The Road To Abilene – A Trip To Resentment

The Road To Abilene

A few weeks ago, I heard the phrase “Low Candor and High Courtesy” applied to many of us at church.  In this phrase, “low candor” means we don’t exactly share the full truth, and “high courtesy” means we do this because we want to be kind to others.

When my husband was a young manager at Boeing, he was sent to a course that included a 1984 movie titled “The Abilene Paradox”. During the first six minutes, the movie showed two couples sitting on the porch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. One man in the group casually suggested to the others that they could drive to Abilene, Texas for supper.  One by one, each of the other people agreed to go on this 53-mile drive on a hot summer’s day. By the time they got home, tired, hot (no air conditioners), sweaty and grumpy, each of them shared that they never really wanted to go in the first place. The man that offered the idea also said “I didn’t want to go to Abilene to begin with, I was just making conversation!”   “Low Candor and High Courtesy”.

So, the lesson from the Abilene Paradox is that when everyone agrees to do something that nobody really wants to do – to be kind to others, EVERYONE will likely be disappointed with the outcome. 

“Are we on the road to Abilene?” became a favorite family question when we were attempting to make decisions as a family. 

Recently we discovered a copy of this old video on YouTube, and my husband and I watched it again. (End at about 4:35 seconds into the video.)   Yup, even after all these years, we still occasionally find ourselves going 90 MPH on the Road to Abilene!  

One thing we’ve realized that we especially need in our mixed-faith-marriage is clear communication. Even when it takes a little extra time and patience to hammer out what we are each thinking and meaning, it is worth it.

After watching the movie together, we discussed the story and who we thought was to blame for everyone going to Abilene. I thought the person who made the suggestion to go when he didn’t really want to go was dishonest.  He was probably suggesting an activity that he hoped no one would take him up on. My husband thought it was fine to make a suggestion, but the dishonest people were the rest of the group who said “yes”, just to be polite.  Each of you will need to decide who you think was to blame for yourselves. 

Here is an example of NOT being on the Road to Abilene:
Recently, my husband asked me to go with him to an RV show a few miles away.  I quickly thought about his offer, knowing it was Sunday, it was hot, there was a lot of walking and really, if you’ve seen 100 RV’s, you’ve probably seen them all…  So what do you think I decided?   I concluded that being with him on a Sunday afternoon doing something he really wanted to do was more important to me than the rest of my arguments. We were NOT on the road to Abilene. We went and actually had a great time together, and as I predicted, no RV’s followed us home.

Here is an example of BEING on the Road to Abilene:
On another occasion, my husband invited me to go out to dinner at a place he thought I might like.  I said yes because I thought it was someplace he wanted to go.  (But I really didn’t like that place.) When we got home, neither of us had enjoyed our meal, and I was really grumpy when I found out he didn’t like the restaurant either – he was just being kind and thoughtful because he thought I liked it.  I decided to go because I thought he wanted to go. In my way, I too was also trying to be kind and thoughtful.

It turns out neither of us are being kind and thoughtful when we are not honest about what we want.  Actually, this can be a recipe for resentment. This is where our improving communication skills come in handy. 

When you are in a mixed-faith marriage, opportunities abound for trips to Abilene.

The solution?  Although we may be in a “low candor, high courtesy” culture, being honest about what we want is more important than trying to go along with others that are simply trying to make us happy.

I know you’ve all been there!  I would love to hear your version of being on “The Road to Abilene” – just leave a comment.

Venn Diagrams??

Venn Diagram

Lately I’ve become obsessed with Venn diagrams!  Ya, I know, weird…

You know those overlapping circles we learned about in elementary school that helped us determine what two separate things had in common?

I can’t stop looking at the interrelationships.

One Venn diagram that I have been looking at a lot lately is one of myself and my husband, Lee. I started paying attention to it to see if we had the Goldilocks principle down – were we overlapping too much, not enough or just right?

What I ended up discovering is our “before” and “after” snapshot of when Lee left the church. 

You know how you create before and after images in your mind of a “better” time as compared to now? Sometimes I think about sitting in church, holding hands with Lee and I really long for that.

What I learned when I looked at our Venn diagram was that I have a romantic (but incorrect) view of those days. Lee was really miserable participating at church for several years before he decided to stop attending. He did not have a life outside of the church and his career. We did church things together and separately, but we didn’t both enjoy them. 

