Lent is the penitential season of the church calendar that usually involves fasting (or giving up) something that gets in the way of your relationship with God. This season prepares the way for Good Friday, and the celebration of Easter Sunday. One of my good friends is a pastor, and he wrote this as an invitation entering this Lenten season:
“Is there an area of your life where you would like to experience more healing? Consider picking a fast or adopting a discipline that creates space for healing in that area. I’ve heard of people giving up sarcasm or cynicism as well as others who read a poem a day to increase space for God’s beauty and joy.”– Danny Bryant
Most wouldn’t be surprised to hear of someone giving up sweets, alcohol, or junk food during Lent. It’s safe to say that these sugary and fatty substances are not good for our physical health. What many of us don’t know about are the types of relational “junk food” we consume every day. All marriages are either growing, or dying, there is no in-between.
There might be places in your marriage that are keeping growth from happening. This Lenten season might be a time to fast from those activities or actions that are negatively impacting your marriage. Things like social media, tv show binging, and other “on-screen” activities all take time away from important relationships. Then there are more relationally focused actions that hurt space for beauty and joy like criticism, shaming, and words/actions of contempt towards your spouse.
Sometimes we have to stop an action first before something better can have space to show up.
What is something you can give up that would open you to God’s beauty and joy in your marriage?
Empathy is the ability to imagine (or understand) what someone else is experiencing in their life. Authentic empathy is a huge ingredient in a close and impactful relationship. But how do we develop empathy?
A quick Google search revealed pages and pages of tips for developing empathy, such as “Three steps to more empathy”, and “Do these twelve things to develop empathy.” If you want more steps than the one I’m going to talk about below, Google is your friend!
There is only one way that I know how empathy is developed: You have to practice it.
As with anything that doesn’t come naturally to us, we have to practice it. You’re not good writing with your non-dominant hand? The only way to become better is to practice writing with it.
Practice makes progress, not perfection.
Practice empathy in your car driving to work. Imagine the different stories that people are facing as they head into work. Try this: If someone cuts you off, or cuts in line, resist the finger or the outburst …instead, tell their story aloud. Perhaps they got a call that someone important to them is ill, or that their child was dropped off at the wrong bus stop. Those would be legit reasons to cut you off.
Practice with people that you don’t know. Ask them questions that will help you understand what challenges they are facing.
Read a novel. Studies have shown that reading fiction exercises our empathy muscles as we get to look inside a character’s experiences that isn’t a threat to our own ego. (As an aside, the Ego is enemy of empathy. The two with fight against each other)
Your empathy muscle needs exercise. Exercise it to become empathically strong so that when you need it the most, you’ve got it.
When we empathize we put our egos aside and share the space with equally important people. We’re all on this same planet, trying to do our best, working things out in our odd ways often times bumping or crashing into one another along the way. It’s messy, but it’s good.
Empathy makes space for everyone in the mess. How can you practice empathy today?
You don’t walk into a peace treaty meeting with a machine gun. And if you do, the meeting quickly changes from a peace treaty to a tense stand off. One wrong move, and there will be a mess.
We all have weapons that we have access to use when we are threatened. After all, these weapons have long served us as faithful tools to bring about feelings of safety, control, and power.
What are the weapons you use in marriage?
- Name calling?
- “Calling it like you see it”?
Regardless of the weapon you can easily brandish, leave it at the door. It has no use in your marriage. None of these will get you what you’re looking for.
What weapon do you need to leave at the door?