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.

Barbed Wire Boundaries

Barbed Wire

When I visited the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City a while ago, I was fascinated by the barbed wire exhibit. There were 1,000’s of different varieties of barbed wire!

Likewise, I was fascinated to find a much smaller barbed wire exhibit at the Museum of Idaho last week.  The exhibit displayed barbed wire styles that were unique to each rancher. When you saw a certain style of barbed wire you knew who’s property you were on. This made me curious to know if my family had their own style of barbed wire, a question that there is probably no one left to answer… 

It turns out that barbed wire forever changed the way that ranchers kept beef cattle in the American West. Previous to barbed wire, there was no cost-effective way to confine cattle, so they mostly roamed free on the open range. Once barbed wire was invented, cattle were fenced in and ranchers could increase their herds without the fear of losing cattle to cliffs, to bad grazing plants and mixing with other herds.

I loved looking at all the types of barbed wire. But, it made me think about the function played by the barbed wire.  It set boundaries, to keep cattle in and predators and rustlers out. 

We each have our own variety of figurative “barbed wire” for our personal boundaries. Healthy boundaries are a way to define who we are as individuals and what we will and will not hold ourselves responsible for. Learning to create healthy boundaries is an important part of our self-care. 

But, just as barbed wire keeps cattle in, it also keeps unwanted critters or people out.  It’s this aspect that I wanted to talk about today. As mothers of adult children, it’s so easy to think of our children as an extension of us.  Sometimes we forget the plan is for training them to manage their own lives, separate from us.  As they grow in abilities, our children need to develop healthy boundaries to be able to live their own lives without interference from their parents.

This can be frightening for us parents, since we love our children and want to stay close and protect them. We may not recognize our children’s “barbed wire boundary” and attempt to break through it, by offering helpful observations or advice.  Or in the case of mixed-faith families, helpful reminders of the religious teachings that you taught them to make their life “better”.

Our rationale is that we only want what’s best for our child, and that we have more life experience, and we are only trying to be helpful.

I saw a related rule of thumb on Twitter the other day:

“Unsolicited advice is criticism, always”.

I agree with this, although I don’t always practice what I preach. I do have a habit of doling out unsolicited advice to my adult kids and then having to apologize when/if I recognize I’ve overstepped their boundaries.

If you feel like you have been caught in barbed wire in your relationship with your adult child, you might ask yourself if you are trying to break down a boundary they have established to create independence from you?  Is there a better way for you to have a relationship with your adult child? 

If you need help answering these questions, coaching might be a great fit for you. One of the things we learn about is creating boundaries for ourselves, but also recognizing the boundaries our kids and others have set for us.

If you would like to discuss your situation, select a convenient time and we can Just Talk. 

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…

LDS Mixed-Faith Conversation Starters

Conversation Starters

I wanted to share some additional thoughts about my experiences with loved ones that have left the LDS church.  My first daughter left the church right after graduating from high school. My second daughter left after searching deeply for answers to simple gospel questions, and not finding supportive answers. My third daughter to leave the church did so for personal reasons.  Last, but not least, my dear husband left the church after many years of trying and failing to develop a relationship with God and Christ.

People join religions and leave religions for a variety of reasons.  The same is true for your loved one that is leaving or has left the LDS faith.

Some of their reasons for losing faith or leaving the church may include:

  • Gospel questions without satisfactory answers.
  • Historical information they recently discovered, leading to the feeling that the church may have been hiding or misrepresenting important details.
  • Observing the behavior of others in the church and feeling the gospel is not true if these things are allowed.
  • Not understanding the nature of God, or not feeling his love. 
  • Not agreeing with church leaders regarding women’s roles, homosexuality or concerns about lack of transparency.

Oddly enough, although still faithful and believing, you may even share some of these same concerns.  This is completely normal, and we each need to find our own answers.

Your loved-one that has doubts or no longer believes in the church may have their own feelings of disappointment, anger, or sorrow, and fear.  Perhaps they have a combination of all these emotions.  Depending on their reasons and their feelings, their outward lifestyle may be affected very little as they leave the church, or it may be affected in many major ways. 

