February Challenge | Listen

listen-loveLife isn’t about you but about God. If you haven’t found that out yet, you’re in for a sorry mess. If you have, you’re living the best life possible! Even so, we can still get disoriented and fall into the pit of selfishness. I do so all the time. I start to think about ME, ME, ME. He needs to care about my needs. She doesn’t understand my side. Why can’t they understand my pain and my heart? What about me.

You get the picture.

You’ve been there before.

So step 2 of our February challenge won’t be easy, but we must integrate it into our lives as we seek to truly love and show kindness to our friends.

STEP 2: 

Listen to others with 100% attention. 

Demanding attention is easy, but giving it, not so much. How do I know?

Because I struggle with this too! I listen but only hear what I want to hear. I listen but only try to understand from my viewpoint. I listen because it’s entertaining. I listen because it benefits me.

But you know what I don’t do often enough?

I don’t listen for their sake.

This results in listening with 50% of my attention when my friends deserve 100% it!

The switch doesn’t magically happen. I have to renew my mind in Christ, and then change the motivation behind my questions. God commands us to love others as we love ourselves. Contrary to popular belief, we have no problem loving ourselves. We like to put our needs and desires first. We want people to listen to us, hear our perspective, and do what we want. We know how to love! It’s loving the right way that trips us up.

As we grow in love for our friends, we will learn to change the motivation behind our actions and inquiries. When I love my neighbor well, I no longer ask questions for my entertainment. I’m no longer only giving half of my attention. When I truly begin to love my friends, I give them the attention that I desire and take delight in caring for them!

Last week, I challenged you to leave people better than how you found them. This week, I add to that to examine your heart. Remember how much Christ loves you! Do you love others the way you so easily love yourself? Do you give your full attention when you spend time with friends? If not, work to change those habits.

Do a Bible word study on love and friendship. How does God view them? Next, check your motivations and make a list of the ways you can listen more fully and deeply. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Loving others shows your love for God.

Let’s listen to our friends this week!

Loving Your Single Friends This Season

singleThe holiday season can prove especially hard on singles. Whether feeling lonely or unsure of how to fit in among dating/married friends, it can be a difficult time.

So let’s shed some light on this complex subject–

I imagine that my answer is probably similar to that of other singles: it’s sometimes hard to know exactly where/how to fit and not be in the way. My three closest friends all got married within the last 2 1/2 years, so I also didn’t want to seem like I was butting in or stealing their time when they were engaged and newly married. 

Personally, too, I think part of my struggle is that I haven’t had many healthy and godly husband/wife relationships around me as I’ve grown up, so I think I didn’t know exactly what to expect from them as a couple: how they will relate to/talk to me when they are together, what to say to their husbands (since I know these girls really well but have only met their husbands fairly recently), things like that. “

Hardest thing is seeing them (married couples) so happy. I have always wanted to be a wife and mom, and there are some days when I am so thankful that God has given many of my friends that life. I went to high school and college with girls who said, ‘I don’t want to be married right after college. I want a career. I definitely don’t want children in the first 5 years of marriage.’ Those are the girls who married before college was even finished, and had their first kid within a year of marriage. It is hard for me to see others given what I have been praying for when they don’t seem to appreciate it. I love spending time with my married friends, but there are times when I know I just can’t.”

Sometimes, I find myself wishing I had someone like they do. I envy that super close friendship that exists, and just having someone that loves YOU. But, I’m finding that it’s not about finding a friend, as much as being one. It’s also hard to be single when there are couples around; you sometimes feel “left out.” I sometimes catch myself seeing guys as “potential” rather than people. When you keep expecting Prince Charming to show up any day, you tend to think every knight that comes along is him.”

Couples, I challenge you to be aware of your single friends as you go about your holiday season! Get to know them so well that you understand how they feel about singleness without having to ask. Know them on a level that allows you both to bridge that life gap that sometimes stands in the way. Include them in your festivities, make them feel loved, post about your friendship, schedule a coffee date, go ahead and care about them in practical ways.

And for those of you who are single, talk to your dating and married friends! Get in their way. Be with them. Open yourself up and don’t view your singleness as a handicap. We need you to speak up when you are hurting so we can help and love on you this season. We need to understand you, but we can’t if you hole up inside.

The bottom line is that we all need to talk and learn how we can love each other! Let’s stop this holiday season from passing by without being aware of our friends.

It’s going to take work, but it’s going to be oh so worth it!

Sierra Straightforward

PS: To read more about the In Their Shoes series…click HERE.

Loving Your Married Friends This Season

marriedLast week, we shared a small excerpt from my In Their Shoes series, and today we will do so again. Many misconceptions surround engagement, marriage, and motherhood, so I believe these transparent posts will encourage and challenge us!

