Archive for February, 2017

Well-Being with Whitney: Facebook or Face to Face?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Today’s communications technologies make it possible to stay in frequent contact with many people who aren’t physically present with us. Satellites beam webcam videos of soldiers deployed across the globe back to their families at home. Employees on business trips stay in touch with their coworkers through frequent cell phone conversations. Millions of Americans reach out to friends through social networking sites such as Facebook. We’re constantly plugged in to communicate with each other.

But while it’s now possible to contact people anywhere at any time, ironically, it’s often more difficult to truly connect with them. Contact doesn’t necessarily equal connection. That’s because we need to spend time with people in person — face to face — to be able to connect with them in the ways that build meaningful relationships.

Approximately 80 percent of all communication is nonverbal: cues like facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. That means that, even when we can hear someone’s tone of voice over a phone, we’re still getting only about 20 percent of what he or she is trying to tell us. And some means of communicating — like texting or e-mailing — limits our messages even more.

Even those who regularly contact many people on a regular basis can still be lonely. Despite hundreds of “friends” on online buddy lists and cell phones packed with phone numbers, they won’t enjoy close relationships if they don’t spend enough time with others face to face.

God himself modeled the importance of face-to-face relationships when he chose to come to Earth as Jesus rather than communicate with humans from afar forever.  As John 1:14 says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  Jesus didn’t just send people messages; he left heaven to enter time and space in the middle of this fallen world and looked into the faces of those he had created. He made himself available to communicate in person and build real relationships.

So what about you?  How much face-to-face time do you spend with the people in your life?  Some of them may actually be quite lonely, despite how plugged in they seem to be. Ask God to reveal who those people are. Then pray for God to give you more love for them – love that compels you to reach out to them in person.

People need the encouragement, support, and accountability that can only come in deep ways through face-to-face relationships.  Online or over the phone, people can talk and talk, yet never move beyond superficial discussions.  Or worse, they can pretend to be someone they aren’t and deceive others.  But when people come face to face with other people, they’re compelled to be real with each other and reach out in deeper ways.  When you’re willing to share space – not just electronic messages – with others, you can develop the kind of relationships that God will use to help you all grow.

It’s simple to increase the amount of face-to-face time you spend with people you already know. The next time you want to contact a friend, get together for a fun outing rather than just chatting through instant messages. Instead of having your family members eat meals on separate schedules, schedule shared mealtimes at your kitchen or dining room table as often as possible, and talk while you eat. Invite people from your church or workplace over to your house to get to know them better; invite kids that your kids know from school to come over for play dates.

Reaching out to people you haven’t yet met but who don’t get much face-to-face time with others is simple, too.  You can volunteer a bit of time at your local nursing home, hospital, or prison to bring much-needed encouragement to the people there.

Yes, spending time with people face-to-face can be inconvenient.  It takes much more time and energy than just sending an e-mail or making a phone call.  And yes, face-to-face relationships can be messy, because they draw you much deeper into other people’s lives than simply sending electronic greetings.  But Jesus was willing to sacrifice everything – even his life – for relationships, and he calls you to make sacrifices, too, so that his love can flow through you into other people’s lives.

Engaging with people face to face does even more than inviting God’s love into you and others’ lives. It prepares you for that wonderful day when you’ll arrive in heaven. The more you let God’s love flow through you, the more you’ll learn about him, until you’ll finally be in a place with no more sin and be able to see others and even God himself face to face. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 reveals: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”

Well-Being with Whitney: George and Martha Washington, Resiliency Role Models

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

On President’s Day, Americans think about our nation’s first president — George Washington — whose birthday inspired the holiday. We see his face on ads for President’s Day sales, and may be inspired enough to look up some fun facts about him or his wife, Martha Washington (the first First Lady). But how often do we really pay attention to how their long-ago relationship can give us wisdom today?

George and Martha Washington deserve a closer look. They’re excellent examples of how strong well-being is connected with strong leadership. It was because of how well they took care of each other that they were able to lead others well.

Making Time to be Together Often

George and Martha made their marriage a top priority in their busy schedules. They chose to be in each other’s company whenever doing so was possible.

At home at Mount Vernon in Virginia, they ran the plantation as a team during the days and enjoyed rich conversations in the evenings. They often hosted friends and family members for suppers and balls, where they loved to dance together.

When George’s public service as a Revolutionary War general and first U.S. president required travel, Martha did her best to be present with him. She visited battlefields, moved to new homes, and went anywhere else she had to go — during a time when few roads or bridges had been built and travel was dangerous. People routinely got thrown off horses, robbed in stagecoaches, or caught on sinking ferry boats. But George made elaborate plans for Martha’s travels, sending friends to accompany and protect her every step of the way.

Sometimes the first couple couldn’t avoid being apart. Yet they still made time to reach out to each other through letters, pouring out their thoughts and feelings on paper to stay connected. Every week, they made time to stay in touch by writing.