In the years since Lee left the LDS faith, we have grown as a couple and as individuals. Our venn diagrams reflect that. He retired this year and that has helped him to explore who he is and what he likes. We have mindfully and intentionally developed the parts of the diagram where we overlap and we have mindfully and intentionally developed ourselves individually, and we are both better for it. 

Our overlapping areas are designed to bring us closer together.  For example,  Lee and I have decided that generosity is a value we share. We have a budget category earmarked for generosity. Pretty regularly we look at each at about the same time and decide to “make someone’s day”. It might be a server at a restaurant or someone who helps us in the airport, or even someone just minding their own business.  We find a way to give them a surprisingly significant sum of money. We usually don’t know how our generous moments turn out, but it is something fun we do together that ends up making our day and draws us closer together. 

You might consider drawing a few Venn diagrams yourself (they can provide all kinds of data) to help you evaluate your relationship with your family members who have left the church. You can see and decide how much and what kind of overlap the two of you need and want, and then be intentional about developing the parts of you together that you share.  I would be curious about what you observe from your Venn diagram experiment. 

Its NOT about YOU!

It's ALL about Me!

A couple of days ago, I got a phone call from a loved one with discouraging news. 

I was shocked and I couldn’t gather my thoughts together and make sense of what happened or how to respond.  I finally had to end our call so I could process the news. 

I thought about the conversation with my loved ones, and why I couldn’t respond. After thinking about it a bit, I realized that my first thoughts were about me and not them. In other words, I was making their news all about my feelings, thoughts and concerns. I wasn’t thinking about how this would affect them except by way of how it was affecting me. 

One of the hard parts about being willing to do the work of making ourselves better is discovering really embarrassing things about ourselves. This was one of those embarrassing moments for me… 😳

It’s NOT About YOU!

This is the lesson I (re) learned this week.  When you make it about you, you can’t respond to those who are hurting. You can’t mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. You can’t lift the hands that hang down or strengthen the feeble knees. You can only worry about how it will affect you.

Thinking about ourselves first is a very common reaction from those of us who have loved ones who have left the church. We get wrapped up in how this news affects us. How we are going to look at church, how we are going to respond when our loved one wants to bring home their girl or boyfriend to stay overnight with us, how much we are hurting.

We do need space to process these things, but if we want to maintain a strong connection with our loved ones, we really need to have the eyes and the heart to see how this information is affecting them. What do they think about what others are thinking and talking about them?  Are they afraid that we will reject their girl or boyfriend? Where are their pains?

I called my loved ones back that afternoon and apologized for my reaction and told them that I wanted to be supportive of them, but I wasn’t very good at it yet, and asked for their understanding and patience. When I hung up, my brain was able to start thinking of ways that I could support them, because I was making it about them (the people with the problem) and NOT about how it would affect me. 

For a few minutes after our phone conversation, I was able to bask in the glow of being someone who was learning to walk the talk of all the things I am learning for myself and teaching others. This is what it feels like to be a follower of Christ. 

It’s taken a long time working on myself and practicing to start catching on to myself sooner than I used to.  I am still a work in progress…

Help Thou Mine Unbelief

Stages of Faith

Recently, I went to BYU Education Week and attended several classes that apply to mixed-faith families. I learned and re-learned so much that I wanted to share some of my impressions with you.

Dr. Scott Braithwaite, a professor at BYU and a psychologist, taught a class titled “Help Thou Mine Unbelief – Supporting those we love through a faith crisis”. I thought the title fit me perfectly. As my husband and children were questioning their beliefs, I had to re-examine my own beliefs. Things that had seemed so simple at one time, suddenly seemed more complex. Through my spouse’s eyes, I could see some flaws, inconsistencies, oversimplification and just plain unanswered questions with the way I had previously believed. For a while I felt anxious, like I had lost my footing. 

Dr. Braithwaite addressed this common story by describing a model of faith and belief developed by James Fowler, called the “Stages of Faith”. The 6 stages of faith explain how so many people can see faith in different ways.

Faith stages 3-5 are usually the stages involved in a faith crisis and resolution.

Stage 3 level of faith; your faith community provides answers to your faith questions. Faith is simple and usually conforms to your community.

