Think about your closest relationships with me for a minute. Depending on your circumstances and stage of life, it may be your family, friends, co-workers or people from your church. Or maybe some combination of those groups.
Without thinking too much, choose 3 words to describe those relationships. Ready? Go.
What did you come up with?
For most of you, I bet that you didn’t include words like ‘encouraging’, ‘positive’ and ‘filled with praise’.
They may have started out that way, but over time, our closest relationships tend to become somewhat negative. Or at least not filled with enthusiasm and encouragement.
The Slow, Slippery Slide
That’s definitely what happened in our home. I’m critical by nature, so that’s strike one. And, as a driven achiever, I can expect too much from myself and the people around me.
Over time, all this led to a home where criticism was far more prevalent than it should have been. We needed to start fighting this tendency because our kids weren’t receiving the grace that they so desperately need. (Notice how what we say we believe doesn’t always match how we’re living!)
I Know You Know This, But…
If you’re reading this, you already know that God puts a huge premium on building others up, but sometimes it’s good to hear it straight from God himself. Here are some quick examples:
- Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up. (Proverbs 12:25, New Living Translation)
- Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
- And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)
Stuff we’ve all heard before, but lose sight of all. the. time, right?
A Great Idea
But what can we do about it? Patterns are a reflection of our hearts, so they don’t just change by themselves, especially when we’ve created a culture to (usually unwittingly) enshrine them.
As we were heading toward our next vacation, my wife had a simple, but awesome, idea to get us heading in a healthier direction. (Great ideas usually are simple, right?) I want to share it with you, but first set it in a larger framework that will make it more useful – and adaptable – to your own situation.
Using Your Next Vacation To Inject More Encouragement Into Your Closest Relationships
Now that summer is upon us, most of us have plans to get away. Here’s a way you can use your next vacation as a springboard to inject more encouragement in your closest relationships.
- Be honest about where you are. It’s difficult to fix something you don’t know – or won’t admit – is broken, right? I find that I often don’t want to put the time and energy into addressing a problem. Perhaps more honestly, I don’t want to engage God about it because it brings me face to face with my brokenness and need. In any event, the first step in moving forward is to have an honest conversation with the Lord about what’s broken, and, seek him for forgiveness and healing.
- Commit to moving forward. In repentance (step 1), we clear the air, get honest with God, and receive a fresh start. Here, we commit to moving forward and creating something more healthy than what we’ve got now. We’re saying ‘goodbye, status quo’, and proactively committing to being more Christ-like in building others up.
- Start praying. Our role in creating change is important, but we desperately need the Lord to inform and power our plans. So wherever you are in relation to your next vacation, start asking God to bless it. And to make it helpful in creating more positive, encouraging relationships.
- Be strategic about who you invite to come with you. When we think about vacations, we usually approach it with a ‘what’s best for me?’ mindset. Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? And – to the extent that we can – who do I want to come with me? Those aren’t bad questions, but if it stops with me it’s… well… selfish. Yes, Jesus is Lord even of our vacations. What if we started by asking which key relationships need work, then designed a vacation that included at least one of those people? (There are ways to do it without torturing ourselves). Maybe you really need some time away with that roommate who annoys you, for example. Of course, depending on how far along you are in the planning process, or your life stage (i.e., you’ve got kids at home), this may not apply to your situation. But then again, it might; I’m just asking you to think and pray about it.
- Find a way to make it practical. So you’ve gotten honest with God, committed to being more encouraging, bathed it in prayer, and decided who you should go away with. Now’s the time to find a way to intentionally build up the people you’re about to go away with.
Putting It Into Practice
Here’s where I’m going to share the idea that my wife came up with. Hopefully you can either use it on your next vacation, adapt it, or even do it at home in your normal (if such a thing exists) life.
During our vacation, each of us tried to write a short note of appreciation to every other person in our family each day. (You may need to help younger or special needs kids). My wife brought along colorful index cards, pens and some fun stickers to make it more interesting for the kids. (I thought it was pretty cool, too, but I’m not admitting that publicly).
After we wrote out our notes, we put the note for that person in a brown paper bag with his/her name on it. (You can see the actual bags we used up above. Anna, our creative daughter, decorated them for us). Then, usually at dinner, we took turns reading the notes we received out loud.
As the notes were read, it was awesome watching faces light up with the joy of being noticed and appreciated. It went a long way toward changing the culture of our family for the week. Just as importantly, in writing the notes themselves we were ‘forced’ to think about the best in the people we love the most, and then do something (write the notes) about it.
Obviously, you may need to tweak this idea for your own situation. Not sure I can see a bunch of single guys doing this around a campfire, for example. But you could decide ahead of time to be intentional about expressing your appreciation for each of your guy friends in a low-key way. Or bring along their favorite beer and thank them for their friendship.
The big picture is that God puts a huge value on noticing the good in others, and calls us to take the time to express that to the people around us. With just a little bit of effort, your next vacation can be a big step forward in changing the culture of your closest relationships.
Let’s live it out: How will you use your next vacation to build more encouragement into your closest relationships? Share about it in the comments section below.
PS – if this was helpful to you, would you consider sharing it on Facebook? It really helps me get the word out – thanks!