Sharing Joy and Sorrow

When they had something to celebrate, they did so together. The Washingtons often took advantage of opportunities to host parties, surrounding themselves with people they loved. During George’s presidency, they invited people in their vast social network to supper feasts every Thursday at their home in New York. At Mount Vernon, they regularly welcomed guests for celebrations. They ate, laughed, danced, played cards, and held hands — enjoying each happy moment to the fullest, whenever they could.

When they were struggling with sorrow, they helped each other carry their burdens. George and Martha had to endure a crushing burden of grief together, dealing with the deaths of scores of family members — including children from Martha’s first marriage whom George had adopted. The first couple also faced the relentless pressures of developing a new nation. That stress took a toll on their health, causing illness that led to more sorrow.

The key to their well-being through it all was their commitment to support each other emotionally in any type of circumstances. George and Martha made a habit of checking in with each other about their feelings and sharing those emotions with each other honestly. Then they urged each other to nurture well-being practices in their lives. George sent people to visit Martha when she felt lonely, while Martha urged George to control his temper in stressful situations.

Encouraging Each Other to be Resilient

Building resilience skills was a top priority for the first couple, who faced many crises and challenges while working to build the United States and had to persevere in the face of all sorts of uncertainty about how their work would turn out.

Martha once wrote about resilience: “I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us, in our minds, wherever we go.”

George and Martha were both wholeheartedly devoted to their faith, which fueled their resilience. Throughout their lives, they each spent significant amounts of time in prayer every day, and they worshiped God and served people often in their church communities.

They came to trust God so strongly that they could look beyond their circumstances to him in any situation — and rely on his strength to flow through them as they followed his guidance day by day. “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God,” George said.

So this President’s Day when you’re reminded of America’s founding couple, let their lives inspire you to do something to take care of your own well-being. Then reach out to someone else you care about, encouraging them to do the same. In the process, you’ll lead the way to something good, just like George and Martha did.

Well-Being with Whitney: Using Anger for Good

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Destructive anger erupts around us so often that it’s easy to forget that anger itself isn’t right or wrong; it’s simply an emotion that God has designed to direct our attention to important issues we should consider. We don’t have to react to angry feelings destructively. We can respond to anger constructively. Through wise anger management, we can not only strengthen our well-being, but use the tremendous energy of anger for good purposes — like solving the problems that are making us angry and changing our lives for the better.

My recent trip to Boston to learn about the American Revolution showed how significant anger is in the process of change.

When people just reacted to their angry feelings without much thought or prayer, the anger quickly turned into destructive rage. Unfortunately, examples of that happening abound. One instance is the tragic Boston Massacre, which started with just a trivial annoyance (a few boys throwing snowballs at a solider on duty in front of the local customhouse) and escalated into the murder of five souls when tensions rose between colonists and British soldiers crowding around the area. Rather than trying to defuse the situation, those in the crowd traded insults back and forth, until some soldiers shot colonists without official orders and with no warning.

Another sad example was the arson by a mob of angry colonists that destroyed innocent people’s homes in Boston. They reacted to their anger over the Stamp Act law (which created new taxes) by setting fire to the houses of those who they associated with the law — without bothering to investigate whether or not those people actually had anything to do with enacting the Stamp Act. After the mob burned down the home of Thomas Hutchinson, the colony’s chief justice (and later governor), they learned that he had not supported the Stamp Act. In fact, he had written to his superiors in Britain trying to prevent them from passing the law, warning them, “It cannot be good to tax the Americans” and that “You will lose more than you gain.” Hutchinson spoke in court the day after he lost his home to warn colonists about the destruction that rage can cause. “This destroying all peace and order of the community — all will feel its effects … I pray God will give us better hearts!” he exclaimed.

In contrast, when people sought wisdom from God and carefully considered their actions, their anger became a positive force that propelled them closer to achieving their goals.

The role that George Washington (commander of the colonists’ Continental Army and later the first U.S. president) played in the Siege of Boston showed the power of constructive anger in action. Washington, who was known for his strong faith and character, made a habit of seeking wisdom rather than reacting impulsively in conflicts. Rather than unleashing an uncontrolled fury on British soldiers in the area, Washington studied the Battle of Bunker Hill, learning why the British had suffered so many casualties (nearly half of their men killed or wounded) despite winning that battle. Then he carefully devised a strategic plan for how to proceed in the future. Part of that plan was fortifying the Dorchester Heights hills overlooking Boston Harbor) in well thought-out ways that surprised British soldiers, cut off their supply lines, and led to them peacefully evacuating Boston. Washington used his anger to come up with a plan that ended up solving a major problem for the colonists.

Another famous patriot, Samuel Adams, was angry about injustices under British rule but controlled how he expressed that anger. Instead of just raging against the problems, he used the energy of his anger to motivate him to find solutions. Adams often spoke eloquently in town meetings about the issues leading to the American Revolution. He directed his anger toward motivating others to think about the issues and figure out ways to make change happen. A great example of a female patriot who used anger to solve problems well was Mercy Otis Warren, who wrote poems and plays about the issues that inspired readers and audiences to respond thoughtfully.

I confess that I’ve been guilty of reacting to anger more times than I’d like. In the process, I’ve learned that arguments don’t solve problems well. Now when I feel angry about something, I try to pray about it to get a clear perspective on the situation, and to seek God’s wisdom about how to respond well.