Stage 4 comes when things all of the sudden don’t seem that simple, there may be a personal or global event, crisis, or disaster that throws our beliefs into question.

Stage 5 is acknowledgement and acceptance that we don’t have all the answers and may never have the answers, while making peace with uncertainty. 

When people move through these stages of faith, some find peace by rediscovering their faith, while others may find peace by leaving their faith or continuing their search elsewhere.

One of my favorite activities in Hawaii is playing in the surf. It wasn’t always a favorite activity because, initially, I would wade out where I felt comfortable, with the sand underneath my feet. The problem was that the larger waves would knock me over and push me up onto the beach, where I would gulp ocean water and get covered in sand. I hated that!  Eventually, I learned if I waded out just a little further, where I was just past being able to touch the bottom, I could let myself relax and simply bob up and down with the waves. I let the waves gently push me back and forth. I gave up control and enjoyed the surf.  That weightless feeling of gently drifting with the waves. 

This reminds me of finding my faith, even when others around me were losing theirs.  It seemed like I eventually surrendered control and handed it over to God. I also watched how other faithful followers were navigating the same thing, and ultimately came around to an even firmer faith, one that relies less on myself and more on the Grace of God. I was able to simply feel the waves and enjoy my faith. 

Dr. Braithwaite suggested that this is where we can help our loved ones through their faith crises. Not by providing them with answers to their questions, but by loving, listening, supporting and accepting them while they learn to accept that life isn’t simple, and we may never have all the answers. 

This is a hard concept for spouses and parents to accept. We want to believe that there is a formula we can follow that will “fix” our doubting loved ones – and there just isn’t. 

This is where I can help. As a life coach who works with women who have loved ones leaving the church, I can help you find the faithful answers to questions you didn’t even have before members of your family started questioning their faith.  I can help you find your footing and the peace that can bring into your life.

Let’s talk.

Why Do I Stay?

Why Do I Stay Faithful?

Last week I spent the best week on the BYU campus in Provo attending Education Week classes, meeting with friends, and having “thinking” time in little nooks all around campus. I came home excited to share some of the things I learned.

While I was in Provo, I spent a morning with a friend who asked me a question. I was grateful that I had spent time thinking about my answer and was ready to respond to her question.

Her question was about the church and was simple – Why do I stay?

I was reminded of the scripture in 1 Peter 3:15.  Here it is, paraphrased a little:

“Be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, and do it with gentleness and respect.”

I was so grateful that just weeks before she asked this question that I had settled down with a journaling page titled “Why I Stay.”

I had a page full of answers that made sense to me. I love our doctrines – of the temple, the baptismal covenant where I promise to come into the fold and stand as a witness of Christ, and for me, the biggest reason is “The Plan”, because I’ve rarely met a plan that I don’t love.  I envision “The Plan of Salvation” or “The Plan of Happiness” as an eternal round starting and ending with Heavenly Parents who love me and want to help me become like them. 

For people, like me, who have a spouse or children who have left the faith, being able to answer the question, “why do you stay”, and being able to explain with  honesty, gentleness and respect, is a great exercise to think about before the question is asked.

Be Ready – Find a quiet time and sit down with your journal and ask yourself the question. “Why do I stay?” Write out your answers. Don’t take a lot of time, but do think through all the aspects of life as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What things do you love?  What things ring true?

Answer – I find it an absolute joy to be asked, and an even greater joy to be ready with reasons that I am able to share honestly and directly.

Asks – I am not asked very often, but I have been asked by my friend, my daughter and my husband, what I find appealing about the gospel. The key for me has been to wait until asked. When I try to tell my friends and family about how I feel about the gospel, before they ask me, they often are not ready to hear me. When they ask, I am able to share. 

Reasons for the hope inside of you – I have spent time really thinking about the things that I love, that bring me hope and fill me with overflowing love. Those are the things that I think about, concentrate on and make central to my life. They are the thoughts I think about on purpose and I am prepared to share when asked.

Gentleness and Respect – With many things it’s not about what you say, but how you say them. Being able to share with gentleness and respect leaves my relationship with my favorite people – my friends and family – ongoing and undamaged. I want to be in a relationship with them forever. I try to say what I want to say simply, genuinely, directly and centered on what it means to me. 

It’s a good journaling exercise to answer the question – Why Do I Stay? 

