Black & White Thinkers vs Relational Thinkers (an Introduction)

2-thinkersAs I have looked back at my counseling throughout the years, I have noticed that there has been a certain population I have a difficult time connecting with and counseling.  It’s not that the counsel was bad, per se, but that the counsel was not connecting to how they operate.  As I considered their characteristics and comments, and as I did more research, I would say the similarities of these clients would lead me to conclude that they tend to be black & white thinkers.

As I thought about my relationships, I also learned that there are those close to me who are more black & white thinkers.  As a parent of one such thinker, I also found it difficult to connect with him at times because we think so differently.  For me, well, I am more of a relational thinker.  My motives, desires, and hopeful outcomes are very different than the black & white thinker.  As I have done some research on black & white thinking, I have found it to be seen mostly as a negative thing (one article called it a cognitive disorder) and all I have seen in writings have been from a secular viewpoint.  So, let’s take a few blogs to explore the black & white thinking biblically.  But first things first, what is a Black & White thinker and how is it different than a relational thinker*?

Black & white thinkers are typically described as believing in “all or nothing,” “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” “strong or weak,” and “smart or stupid.”  In these extremes, events or people (including themselves) are judged to be one or the other.  There is no middle ground or gray area.  Black & White thinkers typically focus on the tangible, “out in the open” things.  These are things that can be seen, heard, or measured (the fruit).  The thoughts or emotional processes and motives in decisions (the heart) are practically irrelevant and are difficult to grasp.  You make a decision based on what is right or wrong.  Period. You see other’s actions as “either-or.”  Either they love me and will show it (the way it is right for me (self-defined)), or they don’t love me.  Either the kids do what I say when I say it or they are disobedient.  Black & White thinkers generally recognize their need for relationships, but have a harder time connecting emotionally in relationships (I find this to be more true for males than females, who seem to be more relational than males).

Relational Thinkers (I’m using this term to describe what is most important to this type of person – relationship) live in the gray. Hardly anything is black & white. Relational Thinkers tend to be more flexible in their judgment of actions and people for the sake of the relationship. Relational thinkers tend to be more empathetic to others, placing themselves in the other’s shoes as much as they can, and sympathetic, identifying with the emotional struggles of others.  They will focus more on the “behind the scenes” stuff, such as emotions, thoughts, motives and desires and will tend to be more considerate of the other’s feelings.

In an argument, relational thinkers will tend to give in to others for the relationships’ sake while black and white thinkers tend to stand more on the absolute truths or facts.  In other words, relational thinkers will focus on the relationship of those engaged in the exchange, while the black & white thinkers will focus on the content of the exchange.  Each one focuses on what is most important to them.

As humans created in the Image of God, I believe it is important to see how both of these type of thinkers can reflect Him.  You see, God is both moral and relational.  There is absolute Truth because it is His universe.  There is absolute right and absolute wrong.  In His Word, He explains what wrong is (sin) throughout every 66 books of the Scriptures.  Yet as His Word explains what is wrong and sinful, these wrongs are also explained in the greater context of relationship between us and Him, the Bride (church) and the bridegroom (Christ).  Former Pastor and Speaker, Paul Tripp said, “Sin is not simply a breaking of the rules, it is a breaking in the relationship.”  In declaring what is wrong, God seeks the greater good for us, to have a relationship with Him that comes through the repentance of sin (moral) and the reconciliation with Him through Christ (relational).

Yet, even though both type of thinkers come from being image-bearers of God, it is necessary that we recognize that our type of thinking has been stained by the sin in our hearts.

For the Black & White Thinker, consider this: You interpret and perceive things as right and wrong, but in doing so, have you defined right or wrong, or does that come from God?  Does it take into account your relationship with God or others, or only yourself? Are you becoming like a Pharisee focusing on how others need to get in line while being blind to your own sins?  When you speak truth, is it spoken in love?

For the Relational Thinker, consider this: You can see things relationally, but in doing so, are you so focused on having a good relationship that you are refusing to deal with your sin or overlooking others’ sin?  Are you so focused on love and feeling good that you are making moral compromises?  Are you sidestepping discipline for the children so that you have good relationships with them?

