Wanted: Friends Who Judge

“I don’t want to be judged, I just want to be unconditionally loved”
“No one wants a judge, everyone wants a friend”
“Don’t judge me!”

It is universally accepted that true friends don’t judge. They simply love, accept and support you.

In my early 20’s I was a young single women in the new South Africa. I loved the adventure and possibility of living and working in this nation. I was just beginning to form friendships in a diverse community of people. One weekend at the office, only myself and one other lady were there. We were trying to get ahead on work. New students were arriving that week. We discussed tasks and ideas back and forth. We were as different as night and day and so often would not see eye to eye. As the day wore on, I was getting more and more frustrated at her lack of seeing things my way. Eventually I got so angry I went quiet and ominously brooded around the office, physically present but ignoring her in all other ways. I would show her!

Suddenly, I could hear her chair spin around and her strong voice break the silence. “Lindsey, are you going to talk about this or do you plan to give me the silent treatment all day. I don’t like tantrums.”

I was shocked. She was direct almost to the point of rudeness. I stumbled over my words. Feebly I attempted to sort things out… I don’t really remember how it resolved.

Two months later someone asked me, “Lindsey, who do you hang out with? Who do you consider your friends here in South Africa?” To my surprise, this lady’s name immediately came out of my mouth.

I had other friends who I hung out with more, had more in common with. But this women spoke truth to me. Truth that often offended me. Sometimes it wasn’t truth, it was just her opinion and she would apologise later. Sometimes it came out a bit rude. But, she kept speaking. Of all the people I was around, I knew this one was a friend. She was a friend who was willing to wound me. She was a friend who judged.

But “friend” and “judge” are not supposed to go together. What I think we really mean is that “friend” and “condemn” don’t go together. But, judge?

In a sense, to judge is simply an act of determining right and wrong. It is distinguishing from one thing and another. It is coming to conclusions and testing whether there is truth in it. A judge is a person who is mandated to speak truth no matter what. I want friends who judge.

Today, I think our friendships lack depth because we not only expect but often say outright, “Don’t judge me, I just want you to support and accept me”.

I don’t want my friends to do that. I want them to speak truth to me. I ask them to. With grace, mercy and love… yes, yes, yes. But love cannot be love if it is forbidden from speaking truth. Love cannot be love if truth-speaking is considered an act of aggression and condemnation.

Scripture says it well, “Speak the truth in love” and “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than kisses from an enemy”. Paul says that Christian friendship actually does judge (1 Cor 5:9-13).

This is the type of friends I want and need. I need this when I am careening towards a cliff. I don’t want my friends to say, “Lindsey, I sure love and accept you no matter what!”. I want them to grab that wheel and say, “Lindsey, what you are doing leads to death instead of life. You are driving towards brokenness instead of wholeness.”

And my friends have done this. Sometimes it was well received by me. Other times… well it took me a while to come around. But their willingness to say something that could offend me communicated a deep love. Sometimes their timing wasn’t perfect. Sometimes they way it came out was not perfect. But they spoke truth in love. They said it without condemnation.

Truly, friends do not condemn. Condemnation is when we use truth as a weapon to harm. Condemnation says, if you don’t measure up I won’t love you. That’s not friendship.

Friends should speak truth (judge) because their heart for us is life, wholeness and joy. Truth-speaking says, I love you even with your imperfections, I have them too. We won’t pretend they aren’t there. Often what we call judgement can actually be speaking truth as an act of safety and grace, even if it stings in the moment.

Do you have people who will “speak the truth in love” even if it wounds?
If not how could you invite that in to your life?

Photo Credit: Radcliffe Dacanay

Let’s Not Say That Anymore (Pretty Please?)

Ok, time for honesty. You know how there are all these phrases that we use? Ones we should really stop using? Exhibit A: “Doing life together”. Didn’t we all agree to not use that phrase anymore? If you still use that it’s probably because you are over 50 and think that the “youngsters” speak in phrases like this. We stopped saying “doing life together” years ago. We just couldn’t bare to tell you. The embarrassment factor and all.

Exhibit B: I want to see your “doing life together” and raise you a “keeping it real”.