Think about making this question the focus of your morning devotional time.  As you think about the gospel, and what it means to you, write about your answers.

What? You don’t have a devotional time?  I can help with that. If you are struggling with developing your spiritual health and well-being, I can help you learn to pray with a little more focus, ask questions and learn to listen to answers from the spirit, and use your scripture time to find joy in spiritual learning.

5 Ways Having A Coach Helped Me When My Husband Left The Church

Couple Talking

Thought Tornadoes – I couldn’t stop the spiraling thoughts that usually ended with fearful questions like, “What’s going to happen to me now?” Getting coached and self-coaching taught me how to stop those fearful thoughts and replace them with other thoughts that I found gave me the power over my life.

Agency – I have been taught the principle of agency my entire life, but I didn’t fully understand my ability to choose my own thoughts, feelings and actions until I learned the self-coaching model. I always believed that someone or something outside myself had more influence over me than I did. I thought I was at the mercy of others and that I was stuck. Now that I understand agency, I know I am the one with the power.

Compassion – less judgment – I didn’t know how judgmental I was of myself and others until members of my family began leaving the church. I didn’t realize how painful the church could be for some members until I experienced some of that pain myself as I was grieving my leaving family members. Some of the things that we commonly talk about at church are painful for others who do not have the “ideal” family situation. I love having more compassion and less judgment for myself and for everyone else.

Self-Care – I developed a self-care routine that supported me spiritually, emotionally and physically. Because I routinely take care of what I need, I am in a better place to take care of others, both members of my own family and any other person I encounter.

Love – I’ve learned about love from my family outside of the church. They just love, they don’t qualify or expect their love to be earned by actions. This has been a great lesson for me.  Love has always felt hard to me, and now it’s so much easier.

To say that coaching has changed my life for the better would be a vast understatement!

I can coach you – and teach you how to coach yourself.

Dry-Erase Whiteboards Are The Answer To Marital Happiness!

Whiteboard

I wanted to share one of the lesser known secrets for good marital (and family) communication.  My husband worked in the corporate world for over 40 years before retiring.  He often says he thinks best in spreadsheets and on whiteboards, and one of the best tools he ever brought into our home from work was the whiteboard. 

Years ago, we installed a small whiteboard in our hallway to keep track of family activities like dentist appointments, primary programs, school events, love notes, chores and encouragement.  After our children grew and left home, we started using our hallway whiteboard as a thinking and planning tool.

Standing in front of our whiteboard, with colored dry-erase pens in hand, we spent many hours discussing vacations, the pros and cons of purchases, thoughts and feelings we were having, to-do lists, etc.  

My husband and I occasionally don’t see things quite the same. (Shocker!)  Once in a while, our discussions are not so “peaceful”, but we keep talking and writing and drawing on our whiteboard, and almost always we are able to reach decisions both of us can live with.   

Today we have matching his and her 3’ x 4’ whiteboards in our office.  They are both typically filled with all sorts of thoughts and scribbles and plans.  We still stand in front of these boards and have “lively discussions” on a regular basis.  

Years ago, we used my whiteboard to develop the first version of our LDS Mixed-Faith Conversation Starters workbook.  Topics or behaviors listed in the workbook will provide many hours of discussion for couples or families moving into a mixed-faith lifestyle.  Without faith in the church, what behaviors will change?  What behaviors will remain the same? 

Below is a sampling from the 60+ behaviors listed for discussion:

  • Word of Wisdom:  Alcohol, Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, Drugs
  • Temple:  Family history, Weddings, Temple work, wearing garments
  • Church activities:  Sabbath day, baptisms, different churches, meetings
  • Donations:  Tithing, missionary fund, humanitarian
  • Miscellaneous:  Family prayer, scripture study, blessings, removing name

I believe the whiteboard is a fantastic communication tool for couples and families.  I also believe this workbook is our best tool for identifying, discussing and preparing for behavior changes due to a faith transition – before they happen.  I invite you to see if it would work for you.

Side note –  We have learned many things about the selection, care, feeding and cleaning of whiteboards and dry-erase markers. If you are curious, just click here to contact me.

If you would like to try a discussion with dry-erase pens, but you don’t have a whiteboard, we have also used the bathroom mirror or large windows, and they work too.  Dry-erase markers are wonderful conversation aids!