Reminding Yourself

Posted on November 26, 2014

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This is one of my more blatantly Christian posts.  For my readers of other faiths or no faith, I would encourage you to be open to considering my point as it applies to your relationships.  In the United States, this is the week we celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday and tradition which also rather fits with this post.

In some Christian circles, the acronym ACTS is sometimes used as a guide for personal prayer.  ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Adoration is praising God.  It is talking to God about God.  It is expressing our love to God.  Why start there?  Does God need our devotion to fill some unmet need in himself?  Does expressing adoration somehow make God more inclined to listen to our pleas?  Do we curry favor with God by telling Him how great He is, as though He were some human king with a big ego?  The answers to all of these is, of course, “no.”

So why start with adoration?  It is a joyful thing to receive love from one’s children, but adoration is not primarily for God’s benefit, but for ours.  We need to remind ourselves of what we already know.  We need to remind ourselves who we are talking to.  Our well-being depends on it.  For example, as a Christian, to really have peace, I need to know a few things about God.  He is gracious so I can therefore expect undeserved favor from him.  His favor is not contingent upon my performing well enough (which I know perfectly well that I don’t).  He is merciful so he is not going to clobber me.  He is loving and therefore cares about me.  He is omniscient and omnipotent so he knows what is going on and has the power to do something about it.  So why say it to him and not just to myself?  This is a reminder that we are in relationship.  Besides, you want to affirm those that you love.

Confession is about taking an honest look at ourselves.  Again, this is not because God needs to hear your apology, but for your benefit.  Fortunately, God does not make us look at the full weight of our sin all at once as it would be crushing to us.  In the 12 step tradition, the fifth step is to admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  It is a very cleansing experience to lay out the worst you have done and still find acceptance and forgiveness.

Thanksgiving is a critical component.  Living from a place of thankfulness is a great way to find joy, peace, and contentment in the middle of the stress and strife of life.  Does God need the thank-you note for the gifts He gives us?  Of course not.  It is for our benefit that we want to be cultivating a thankful heart.  We grow as we focus on the good things in our lives.  In Solution Focused Therapy, the normal task after the first session is to have the clients take note of what things are happening in their lives that they want to continue to happen or to happen more.  This is in part to get the focus off of problem-focused thinking and onto solution-focused thinking.  When we are in the middle of life’s problems, it is easy to start seeing things as all going badly.  Focusing on what you have that is good breaks the chain of that global negative thinking.  In prayer, it also reminds us of the source of those blessings.

Supplication is simply about asking for what you want or need.  Those first three steps are not there to make God more likely to grant your request.  This is not a “bring me the broomstick of the wicked witch of the west” situation.  You are not trying to prove yourself worthy or appease the deity.  You are preparing your heart to ask for your needs to be met from a position where 1) you remember what you love about the Other, 2) you have taken a realistic look at yourself (particularly in this relationship), and 3) you have remembered how the Other has blessed you.  As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

So how does this fit in with a blog that is primarily about relationships?  I am glad you asked that.  Here’s my point by analogy:  how you talk to your partner and how you think about your partner matter.  The Gottman research on couple relationships has found that for relationship health, you need five positives for every negative.[1]  In part, this is because your partner is human and needs your love and validation.  However, this is also because you need to be reminded of your partner’s good qualities.  You need to be reminded of all that your partner has done for you.  If you are married, there was a time when it seemed to both of you that the other was a really good choice for a life partner.  There were traits that you appreciated about your partner.  There were things that your partner did for which you were grateful.  You need to remember.

One of the things we look for and try to cultivate in couples therapy is “the positive perspective.”  This is in regard to the overriding sentiment with which the partners view the relationship.  We look at how each talks about the other and how they view the overall history of the relationship.  When your therapist asks you about how you met, what attracted you to your partner, how you decided to get married, and what those early years of the relationship were like, he or she is looking for a few things.  We want to know whether you started off with good attachment.  We want to see if the overall tone of the story is a positive one.  We want to give you an opportunity to remind yourself of what you love about this person and why you chose him or her.  When times are tough, you need that.

One of the challenges with the positive perspective (and its counterpart, negative sentiment override) is that it is tough for activities in therapy to impact it directly.  You can impact it apart from your therapist by affirming your partner to your partner, taking a realistic look at yourself in the relationship, and thanking your partner for the good things that your partner brings to your life.  You can also remind yourself of these things continually because you need to remember.

[1] I think that number is way low, but maybe that’s just me.  I want more than five positives from my wife before I am ready to hear the negative.

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Posted in: Love, Marriage