Monday, May 10, 2010

Lean on Me

For 13 years now I have participated in an annual Mother-Daughter Banquet at our church, and, for 3 years now we've also had a Mother-Son Banquet.  For this year we combined the two banquets due to scheduling conflicts.  Our combined themes were:  My Sister's Keeper and My Brother's Keeper.

Our focus was this:

All women have problems that they are afraid, or too embarrassed, to talk about.  Many have the exact same problems.  They suffer in silence, feeling they are all alone in the world.  If we would just dare to become vulnerable to each other, we would find a wealth of support and empathy in our sisters around us.  The unique friendships of women offer a web, or network, of support unparalleled in humankind.  Women connect with other women on an emotional level.  They have a gift for intimacy.  Even as little girls they openly show more affection to their friends than do little boys.  They share confidences.  Why not take advantage of those natural tendencies in the friendships of women and lean on each other in our times of trouble?  Who knows, our burdens may seem a little lighter, when we realize that we're really not all that different from each other.

Men are different.  They connect differently.  When the biblical question was posed:  "Am I my brother's keeper?" it indicated a feeling of responsibility.  The answer, of course, was an unspoken, but loudly understood "YES!"  We are focusing on the Mentoring aspect of men's relationships with other men.  Especially older to younger.  If one generation fails to mentor and train the next generation, where will we find ourselves?  Mentoring occurs in big, as well as small ways.  And the terms "older" and "younger" can also apply to spiritual age as well, without regards to physical age.

We had three very excellent segments given by two dear ladies in our church and one man - my husband.  These dealt with, first:  Secrets Women Keep (I'm Hurting and I Wish Someone Knew);  We're Not All That Different (I've Got the Same Problems); and I Am My Brother's Keeper (with a focus on Mentoring).  They were all wonderful, but I didn't write them so I'm not publishing them here (maybe later, with their permission).

We did an activity set to the song "Lean On Me" where different individuals stood and voiced a problem in their lives that they faced that caused them distress of some kind and then one or two other individuals who had faced a similar situation offered support by word and action, saying, "Lean on me, when you're not strong!  I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on!"  And with other words of their own.

My topic was "Creating a Web of Support" and I offer it here for your enjoyment.

Not long ago I took part in a personal development program that involved taking a very hard look at my life:  my past, my present, and my future.  It called for some rather deep contemplation on what my life had been up to this point by looking at where I'd come from:  regrets of the past, things I wished I had and had not done.  Through a series of worksheets and blog posts, I was required to write my own obituary and my epitaph.  I identified my core values, wrote a mission statement and a vision statement.  I attempted to identify my strengths, my weaknesses, my opportunities and my threats.  All of this was very difficult because I took it very seriously.  I would, however, recommend it to anyone . . . if you have the guts.  Up to this point, it was me looking at me.

Then came the really hard part.

In order to get what they call a 360 degree view, I had to ask three people, who knew me well, to be bruttaly honest with me and answer three two-part questions about me.  I needed them to be extremely frank with me because, if they didn't, it wouldn't be of any use to me at all.  You see, I was to pick one or two things that they saw as a shortcoming and work on those things for the next year.

The questions dealt with what they thought was my best quality and what skills and attributes I had that they felt gave me an advantage in life.  Then, what is my worst quality and, if I could improve one thing to help me better succeed, what would it be.  And finally, where they saw me sabotaging myself and what behaviors, lack of discipline or attitudes they felt held me back the most.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, some of their answers, between the three people, where the same.  However, one was slightly different.  Now, mind you, I've been told this before . . . in different words. . . but when I was told before, I wasn't trying to be creative and overcome this issue, because I didn't think I could.  I didn't know how.  I felt helpless.  I thought it was just the way it was.

Now, I'm going to give you the full answer, but I'm going to focus on one part of it.  The question was:  What is my worst quality?  The answer:  "Reserved or distant at times.  Reluctant to speak what you are really thinking.  Your kindness probably prevents you from doing this."  And the second part of the question:  If I could improve just one thing about myself to help me better succeed with people and in life, what do you think it should be?  And the answer:  "I believe some people feel inferior or intimidated (actually jealous) around you because you are talented, bright and intelligent.  (Their problem, not yours.)  Help people feel at ease and confident around you."

Several weeks ago I was praying in the altar with everyone else, and we had several women getting prayer and I thought about the fact that all these women, my sisters in Christ, had problems that I knew nothing about.  It occurred to me, also, that they might be the same problems that I have.  Then I thought about the woman with the issue of blood.  I'm absolutely sure she didn't talk about her problem to anybody -- other than those "many" physicians.  She suffered in silence.  We've been talking here (previously in the meeting) about being our sister's keeper and being our brother's keeper.  We've discussed the fact that we all have problems, that we feel isolated and all alone, and we often don't take advantage of the support that is available to us.  We've heard about the responsibility of the mentor in a man to other men.  What I want to look at is why are we afraid to reach out for help.  Why do individuals fail to receive mentoring when it's offered?  I believe, a lot of times, the answer is contained in my friend's answers to me.  Others see us as unapproachable, inaccessible.  They feel intimidated by us.  I mean, its not that we intend to come across that way, but we just do.  So what do we do about it?  That answer is also contained in my friend's answer:  "Help people feel at ease and confident around you."  And you do that by learning how to connect with people.