What are you angry about right now? How could you channel the energy of that anger to accomplish a good purpose — like bringing a revolution of change to something in your life?

Well-Being with Whitney: Guarding Your Heart in Romance

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Valentine’s Day is around the corner again, so our culture’s confusing messages about romance are in full swing right now. In the midst of the onslaught, it’s vital to remember this wisdom from Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Guarding our hearts is essential, because our hearts are valuable and sensitive, and because love is the greatest force in the universe. What we decide to do with our hearts has powerful consequences — either good or bad.

That’s why I’ve been careful about romance in my life. As a girl, I experienced the damage that happens when romance goes bad by watching my parents divorce and living with the stress that resulted from it.  As a teen, I came to faith in Jesus Christ and chose to make him my number one guy, because no one offers a greater love than him. As a college student, I cautiously began dating, and was shocked to discover how many guys devalued their hearts and mine by trying to seduce me into casual sex. As a married woman, I was grateful to begin the journey as a virgin on my wedding night. Later on, I was grateful for God’s help to resist the many temptations that came when my husband couldn’t be there for me due to frequent business trips or serious illness, some other men I was attracted to flirted with me, and pornography called from my computer. I absolutely love sex! It’s one of my favorite activities. But only healthy sex will do. Thanks to my commitment to guard my heart and God’s grace to help me do so, I haven’t given in to affairs or became hooked on porn.

Even after all I’ve done to guard my heart, however, it’s still a daily struggle to do that living in a culture that devalues people’s hearts so much. The key, I think, is confidence. God — our true beloved — has confidence in us. Yet, too often, we lack confidence in ourselves. The reason why I’ve been able to enjoy a healthy romantic life is because I’ve been a confident person. Yet my heart breaks when I reflect on the many women I’ve known who simply don’t love themselves the way I do — and most importantly, the way God does.

Here are some ways to guard your heart in romance:

  • Understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy love: Healthy love: is reality-based, completes another, finds a friend, sacrifices, is patient, is kind, is forgiving, doesn’t hold grudges, is born out of security, is vulnerable, is allowed to develop, is gentle, is honest, and is satisfied. In contrast, unhealthy love: is fantasy-based, seeks to be completed, seeks a victim, demands sacrifice, is impatient, is rude, is resentful, seeks revenge, is born out of fear, is defensive, is pressed to perform, is combative, is deceitful, and is restless.
  • Shift your focus from receiving to giving: Understand that, as much as you desire intimacy, you can’t achieve it if you continue to focus on your feelings and how to try to gratify yourself. Replace unhealthy dependency on other people with healthy devotion to God, who can truly fulfill you. Ask God to help you shift your focus from your own desires, needs, and hurts to those of other people. Look beyond yourself and your own life toward God and other people. Focus yourself outwardly to gain genuine love for them.
  • Understand how your background has affected you: Think and pray about your childhood and other past experiences that may have contributed to you developing unhealthy attitudes about romance and unhealthy behaviors that sabotage your relationships with others. Consider whether you learned poor communication patterns that encouraged you to keep secrets, whether your feelings were acknowledged or denied when you tried to express them, and whether you learned how to trust other people. Once you understand how your background has affected you, use that knowledge to equip you to do think and act better in the future. Don’t blame your current problems on your past or believe that there’s nothing you can do to change your situation. Instead, once you uncover the sources of your problems, decide to deal with them head-on, with help from God.
  • Confess sins that are hindering you from giving and receiving love: Rob your secrets of their destructive power by bringing them out into the open. Confess each of your sins to God. Confess your sins to others you may have hurt, and humbly ask for their forgiveness. Join a support group or build friendships with a few others who are struggling to recover from the same issues you are, so you can hold each other accountable and encourage each other.
  • Embrace forgiveness: Forgiveness will help you resolve the past and clear the path toward a better future. Accept the forgiveness that God offers you after you confess your sins. Ask God to empower you to forgive people who have hurt you (such as through betrayal) by relinquishing any plans for revenge and inviting God to heal your heart toward them. Trust that you can live with confidence in your romantic relationship once you know you’ve given and received forgiveness.
  • Be accountable: Ask God to help you unlearn destructive ways of relating to people and learn how to relate to them in new, healthy ways. Take concrete action to make amends for past wrongs whenever you can.
  • Be patient with yourself: Realize that you can’t take shortcuts in recovery; the process demands plenty of time. Be aware that hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue can trigger a relapse into unhealthy romantic behavior. Don’t expect too much too soon. Instead, simply ask yourself each day what you can do now to become the person you want to be tomorrow.
  • Ground yourself in reality: Give up the fantasy high of immediate gratification to the strenuous yet rewarding task of building authentic relationships. Stop trying to take what you want in relationships and start making sacrifices for those you love. In the process, you’ll discover more fulfillment than you ever could have previously enjoyed.

Above all, remember: You are deeply and unconditionally loved by the source of love itself — God — and the heart he gave you is a treasure that’s worthy of protecting!