“Hey, I’m just keeping it real!” Let’s not say that anymore either. Please. I cringe every time someone says, “just keeping it real over here!”

Let’s be honest, we normally say this when:

  1. We are fake all other times. Stop that. Being fake and false is exhausting and who wants to be so tired?
  2. We have just overshared in a hilarious and awkward way. Don’t stop that. I love it when people overshare. If you are that way, let’s have coffee! No need to tag on “just keeping it real” though.
  3. We struggle with authenticity.

Let’s sit a little in number three.

That authenticity thing, it’s so subtle. Everything we say and reveal, we wonder how it compares to others. One day, “Just ran 5 miles, baked paleo cookies and ironed my husbands underwear… really nothing at all.” Next day, “Here’s a picture of my kitchen, yes, we are living in this pig sty… just keeping it real folks!”

A few things bother me about this. First, is this what it means to be real and transparent these days? “I’ve got dirty dishes”. If dirty dishes is your “keeping it real”, I definitely want your life.

It’s funny to me that in the midst of all this “keeping it real” we are still controlling what we reveal. We “keep it real” with just enough finesse to actually make us look better (compared to others). “Oh gosh, she’s even witty and honest when her home is a mess… love her!”

Control is the enemy of authenticity.
Comparison is the enemy of authenticity.

I read a confession the other day,

“I struggle with feeling like I can’t quite figure out how other women seem to do it all”.

It is a struggle, isn’t it? We endlessly compare and thus control what we do and don’t reveal. Being falsely modest when we succeed, witty and humorous when we reveal a small misstep. We are constantly comparing and controlling, praying we don’t fail to measure up to the perceived standard.

People get mad about everyone being “fake” on Facebook. Why does that bother us? Are we comparing ourselves to them? If they want to share their good news on Facebook and bad news in person, what’s it to you? That actually sounds pretty healthy to me.

Honestly, I think it bothers us because we are comparing ourselves to them. In our view, we can’t keep up with what we perceive is their perfect life.

How much longer will we believe this lie that anyone is keeping it together? The Christian life begins with falling down in a confession of failures and brokenness. The core of the Gospel is that no one has got their crap together, we all are in imperfect. We are all stumbling towards Jesus who brings mercy, grace and rest… three things that we desperately need. I personally alternate between awkward and desperate in my stumble towards grace and help.

“Keeping it real” does not need to be an occasional #hashtag. If I see only people’s success and not their struggle, failure and fights with their kids then I assume someone else get’s the privilege of seeing those glorious moments. Someone else gets to gently say, “let your children live to see another day, walls can be re-painted”. Someone else get’s to say, “call the counsellor and I’ll babysit for you and your husband tonight”. Another friend get’s to challenge our tendency hide our weaknesses and struggle.

We don’t need to remind people that we are “keeping it real”. As if anyone’s life is perfect or pain free. It’s not and it won’t be. That’s true for all of us, whether we see it or not.

Photo Credit: misselejane

Getting Kids to Communicate

Me: “Hi son, how was school today?”
Son: “Mpf.”
Me: “Did you have fun?”
Son: “MrbleDrble”
Me: “What sort of things did you learn about?”
Son: “Stuff.”
In my head: Gasp! A word! A real english word!
Me: “Ok, well glad we could have this talk about your day!”

Does that sound familiar to you? Are my children the strange ones that don’t pontificate in prose about their every emotion and thought? I mean, they talk. A lot actually. But never about the things I want them to talk about. We could talk for hours with them asking me questions like:

“Mom, who invented the screwdriver?”
“Mom, when was the first cake baked?”
“Mom, who first said the word, ‘Awesome’?”
“Mom, is Michael Jackson really a man or are you lying to me?”
(Actual questions from this past year)

You know, basically an endless list of questions that I have no answer for.

I’m a bit of a determined bull-dog though. When there is an area that I’m frustrated with or feel like it could just be better I get dialed in and focused. I become determined to figure out how to draw out my boys.

These past three years I’ve been on this path to find ways to more deeply connect, with actual words, to my sons. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way (through a lot of trial and error).

Timing can be everything.

Here is something that should come with our children’s instruction manual.