How many of you like spiders?  I don't like spiders but I admire spiders.  They are amazing creatures.  They are masters of the "Law of Attraction"!  They create this intricate, beautiful, delicate, but incredibly strong and effective, web in which they catch their prey.  They actually do it to harm their victims, but I want us to look at it as a way to draw in those that need us and need our support.  A spider web is made up of many connections.  And that's what I want to talk about today:  Connecting.  And the way I want to relate it to a spider web is that when we learn how to connect, we teach, by example, and others learn to do the same thing and eventually, we have this intricate, beautiful, delicate, but incredibly strong and effective, web to catch those that are falling and need to be supported by our love and compassion.  There should never be one who goes out from our midst, hurting and alone, who needs our support and we didn't give it!

So what is connecting?  I've been reading a book by John C. Maxwell, titled "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect", and I highly recommend it! (quotes are in italics)  Dr. Maxwell says that "Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them."  He affirms that "the success of your relationships is determined by how well you can connect."  In reading this book, it occurred to me that Jesus is, and was, the Master Connector, and I think you will come to understand that.  Obviously, the women with the issue of blood was not afraid to approach Jesus.  Even though she was, in her condition, considered unclean and no one was to touch her.  Somehow she knew that she could go to Jesus . . . and, yes, even touch Him!  She knew instinctively that He wouldn't turn her away.

Just because you are talking to someone or going back and forth doesn't mean you are connecting.  Communicating and connecting are two very different things.  As mothers and fathers, you can probably understand it better by thinking about your children.  Have you ever felt like you just weren't getting through to them?  When you see that "light" of understanding go on in their eyes, you will have finally connected!  There is an invisible barrier between you and whomever you're talking to and you have to break through that barrier to really connect.  You can tell when someone is really getting what you are saying . . . and, also, when they've turned you off!

The ability to connect begins with understanding the value of people.  It's all about others!  It's never about me (or you, as the case may be.)

The principles behind connecting are:  1) focusing on others;  2) realizing that it goes beyond just mere words, but includes actions, attitudes, behavior, and body language;  3) being willing to put forth the effort and energy required to make that connection;  and 4) learning from those who know how it's done.

You have to find common ground.  Keep your communication simple, capture their interest, inspire them, but, above all, be real.

Talk more about the other person and less about yourself.  Bring something of value to the conversation.  Ask if there is anything you can do for them.  Jesus always gave His full attention to the individual, offering compassion, help and healing to them . . . at the point of their need.  And He always asked them if He could do something for them . . . ."wilt thou be made whole?"

I love this quote:  "If you want to connect to others, you have to get over yourself."  Almost everything we become and all that we accomplish in life are the result of our interaction with others.  You have to tear down the "ego" wall and use those very same stones to build a bridge of warm compassionate relationship.

I mentioned before, you have to find common ground.  It's difficult to find common ground with others when you're the only person you're focused on!  And there are barriers you have to overcome in order to find common ground.  You cannot assume anything.  You can't put people in a box.  People have different temperaments and that is not going to change.  I've said this for years:  Everybody thinks differently and just because someone is acting in a certain way doesn't mean they are thinking the way you would be thinking if you acted that way.  You have to work at understanding others.  You cannot be arrogant.  We need each other.  You cannot be indifferent.  Comedian George Carlin joked, "Scientists announced today that they had found a cure for apathy.  However, they claim no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in it."  Indifference is really a form of selfishness.  The final barrier to overcome is control.  Finding common ground is a two-way street.  You have to be open.  It has to be give and take.

If you want to help people and truly make a connection with them, you have to communicate an attitude of selflessness . . . not selfishness.  If you can learn to care about others, you can learn to connect.  You have to forget about your own worries and needs and focus on the other person's.  Calvin Miller says, when most people listen to others speak, they are silently thinking:

"I am loneliness waiting for a friend,
I am weeping in want of laughter,
I am a sigh in search of consolation,
I am a wound in search of healing.
If you want to unlock my attention,
You have to convince me you want to be my friend."

They have to believe that you really care.

Whether you, or even the other person, realize it or not, when you communicate with someone, they are asking three questions about you:  1) Do you really care for me?:  2) Can you really help me?; and 3) Can I trust you?  That's a big one.

If you can make that other person feel valued, then you will have connected.

And your message must be sincere.  It must contain a piece of you.  You must be the message.  It's been said that "nothing can happen through you until it happens to you."  I like the word "empathy".  What's the difference between sympathy and empathy?  Webster's describes sympathy as "the sharing in the emotions of others, especially the sharing of grief, pain, etc.;  a feeling for the ills, difficulties, etc. of others."  But empathy is described as "the power to enter into the feeling or spirit of others."  Sympathy can almost vie a sense of detachment, but empathy requires total involvement.  And it's all a function of attitude.  Dr. Maxwell says, "Attitudes are the real figures of speech."  People know if you care.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "What you are speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you say."

We did a little exercise earlier showing both sides of this subject:  individuals identifying a problem they had, voicing it to their brothers and sisters, and others responding with offers of support.  One thing that made those responses extra convincing was that those same problems had happened to both individuals.  But I think you will also have to agree that the feeling of sincerity was genuine.  We were focusing on each other's problems, rather than our own.  And I have just barely touched the surface of this subject of connecting, but it's a start.  It's a place for us to begin and, to quote Saint Francis of Assisi via John Maxwell, "Start doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

At the end I invited everyone to take hold of a gigantic spider web that I had made with the help of my husband and mother, in another activity to give a visual for what I was talking about and we sang the song:

You're my brother, you're my sister,
So take me by the hand:
Together we will work until He comes!
There's no foe that can defeat us
When we're walking side by side.
As long as there is love we will stand!

And I want to extend the same sentiment to you, my Reader:  Lean on me . . . . I'll be your friend!

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