrum that produces endless feelings. When you allow yourself the experience, you will discover it doesn’t last forever. You will begin to quiet down inside.
  6. Sit don’t flit. The key to listening is getting your mind to sit on an emotion, rather than flitting from thought to thought, as it will be inclined to do. Every time you notice your thoughts and attention have strayed from your focal point, take three deep breaths, and return your mind to the negative thought or emotion you are attending to. Do it over and over. And over and over.
  7. Listen for the whisper. Enjoy a quiet lunch. Then, in the afternoon, when your heart sounds silent—it will never be perfect, but you will no longer feel attached to those negative thoughts and feelings—begin to listen for another voice. It will be gentle and loving and graceful. It will be patient and peaceful and kind. Listen to what it says about the person you are attending to. It will see them as broken, human like you, fallible but valuable. It will not deny the frustrating parts of them, but it will encompass all of what they are. Your mind will flit again. This time, return it to the whisper.
  8. Write the letter. Enjoy a peaceful dinner. Then, in the evening, allow the whisper to write a letter for you. Literally write it down. Let the whisper-voice write for you. Make it your voice. There is no template for the letter. Simply refrain from censoring the thoughts and feelings you are having. And write.

This may seem like a strange path upon which you are embarking. It may be populated by all sorts of strange and scary things. But remember, they cannot withstand the light of your attention. And when the scary things have subsided, and you’ve discovered another voice, you will know a healing patience.

Comments? What would be most difficult about walking this path? What would be most healing? Please feel free to share in the comments.

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Tuesday Tip Disclaimer: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

10 Ways to Build Community You Can Touch

Community SupportThis post is a Tuesday Tip. 

Related Post: The Reason We All Need Community

Hardship and pain cannot be avoided.

But we do not have to endure them alone.

We must be intentional now about forging community. Because when the trials of life arrive—and they will—we will need to lean on the strength and patience and peace and hope of the people we cherish.

In our age of social media, community is a term with a quickly expanding definition: our communities are increasingly composed of people from all over the globe. And this is a beautiful thing. Yet we are physical creatures in material bodies, and thus we also require a community of people we can see and touch and smell. And the closer the better, because when trouble comes calling, we need to know help is on the way. And the sooner the better.

Building community in the places we live will require work and dedication. But it can happen. And it can begin with an idea. Or ten.

  1. Have a yard sale, but only “sell” hospitality. Earlier this summer, we had a yard sale. In one day, we talked to more neighbors than we typically talk to in an entire summer. But why do we have to sell stuff in order to put out chairs in the front yard and socialize for a Saturday? We should do this several times every summer.
  2. Play catch with the kids. In the front yard. Most new construction is designed to emphasize family gatherings in the back yard, which prevents the formation of relationships within a neighborhood. Move your family time to the front yard, and watch your neighborhood connections grow.
  3. Borrow with impunity. Ask neighbors to borrow eggs and sugar and gardening tools and yard machines. Ask different neighbors until you find several neighbors who seem genuinely excited to share with you and to know you better. Offer to reciprocate.
  4. Pick a church based on proximity. Churches are still the most reliable communities we have, but we undermine their communal value by shopping for a certain product and then driving many miles to consume it. Instead, find a church you can walk to, and spend Sundays with your neighbors.
  5. Serve. One reader pointed out that serving together forms strong bonds. Find service opportunities in your area. Invite a friend along. Another reader noted that life presents us with many opportunities to serve right in our own neighborhood. Take advantage of them.
  6. Trade square footage for location. Yep, I’m suggesting you might actually want to think about moving. If you can’t develop community in your current neighborhood, do whatever you can to get into a neighborhood where you will have community. Instead of defining the “best” neighborhood by property value, define it by how many of your best friends live nearby. Just be sure to check with them first!
  7. Make a list. Of five people within ten miles who you would like to know better. Call every one of them and ask them to get together. If you form a lasting relationship with one, you have created community.
  8. Use the internet in order to quit using the internet. Go to meetup.com. Find a group of people in your area with similar interests, and then take the plunge and go to their next scheduled meeting.
  9. Post a community request on Facebook. Put up a “classified ad” on Facebook. Something like, “Inviting a friend to have coffee one time per week, at the same time every week, for the indefinite future.” You might be surprised how many “buyers” you end up with.
  10. Believe. In yourself. Believe you are worthy of community and closeness. Believe in the goodness of others. And have faith that, as you embrace the idea of community, you will be received in a loving embrace.

Comments? Have you discovered other methods for building community near your home? We need your creative ideas! Please feel free to share in the comments. 

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Tuesday Tip Disclaimer: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

Photo Credit: Photo taken from this website. 

The Smallest Way to Save Your Marriage

Just divorced.This post is a Tuesday Tip. 

Related Post: Why “For Better or Worse” is a Fatal Vow

Even the most distressed marriages can be healed. I know. I’ve seen it happen in my office. But the healing always consists of one essential ingredient: intentionality. Specifically, the intentional creation of time and space for the marital relationship itself.

And the time and space do not have to be huge. This week, readers consistently pointed out that a cup of coffee here, a stroll in the mall there, a silent holding of hands in the midst of this crazy-hectic life can go a long way toward restoring your marriage. One reader even suggested small (but regular) donations to a “marriage insurance” fund can guarantee you have the resources to get away when you need to.

The idea of small but intentional space for your relationship is critical to marital therapy, as well. Marital therapy has several stages. In the first stage, couples attend one or more times a week, often in order to stabilize the crisis that brought them in. In the second stage, the therapy settles into productive, enriching weekly sessions that promote healing and growth. In the third stage, couples decrease the frequency of therapy sessions to every other week.

And I think this stage is actually the most predictive of successful marital healing, as the couple attempts to maintain the process of healing more independently from the therapist.

My instruction at this stage is always the same: use the therapy time-slot in the off weeks to create a new ritual of joining. For instance, if you are attending therapy every Wednesday at 5pm, then use the now vacated time slot every other week to be intentional about your marriage. Keep getting the babysitter every week, and on the Wednesdays you don’t come to therapy, go out to dinner. Face each other. Talk. Connect.

The couples who follow through with this are the ones most likely to save their marriages in the long-run.

But you don’t necessarily need to go to therapy to do this! You can begin this week, intentionally setting aside a regular time to prioritize your marriage, just like you would any other valuable commitment. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Pick a time that gives you the best shot at successful follow through. For instance, if one of you is a “night person,” don’t decide to do it at 5am.
  2. Choose a place separate from your normal routine. Maybe a restaurant or coffee shop. Maybe a walking route. Maybe a park bench. Just make it different. We tell kids not to study in bed because they’re used to sleeping there. Don’t try to connect in the kitchen; your used to working there.
  3. Start with an hour. Don’t feel like you need to make up for lost time all at once. Studies show most people can’t pay attention for more than an hour anyway.
  4. Don’t begin the hour by trying to solve problems or re-visiting on-going arguments. Make the first thirty minutes about re-connecting, providing support to each other, getting to know each other again.
  5. Try to spend the last 15-30 minutes discussing things that are harder to discuss. Make sure you go slowly, take turns speaking and paraphrasing.
  6. If step 5 seems impossible, go back to step 4. If you get stuck and can’t progress to step 5, call a therapist.

Your marriage is like a living organism, and it needs to be fed. And the food is your attention and intention. Don’t wait. Our marriages are starving, so feed them now!

Tuesday Tip Disclaimer: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

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