“Appendix C
Section 4: Your child shall be virtually mute with the exception of inaudible mumbles for a minimum of 45 minutes after departing the school grounds.
Section 5: Each school day shall be described as either, a.) fine or b.) good. Just accept it. During this 45 minute time period they will remember absolutely nothing that happened during the school day since they did nothing according to your child’s steel trap memory.”

This may be extreme, some children love to talk about the school day the moment they see Mom or Dad. The rest of us should accept that walking out of school and having to be interrogated by Mom is just not nice.

Timing can be everything. Sometimes kids don’t talk because we ask them at all the wrong times.

I had to figure out the times my boys feel relaxed and ready to talk and seize those moments. For us, laying in bed at the end of the day is a really good time. We normally do a devotional or read a chapter from a book. It never fails, they start bringing up all sorts of things that they have kept inside the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter to me when they talk, just as long as we are talking. I know now, a silent car ride home is kind of nice for them after a busy school day. I get that and it’s now fine with me too.

Talk shoulder to shoulder instead of face to face.

This is like a sneak attack basically. I’m a woman, so generally I like to sit, look at my friend and then commence pouring our hearts out. Children, and especially boys I think, generally aren’t this way. (Also true for men but that’s another blog post!)

It can actually be intimidating to have their parent stare deeply in their eyes and ask questions.

Once I realised that my timing was not my sons timing I started to look for other moments. Doing something together (shoulder to shoulder) can create great opportunities. If I want to hear from one of my boys, I will ask them to join me on a project or I join them on something they love.

Today, I invited my youngest to cook breakfast for the family. He jumped at the chance. As we were working together making eggs I took over one of his “jobs”. “Mom! I’m supposed to crack the eggs!”. Without looking at him I just casually said, “Oh man, I’m sorry… I do that a lot don’t I? Just take over like that”. He didn’t miss a beat, “Yep, just yesterday you did the same thing with fixing my toy!” He started to giggle and laugh that we were pointing at Mom’s mistakes. I didn’t mind at all, it was all true!

We ended up talking about things he loves to do and wishes we let him do more. It was so good. This honesty would not have happened if I sat him down for a serious discussion on boundaries and independence.

Talking while working shoulder to shoulder can create the ease and safety to discuss whatever seems to come up. Try it.

Take the African Approach

Westerners generally take a very direct route to things. If we are frustrated, we sit down and say, “I’m frustrated.” Most cultures in Africa simply do not do this. They tell stories, bring up other topics and slowly remove layers of an onion until they finally get to the point in the middle where they say, “I’m frustrated”.

I’m starting to think most kids start out more African until we get our hands on them. It just feels so much safer to slowly get to a point instead of careening at full speed into a verbal confession about their day.

Be alert and join that journey. A story or comment about something seemingly insignificant could actually be them warming up to the heart of matter.

I often initiate this and have found it a miracle worker.

Recently my youngest son was out of sorts about something, annoyed at everyone in the family.

Instead of asking him outright, I went, sat next to him and said, “Did I ever tell you about the one time Babu (my father) yelled at me?” His eyes instantly got big and he was hooked. He expected me to talk about him and his behaviour (and he’d never seen Babu yell at anyone!).

We sat and I told stories from my past, we discussed a recent movie we saw, we reminisced about our own family stories. At the end I gently said, “I bet you get frustrated with me sometimes, don’t ya?” He didn’t even blink, “I sure do, just last week…”

He didn’t have to guess if it was safe to admit this or if the timing was right… we had slowly been working up to the moment and it was just natural to now share his own story.

How can you slowly work your way in to the heart of the manner in a more gentle and safe manner?

Be careful about sarcasm and verbal takeovers

If my sons share something and I either a.) make a joke about it (sarcastic or otherwise) or b.) jump in and take over the conversation then they will simply stop telling me things.

Some parents are especially prone to this. Just stop.

Listen and take their interests and information seriously instead of making a joke. Don’t have a comment for everything, no one wants to share with a verbal hijacker. Stop those bad habits.

Lead by Example

Do you know how kids learn to communicate? By watching Mom and Dad. If you want kids who communicate, lead by example.

Share with them. Be honest and vulnerable at times (in appropriate ways). Your own vulnerability can pave the way for theirs.