As this holiday season ensues, we will see an increase online of “perfect” moments, holiday romances, and lovely photos splattered throughout social networks. I am all for sharing the beauty, but I want to encourage those in hard places to see past the picture perfect moments to the struggles behind. So, let’s talk about your married friends. It seems pretty idyllic, right?! It’s far from it and I want to share with you some of these experiences—

A lot of things change when a woman marries. Slipping into those wife shoes can be wonderful, but just like any other life stage, the shoes can be painful. A common thread surged during this series — wives are women, and women desire strong friendships despite life stages.

Listen closely to these experiences:

I know to those who are unmarried it may seem like they are on different “levels” from their married friends, but they can definitely still relate because that married friend still has the same struggles as before, but maybe they look a little different now.  You keep friends the same way you make them … staying in touch, sharing bits of your life with the other, and especially relating on a spiritual level so your bond in Christ makes the relationship the strongest it can be.”

An unmarried woman is not second best, and a married woman still struggles as just as she did before. Marriage is not the magic potion that makes problems go away. At the end of the day, we are all living imperfections.

Married and single women alike need to be intentional about loving each other throughout life changes! It doesn’t have to be difficult, and yet in the following experiences, you’ll see how we sometimes box our hearts in.

One time, I was talking with a woman and my being married hadn’t come up yet. We were having a really good conversation, but halfway through it, I had mentioned my husband. As soon as I did, her whole face changed. She looked at me differently, as though I was in a higher level of life.

If singles know you’re married, they tend to automatically draw a line between you. The same can be said of wives though. They can just as easily draw lines between marriage and singleness.

But I see women on both sides wanting to fellowship and be together, simply because we are women. We have a lot in common. Womanhood is a great bond. I wish the lines would disappear, so I do what I can to erase the lines people like to put in front of me! I’m just like you. Let’s be real friends — married or not!”

I was the first of my friends to marry, so I can’t answer this question. But … I will say that as a newly married young woman, I was deeply hurt when I was left out by a few of my dearest friends who were single. I think they didn’t know how to incorporate me (in my new role as a wife) into their lives any more. I would have liked them to keep calling me. Keep inviting me to do girl things. 

I think I understand now, there is a need for both women to acknowledge feeling lost, and for both women to have a lot of grace and continual understanding that it’s a learning process — a friendship between a married and single gal. Always, always assume the good will of your friend! You aren’t friends because that person likes to make you feel bad.”

How easy it is for us to draw lines around ourselves simply because of our marital status! In both instances, you can see the honest desire that these women have for the friendship of singles! We don’t have to create walls and only give the house key to people that share our current life stage. So my question is:

Are you drawing a line and creating self-inflicted limitations because of your life stage?

Consider that it may be you and not the other person standing in the way of a potentially deep friendship. It is easy for us to blame others for our own lack of understanding and friendship. But, I dare say, we have all held the stick that draws the line in the sand!

Viewing the holiday season through social media can be dangerous if we don’t take the time to think about the hearts of our friends. So, let’s erase all those dividing lines we’ve drawn because real friendship happens when we live intentionally, allow others in, and open our hearts wide.

Sierra Straightforward

Loving Your Engaged Friends This Season

engagement-ringIn October, I hosted an anonymous series called In Their Shoes. We took a month and journeyed deep into the hearts of our friends, “putting on their shoes,” as we learned how to better love and understand them. Many of us found encouragement as we realized how similar we are!

I wanted to share some of that series with your during the holidays because it’s easy to fall into comparison, discontentment, and jealousy when we see our friends posting fun, perfect holiday photos. Over the next few weeks, I want us to step into the different relationship shoes to see the real heart of the matter.

Some of your friends will probably get engaged this season, which could lead you to feel less-than and/or left behind. Let me share some of the feelings your recently-engaged friends will face this holiday season (and any season for that matter!).

Mutually, we had seen so many broken friendships and hurt come from engagements and marriages that we communicated to each other, We don’t want to lose our friends just because we got married or engaged. That’s not the way it should be.

A marriage should bring two people together and create opportunities for stronger friendships, more friendships, more service options. Marriage shouldn’t be the thing that destroys friendships. Let’s make a conscious effort to preserve old friendships and pursue new ones. And we did.” 

Here someone has observed the common unraveling of friendships and has purposed with her significant other to do something about it.

Usually, life changes don’t divide us. We divide ourselves. While this couple worked together to bring about strong friendships, there are other cases in which this doesn’t happen at all.

I have also found that once friends are in relationships, their significant others don’t seem to want them to have lives outside of them alone. I just feel like that’s extremely unhealthy and that if both are walking with God, that it shouldn’t be an issue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that separate activities should be a large part of any marriage, but do believe that it is healthy to have activities that can be enjoyed separately.”