Throughout the next few months, we’ll consider these two types of thinking and how they play a role in our relationships.  We will also focus on some passages of Scripture to help us understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and how to grow in faith & love.

For more on understanding Black & White Thinkers vs Black & White Thinking, Click on Part 2!:  


Q. What more can you add about black & white thinkers vs relational thinkers?  What questions come to mind when reading this?


*Honestly, there may be more types of thinkers than the two I have written about (black & white vs relational).  Yet for simplicity sake, I have narrowed it down to these two types of thinkers.  Perhaps further research will allow for additional categories and more discussions.


A Grace-Based Marriage

Two gold rings - reflected candlesIs your marriage based on works or on grace? Let’s be real, shall we? You are married to a sinful person. Your partner is not only imperfect, but they can be self-centered, lazy, forgetful, vindictive, make poor decisions, and well, fill in the blank. Now let’s get more real. You’re not the picture of perfection either, are you? For some reason, that seems far less of a concern because your spouse is worse, or at least, “causes” these…imperfections to come out in you.

Throughout the Scriptures, there are several common and related themes mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. First, we (believers in Christ) are the Bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom. Second, our marriages are a reflection of the greater marriage between Christ and the Church. Third, our relationship with God is characterized or built upon grace and not upon works. Therefore, if our marriages are to reflect the greater marriage, than our marriages must also be built upon grace, and not upon works.
How do we have a marriage that reflects God’s grace and not upon works? Let me offer one question to ask yourself:

Do you have expectations for your spouse?  Are you focusing on what your spouse is doing or not doing?  If so, you are focusing on their works.  You set up standards for them (law of works) and your attention is drawn to whether they met them or not.  If they fail, they will be punished (by you) based on their failure (being yelled at, dirty look, no sex, etc.).

Then, is it wrong to have expectations for your spouse?  No, not necessarily.  Obviously, it is appropriate to have certain expectations for your spouse.  For example, you should expect them to be faithful, to treat you with kindness and respect, to love you, etc.  However, there are standards and expectations that may be placed so high that they become idols in your heart.  In these situations, you become high king or queen of the home and your spouse becomes your subject that must meet your expectations.  Your focus then is placed from yourself and then onto them and their actions.

Instead of focusing on what they are doing or not doing (and whether they meet your standards/law), focus on 1) how gracious God is to you by forgiving your sins (or you not measuring up to His standards); 2) ask His help to love your spouse as He loves you (not based on your actions); and 3) give your spouse the grace (the unmerited favor) He has given you.  Unmerited favor is just that – favor, mercy, or love that is not based on what they have done, but on who they are (at minimum, being created in His image or being a child of God).  Though you may find this difficult to do, seek the Help of His Wonderful Counselor.

May the God of grace empower you to do as He wills through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Dealing With Disappointment

ImageA husband comes home from work hoping to be greeted with a warm kiss, but his presence is barely acknowledged.  A wife comes home from work, hoping her husband started dinner or cleaned before her arrival, but she does not get either wish.  A child opens up a gift on Christmas hoping it is a Nerf gun, only to find socks and underwear.  A Pastor meets with a member hoping to help, only to hear that the member is leaving the church.  A person hoping to accomplish their personal goals falls short…again.

Disappointment.  Being let down.  A familiar feeling for all of us, I’m sure.  As 2012 begins, gym membership rates are reduced, exercise equipment on sale, and new hopes are born as resolutions are made to improve the appearance of self.  Perhaps 2012 will be better than 2011.  Maybe this new year will bring about reduced weight and calories and increased confidence and determination.  I hope that is the case for you…but for many, the valiant efforts in the beginning of the year are overshadowed by giving in to the temptations of chocolate in February.  Disappointment.

As a perfectionist (only in looking at myself and not in cleanliness), I deal with disappointment often.  Too many times it is a disappointment for failing to measure up to my standards for myself.  Other times it is because I have not measured up to the standards of others.  Let’s face it…isn’t this what disappointment is?  It is the inability for ourselves or for others to measure up to the standards (or expectations) we have for them or the standards they have for us.