As Mom and Dad, make sure they see and observe you communicating to one another. Take an interest in what each family member shares. Don’t make communicating with your kids an interrogation where Mom asks they questions and they answer.

With some attention and flexibility, we all can find our children communicating more honestly and openly… even if they only have grunts for you after school.

“Do you understand anything I’m saying?”

My son and I were driving to the butcher when he looked off in the distance. We were discussing the pros and cons of using golf carts on a golf course (as we do).

“You know Mom, I think the reason old people don’t use golf carts, is… they’re old… carts can be used for…”

A long silence enveloped the car.

He looked up at me, “Ummm, I have absolutely no idea what I was going to say so never mind about that!”. We laughed together at the humour of it.

He suddenly said, “If I forget my thought in the middle of my sentence that must mean I’m becoming a grown-up!”.

“Yes, son, losing your words (and mind) is a definite marker of growing up”

A few days before that my husband and I got in a tense conversation over absolutely nothing and almost everything. All at the same time. Does that ever happen to you too? I was frustrated and couldn’t find the words out of the swamp of confusion, so I just walked away. My husband came back to our bedroom where I was hiding (as he always graciously does). He started talking, tentatively searching for a way out of a simple argument over a child’s car seat. Yet it was really about so much more.

Communication, words, listening, talking, all that stuff… it isn’t easy is it?

These words of Eugene Peterson struck me:

Because we speak our language so casually, it is easy to fall into the habit of treating it casually. But language is persistently difficult to understand. We spend our early lives learning the language, and just when we think we have it mastered our spouse says, “You don’t understand a thing I’m saying, do you?” We teach our children to talk, and just about the time we think they might be getting it, they quit talking to us … A close relationship doesn’t guarantee understanding. A long affection doesn’t guarantee understanding. In fact, the closer we are to one another and the more intimate our relations, the more care we must exercise to hear accurately, to understand more thoroughly, to answer appropriately.

I don’t want that to be true, but my experience affirms what he is saying.

Modern culture makes false promises about love and communication.

The deeper the love, the wider the years; the less the effort to communicate.
In true intimacy, we should know what the other is thinking even before they say it.

If only either of those statements were true.

The converse of this is old married couples warning us, “communication takes hard work people!”. So, the options become either effortless communication (not attainable) or a life-time prison sentence to hard labor (not enjoyable).

The truth is deeper than both these.

Communication will not flutter down on the wings of a dove like a moment of “eureka!” Nor will mere back-breaking work get us there.

Communication takes commitment, it is a heart issue. An unmovable heart to stay there and journey the path over and over until the right tributary is found. Not giving up until the path to understanding is walked upon.

Communication takes intention. True, deep communication takes days and months of chipping away at a thought or feeling of the heart until both can see it clearly. This is humbly sought after with immense amounts of love and care of the other.

Communication takes grace. True heart-felt communication is a messy and danger filled path. There are so many opportunities to hurt the other (whether friend, spouse or child). So many chances to be mis-understood. Constant temptations to build more walls than bridges and to throw our hands up in exasperation. Immense grace is needed.

Perhaps you are like my son who can’t find the right words in the right moment. Or like me who is tempted to hide in your room instead of treading deeper into a conversation that has no clear-marked exit.

Either way, there is only one path to deeper intimacy in our relationships. Communication. Get there by any means necessary, the journey is worth the destination.

The Language of Friendship

Seven years ago I was with a friend, Michelle, in her kitchen. She was cooking up a nice meal for us to share as we were casually hanging out and connecting. She had become a good friend over the past two years and I valued these casual times together. In fact, I loved these times together because I had grown to love her as a dear friend. After a several years of closing myself off from true friendship (which I thought would only end in hurt) I was stepping out in trust and vulnerability again.

Unfortunately my season of keeping people at a safe distance had made me a little awkward and rusty in the friend department. Michelle was cooking away, we were talking about nothing in particular. I suddenly blurted out, “Michelle, you are my friend!!” It had the urgency and awkwardness of a pimply tween in Junior High. Confused, Michelle paused, “What?”. “Well,” I replied, “you are my friend and I just wanted you to know that.” She was gracious and smoothly moved the conversation forward.