A lot of people would agree with these thoughts! There should be a life outside of a dating/engaged/married relationship, but often the scenario illustrated above happens.

Be gentle with your friend who is in that relationship. It is easy to swiftly judge her for neglecting or forgetting you, but remember there is another person who is a big part of her world. They are both likely learning how it all fits together.

It’s easy to blame the happy couples for the friendships that fall to the wayside. While this can be the case, note that friendships don’t just fall apart because of the engaged couple. The single friend may be just as much at fault.

It seems to me when people get engaged, two things tend to happen. Either the engaged person temporarily forgetsher friends (that always frustrates me!) or certain friends of the engaged person close up and become stand-offish. I wish this wasn’t the case. It doesn’t have to be. And it hurts when friends start to close up just because you got engaged!

If both parities stayed open then both parties could maintain a strong friendship despite life changes. It doesn’t have to be difficult at all. We just have to lay aside our pride and pain and talk to one another! On top of this, even if you’re engaged you still have deep life struggles. Sometimes people think an engaged person is just full of butterflies and gumdrops. But it’s not true. Engaged or not, a person is a person and a lot goes on in the heart.”

Weakened and/or forgotten friendships can be the engaged couple’s fault, but it can also be the fault of the individuals on the other side. After reading through these experiences, the solution is alarmingly simple: BE OPEN with one another!

When you get engaged, do what it takes to keep your old friends and treat them the way you would want to be treated. Above all, don’t forget them!

If you’re watching your friends get engaged, do what it takes to keep those old friends and treat at them the way you would want to be treated. Above all, don’t forget them!

Did you notice that? The solution is the same on both sides, because we are all people. We want to be kept. We want to be loved, and we don’t want to be forgotten!

The holidays may look magical and special for the engaged couples, but they are struggling through things just as you are! Keep that in mind as you scroll down your Newsfeed.

In the end it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing the engaged shoes or not, we just need to remember our friends!

Sierra Straightforward

 

Concerning Change | Part 3

Change can be beautiful. Strange, right? I often think of change as a negative thing. I like staying within the safety of my comfort zone and squirm at the thought of making new friends. Starting over proves exhausting, and creating new friendships can be awkward. You both feel a little out of place and apprehensive as you piece together a one-dimensional first impression. But beauty lies in all of it.

ChangePart3

The past few weeks, I’ve met new acquaintances, reunited with old ones, made a new friend, and learned some things as I’ve navigated the rocky road of adult friendships. Today, I want to share some of those with you.

  1. Don’t rely on first impressions.

I have fallen into this trap on more than one occasion. I find the girl that strikes me as confident, personable … and dare I say it, popular! This girl makes a stellar first impression, and I want to get to know her. However, I have found that I rarely become good friends with that girl.

Popular, confident girls that give a great impression are worth knowing and many of them are genuine. I am simply saying that first impressions are flimsy and you may find that the quiet, awkward girl becomes your real friend faster than the confident girl. You can never accurately guess which way it will go! So be kind to everyone, and rule out first impressions.

  1. Awkward first chats are so worth it!

AGH! Do you ever find yourself having that first conversation and feeling out of place? It’s strange to grow a real friendship in awkward, disjointed patches of conversation. Don’t shy away from the hard work and the discomfort of getting to know someone. You can’t completely avoid awkwardness. Embrace it, push through it, and get to know that person! Awkward chats don’t last forever.

  1. Ask but also share.

In our effort to ask questions and get to know someone, we often forget to share about ourselves. A friendship is a two-way street. You have to let the other person in your door. I’m not saying share your deepest secrets, but share about your life! You’ll never have real friends if you don’t.

  1. Real friendships take time … and effort.

DUH! Everyone knows this! But knowing is much easier than doing. Real friendships are hard, hard, hard. They don’t come when you snap your fingers or wish upon a star. You have to do the work and consistently choose to invest in another person. Pursue friendships no matter how long it takes. It is worth the time and energy, even if you only make one new friend.

  1. Learn to trust.

If you trust no one, you’ll be miserable. As an adult, you’ve probably been betrayed by more than one person in your life. You have the scars to prove it. Five years later, you might still feel the pain, but you can’t let that stop you. Choose your friends wisely, and then choose to trust them.

The truest friendships go beneath the thick layers of the heart and say “I’m staying anyway.” You will never know the beauty of this until you let go, embrace risk, and learn to trust. Be someone who can be trusted, and in turn, learn how to trust.

As you navigate the daunting world of change, don’t forget to “put yourself out there” and make friends. People are the beautiful things in life. Developing solid, enjoyable friendships turn new places into home.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

Have other tips? Share them with me in the comment section below!