As I continue to grow in my relationship with the Lord, He has continued to reveal to me that when I am disappointed, it is often because I am living by the law, my law (or standards or expectations), and not by grace.  I need to continuously remind myself that if I live by grace, then I accept the reality that I am a sinner, that I will constantly fail, and that others will fail as well.  Failure to do this is living in pride.  It is prideful because disappointment comes from the expectation that I or others will not fail.  OF COURSE WE ALL FAIL, it is because we are sinners!  Other people will fail us and no one is excluded.  Pastors, friends, spouses, children, bosses, co-workers, postal workers, other drivers, etc., etc.  They will all fail us.  Sometimes their failings come from them falling short of our expectations of them, and sometimes it is because they just screwed up.

How do we deal with disappointments?  We accept that we fail.  We accept that others will fail.  We ask the Lord to search our heart’s expectations and unmet desires, we confess our pride and self-centeredness, and we ask for his help to live by grace.  We remind ourselves that we are sinners saved by grace through faith and we extend this grace to ourselves and others.  As long as there is sin and as long as people sin, we will all deal with disappointment.  But let’s not deal with it alone…but deal with it with Christ, through Christ, and for Christ that he be glorified in our lives. Amen.

Gameshows and Faith: Minute to Win It

There isn’t a whole lot on TV that you can watch as a family (especially with elementary age kids).  Most programs are either too childish for the adults, or too adult for the children (although, I must admit, Word Girl is pretty awesome).  So what can a family watch together that has entertainment, fun, and just tugs on the emotions?  Game shows!  This past summer my family enjoyed sitting and watching two gameshows in particular: Minute To Win It & WipeOut.   Of the two that we watched, Minute To Win It was our favorite. 

The object of Minute To Win It is for the contestants to win money by completing assigned tasks…and of course, they have a minute to win it (the task and the money).  If they complete the assigned task, they move up to the next level (the next task) and start the process over again, but with more money at stake…all the way to a million dollars.  Throughout their quest for a million, they are allowed to mess up three times and like baseball, at the third strike, their out.

So what does Minute To Win It have to do with faith?  Well, nothing really. It’s just fun.  Though in thinking a bit deeper (which is what we counselors do), I couldn’t help but notice how Minute To Win It (like all gameshows) is a works-based mentality, at best.  If you complete the task at hand to the level or expectation that has been set, then you receive the prize.  If not, you have failed and either have to start the level over for another chance, or leave the game with what you have earned / won.  Since you only get three chances, there is little room for error. 

Can you imagine if that was the same system that God set for us?  “OK, Fred.  You have three chances to get your life perfectly, at the expectation I have set.  If you fail in the first three tries, then you have to leave this life and go to Hades.”  It wouldn’t take long for me to flunk out of life.  If God measured us based on our ability to fulfill his expectations of righteousness by works, then we wouldn’t have a chance.  Isaiah said that even our best works are like “filthy rags” (equivalent to a used tampon – yucky thought, I know – but that’s what that means!) (64:6). 

Praise God that he does not measure us by our works, but by our faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus performed every expectation of righteousness set by God through the law, took our punishment for us on the cross (because we couldn’t meet the standard), and rose again on the third day, thus defeating death.  Therefore, by accepting Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are, by faith, believing that Jesus met the standard of perfection for us, that He paid the penalty for us (not meeting the standard of perfection), and overcame death (our punishment) for us.  He did all of this for us…and all we have to do is believe.  By our faith (which was given to us by Jesus – Heb 12:2) in Christ, we win!  By our works, we lose.  We will never be good enough to meet the standards of righteousness.

Some of those challenges in Minute to Win It seem pretty tough.  I’m not sure if I’d get that Million Dollar Challenge if I had a lifetime of trying.  But thank God that Jesus met every challenge given.  He had won the Million Dollar Challenge.  He had met every expectation of righteousness…and He had done it out of love for you and for me.  Now the choice is yours.   Will you stop trying to earn his favor by good works?  Will you accept what He has done for you by faith?  If you haven’t done so, do so today without delay…you will not regret it!