Since that awkward lunch I’ve thought a lot about that blurted declaration. This came up as I was chatting with a long-lost friend. We began talking a lot about friendship. How are friends made? What do we value in a friend? What is the language we use when a friendship means something to us?

When it comes to romantic relationships, most cultures have a language that we use to identify the stages and seasons of this type of relationship.

“No, we are just friends.”
“We are friends with benefits”
“We are dating but it’s not too serious”
“We are in love.”

All these phrases are ways we identify what a person of the opposite gender means to us. It shows how intimate the relationship has become. We even have words for these conversations. “We are going to talk tonight to define the relationship” or “We have yet not told each other ‘I love you'”.

But, when it comes to friendship, especially same-gender friendship, we have none of this. So, we resort to adolescent categories. We have a “best friend” and everyone else is just dumped in the same pot. In fact, I Googled the term, “You are my friend” and every single hit came back with the phrase, “You are my best friend”. Even Google doesn’t have a language of friendship!

In counselling, they often talk about “circles of relationship”. The different levels ofCircles of Frindship friendship that we have in our lives. In the “inner circle” of close friends we generally have 3-5 people that we consider our most intimate and trust relationships. The next circle out from that is generally abut 12-15 people. Yet, there is no expectation that we have ever actually told those people that they are our dearest, must trusted friends.

The reality is that Michelle was moving from my outer circle towards my inner circles. I wanted her to know that. I had never seen or heard of someone telling another about this but I figured it needed to be said. I wasn’t just saying, “you are my friend”. I was telling her, “You and your friendship means more to me than most. Because of that I value you but also feel that you could hurt me more deeply than most if you wanted to.”

There are less-awkward ways this conversation could have happened. But, don’t we need a language for friendship? Doesn’t there need to be a conversation about how this happens? Isn’t it strange that we can have some of the most intimate and trusted relationships yet we rarely ever look the person in the eye and tell them, “I need you to know, you are in my circle”. It’s not expected and we have no language to even express what is going on.

This my question for you:
Do you feel you have a language for friendship?
How could this make us more connected instead of disconnected to one another?
Do you tell friends what they mean to you?

How can we develop a conversation around the friendships we have and what we hope them to be?

4 Simple Questions for Marriage Health

My husband and I are about to celebrate 12 years of marriage. We are not typical “romance” people. Our anniversary generally doesn’t involve me getting flowers, jewelery or chocolate. I don’t buy him… well, men are hard to shop for so that’s my excuse.

For us, an ideal anniversary involves the two of us being alone, away from the kids, overnight and with… wait for it… UNINTERRUPTED CONVERSATION. It is a rare thing but it does exist!

Since our first anniversary, we have a tradition of spending some time to just ask questions of each other. Questions that don’t normally get asked in the day to day of life.

If you don’t do this in your marriage, you should. Asking questions and then truly listening is one of the most powerful communication tools to keep a whole and healthy marriage.

Here are 4 simple questions on 5 important areas. Pick a topic, ask and listen.

4 Questions on Your Friendship:

Do you feel that we are having enough fun and light hearted moments together?
What events or dates could we plan that build our friendship?
Do we have any hobbies together? If not, what hobby could we do together?
Do we have mutual friends that we both like to hang out with? If not, who could we pursue?

4 Questions on Communication:

Do you feel I truly listen to you?
Do you feel that my words and tone show that I respect and value you?
Are there times that our communication struggles? What are those times?
Are there topics or areas you wish we would communicate about more?

4 Questions on Sex:

How is the frequency for you?
Are you feeling loved and cared for in this area?
In what ways could we make more time for it?
What could we do to make this area better?

4 Questions on Parenting:

How do you feel we are doing in being loving parents?
How are we doing in being consistent and following through?
What “season” do you think each child is in?
How are our family times, are they bringing us together or apart?

4 Questions on Spiritual Health:

What is God teaching and growing you in, right now?
What areas do you feel spiritually weak in?
What things do you do that feed your walk with Jesus?
What ways could I support you in your walk with Jesus?

More resources on question asking and date night ideas:
4 Types of Date Nights
Date Night on the Cheap
20 Ways to Take Initiative in Your Marriage
Questions to Take You Deeper in Friendship or Marriage