Alright folks, I hereby declare myself the unofficial instructor in the Life Lessons Class today.
There are many things I've learned on my own through trial and error, other times by watching others, and sometimes by reading and studying. I am a studier of people in general, you could say. I have always been fascinated by psychology and counseling. I am intrigued by people's personalities, how they click, what makes them come alive, what breaks their heart.
I was actually planning on getting my masters degree in counseling after college, but a certain Prince Charming decided to sweep my off my feet and marry me instead. Maybe someday I'll get to that masters degree :)
In the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about these "life lessons" I've learned over the years and thought I'd share some nuggets of truth residing in this brain of mine. I hope you enjoy them and are challenged somewhat in your approach to loving others.
1. Don't talk about yourself all the time
I'm pretty passionate about this life lesson because, in my opinion, it's ridiculously obvious. But, for some reason, some people don't quite get it. I've gathered that possibly people are nervous and don't know what to talk about in certain situations, so they just talk about themselves to break the silence. Other times when I've been in small group settings and someone never gives anyone else a chance to share, I scratch my head wondering where their social skills have run off to.
Let me give it to you straight. People don't want to be friends with someone who only talks about themself all the time. It's actually quite rude, in my book. It's basically saying, "I really don't care about what's going on in your life." Someone may or may not be directly thinking that, but it gives off that impression.
If you are in a crowd, nervous, and not sure what to talk about, here's my advice. Ask other people questions about themselves! Then they will hopefully ask you questions in return. Genius, I know, right? It sounds so simple, but yet it's so profound. I'll give you a few scenarios:
A. You walk into a room full of people. You sit next to a 15 year old boy looking down at his ipod. You ask, "Hey buddy what's up? What are you listening to?" Then after you have his attention and he's answered that question, you can continue by saying something like, "So how is school? Do you play any sports or have any favorite classes? I heard you are really good at chess from Jo Smoe over there. Maybe you could teach me a few moves sometime so I can finally beat my Uncle Jimmy at our family reunion this year!" - Not only did you ask the teenager many questions about himself, but you made him feel important and cared for. You didn't flatter him, you genuinely complimented him and made him feel like he had something to offer. And hopefully you made him chuckle a bit :)
B. You walk into a small group study and hardly know any of the adults there. You sit down next to a middle-aged lady and say, "Hello, my name is ______, what's your name?" Once you have her attention and she responds you can then ask, "Are you new to this study as well? Have you studied many books like the one in this group? I see you are holding a book by So and So author, I've heard he is an amazing writer. Do you recommend any other books by him?" If you are pretty sure this lady has a family (not assuming and therefore possibly hurting her feelings if she is still single) you could ask, "How old are your children? What activities are they involved in at school? Where does your husband work? I see you have a badge on your purse from the local hospital, do you work there? I have been really impressed with the staff there- what do you think?"
C. You are on the phone with your parents. "Hi Mom! How are you? How was your week? I remember you told me about that problem at work, did it get resolved? I've been thinking about you ever since you told me about it." Or you could start the conversation like this, "I was thinking today how much I appreciate you, and then I got a sweet letter from you in the mail just minutes after thinking that about you. It was perfect timing and I just had to call and thank you! You are always asking me what you can pray for in my life, so what about you? Do you still need prayer for what we talked about last month?"
These are just a few examples of how we can be kind, considerate, and genuinely inquisitive people taking an interest in the lives of others around us. Again, my goal has never been to flatter someone, but rather, to find genuine reasons to applaud them and also learn more about their personalities.
2. Be optimistic
Who wants to hang around a pessimist all the time? I sure don't! Have you ever wondered why "popular people" are so popular? Whether or not these people are good examples or not, I think a lot of it has to do with charisma, and making others feel like they are having fun with you.
When I was 16 I was told by a leader to make it a habit of continually reading books that will help mold and shape my personality for Father. So I went to the local believing bookstore and bought a book by John Maxwell titled, "Be A People Person". It was an amazing book! I learned so many truths that I wouldn't have figured out easily on my own. One of the chapters talked about charisma. I had never thought about charisma before, to be honest. But the basic gist of the chapter was, if you want to be a leader, you have to be a charismatic person. Be someone who is genuinely joyful, full of expression, caring, and able to "crack open the shells" of people who would otherwise be too shy or intimidated to allow someone into their hearts. When people have fun with you, they want to be around you again and again. The goal isn't to make sure someone is always having a good time, the goal is simply to be the kind of person others want to be around!
When I worked in a telephone service before moving to college, I was trained by the company to "smile when talking on the phone." Ever since then, I can't help but continue this tradition! But not only when I'm on the phone, but also when I'm talking to someone one on one. I'm not talking about a fake smile. Just a genuine, caring smile. It brightens your countenance and can be quite contagious. (Note of caution: When talking to someone who is in mourning or deep depression, a bubbly smile may not be the best way to approach the situation. But that is something entirely different. For the most part I am just touching on the area of being a charismatic person in general.) One night after my SuperDan finished praying in a small group, a young woman remarked, "I can always sense the smile in your voice when you pray. I can't see your face during the fact, but I just know you are smiling. I love it."
Seeing life through the glass half full vs. empty is easier said than done. But like anything, a habit can be formed if done consistently. I'll admit, life isn't always a box of chocolates (but if it were, I'd choose caramel mocha flavor...) Sometimes I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel and I want to give up. But if I choose to look for the good, if I choose to remain hopeful and trust in Father's goodness, then I can start to see the glass half full! My youth pastor in high school used to say, "Discipline leads to desire." That is so true, my friends. Practice the art of optimism, even if it's difficult at first. It may always be a challenge, but it's a challenge worth fighting for.
Well, that concludes my first issue of "Life Lessons 101". Don't worry class, there won't be a test... just live your life! :)