My LDS Mixed-Faith Conversation Starters workbook is just one of the tools that I would love to share with you to help smooth your journey as your loved-one leaves the LDS church.  

Although I can’t restore your loved-ones’ faith or bring them back to church activity, I can help YOU find peace around their choices.  I can help you have confidence that your family really is OK, and things will work out. 

Your life can still be full of joy and peace no matter what your family members choose to do.

I would be honored to be your guide. If you would like to simply talk about your situation, and perhaps hear your thoughts out loud for the first time, I invite you to click HERE and schedule a time for us to talk.  Let me help you begin putting the pieces of your life back together again.

Rethinking Sin, Salvation and Everything In Between

All Things New

Recently I’ve been reading the book titled “All Things New, Rethinking Sin, Salvation and Everything In Between” by Fiona and Terryl Givens. Reading this book has changed the way I think about several gospel concepts, and I am very excited to share what I am learning. 

Several of my Instagram friends started talking about this book “All Things New”, and I resisted getting on the bandwagon until one day Fiona Givens spoke to the LDS Life Coaches group I below to. I was so excited by what she had to say that I bought the audio book and listened to it.  Then I wanted to be able to underline phrases and concepts, so I bought the paperback book too!  The book is now underlined in many colors and dogeared. 

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is a history of Christianity with a focus on the nature of God. The Givens write about how the view of Christianity changed from the early church through the teachings of Luther, Calvin and Augustine, and how the modern restoration fits in. They discuss how the way we view God, has changed over time, from a loving God to an angry, punitive God, and how these views damage our relationship with Him.

The second part of the book looks at our language and how the distortions that have crept in over time have damaged our language and understanding of basic gospel concepts.

Because I have understood several concepts so differently, I’ve returned again and again to read the chapters on Sin, Repentance, Forgiveness, Salvation and Obedience. I’ve also researched these 5 words in the Gospel Library app, looking in the gospel topics section, topical guide, and the Bible dictionary.  I’ve even read recent General Conference talks with this book playing in the back of my mind. I love finding teachings in General Conference talks that support these thoughts. In Elder Christofferson’s talk, “Our Relationship with God”, he said that repentance, obedience, and sacrifice matter because “they are the means by which we collaborate with Him in our own transformation from natural [wo]man to saint.” I love the idea of collaborating with Christ to become a saint.

One of the things that I found so interesting was reframing the concept of “Sin”. When I grew up, I thought sin was terrible and felt I had to be perfect all the time. I didn’t want to do anything that might create sin, and when I did sin, I couldn’t face my own weaknesses or shortcomings. In reality, I was trying to be “my own Savior” by being “good” all the time.  I was also rationalizing things that I did as not really sinful, because sin was horrifying. This way of thinking caused pressure on me all the time to always do things the “right” way. It didn’t really bring me closer to Christ, it actually kept me away from Him. 

The example the Given’s used to reframe the concept of “sin” was from the new world as Christ did ministering and healing, not preaching, rebuking or judging. They suggest looking at “sin” as being wounded, and wounded so deeply that we are separated from God and that we need to be “healed” of our “wounds” to return to God.

I started asking myself how I had been wounded this week or how I might have been the one to wound others. At church, I approach Sacrament time by thinking about wounds and how God was able to help me heal from my wounds and minister to others that are wounded. I really resonated with this teaching and I found that thinking this way helped me be more willing to see my own hurts and how I hurt others. I really felt changed and I saw myself having more love and compassion for myself and for others. I am seeing things in a more optimistic way and I am more willing to change myself rather than hide away from sin.

So I offer an enthusiastic two thumbs up for this book. I think that it is especially appropriate for mixed-faith families, as I have witnessed people who I love that have been wounded by their association with the church. Seeing them as wounded changes how I view them and our relationship. Now I just want to be better at loving them.

If you read this book, I would love to hear how you felt about the concepts. I would also be interested in hearing about any of your favorite books that have helped you with your mixed-faith family.