Letting Off Steam

I have to admit, I did it because I wanted to see a good fight.  I know that is pretty red neck of me but I was really curious.  Let’s all be honest here, we all like a good fight.  When it comes to our next election, I’m sure we’re going to see many.  The fight I’m talking about of course was the first debate for the GOP.  I’m not an extremely political person nor do I like to let politics divide us as believers, so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the politics behind this meeting.  I do want to talk bout the concept of having a discussion without trashing the other person.

So I set my DVR for record.  Why?  I really wanted to see Donald Trump mow over some people and then I was praying for retaliation.  I know, I’m sick.  Its like going to pay per view and watching an MMA fight.  You don’t watch it in hopes of seeing the guys dance around the ring for the entire match, YOU WANT BLOOD!  That’s exactly why I tuned into the debate.  Okay, that and to see who the best candidate would be for the GOP nominee.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a registered Republican, I’m about as Independent of a voter as they come. Back to the whole politics being divisive thing.  I’ll move on.  My point in saying all of that is this, we live in a world where we cannot voice our own opinion on a matter without torching someone else’s view.  We can’t have a kind conversation about what we have convictions about without tearing apart other people’s conviction and it has to stop.  Sure, I understand in an election, we have to compare and contrast the views of our candidates but we are relatively smart people and can do some of that naturally.

I’m afraid that this mentality spills over into our every day lives though.  We take what we see in debates, interviews and reality shows and begin to confront people in a combative manner.  Here’s something that I’m beginning to understand: Confrontation is an art form, not a pressure release valve.  We do confrontation not because we need to let off some steam, but for the sake of healthy relationships; we have to deal with issues that may divide us if not discussed.  If we are followers of Jesus then we are to be about the business of “loving others relentlessly” and we have to get this straight.  Of course, our personality types do get in the way.  In a very basic understanding of conflict, there are two ways of handling disagreements.  There are conflict avoiders and conflict embracers.

Silence is Golden – If I am being totally transparent, I fit into this category.  I’m not really happy about that either.  There have been many situations where I have walked away from a conversation or disagreement and have thought, “I really should have said something”.  It usually results in a Robert Deniro in “Taxi” moment where I’m having a fake conversation with myself in a mirror saying “You talking’ to me?!” and wishing I had simply said what I was thinking in a loving way.  Too much info?  Sorry about that.  The bottom line is that I avoid conflict.

The problem is that I then harbor feelings of resentment toward my brother and sister in Christ and then that anger will resurface later as an atom bomb.  I will blow up over something stupid that doesn’t deserve that sort of response.  They also call this “bottling”.  I bottle up my anger and then it explodes as soon as someone twists the cap open.  Without knowing it I have bought into a “silence is golden” mentality where I worry so much about how someone else feels that I fail to speak up and say something that could be of value to that person.

Scorched Earth – I have known plenty of people who embrace conflict.  It is natural for them.  I am pretty sure they sleep well at night.  Are there times when they regret something that they said?  Maybe.  Whatever the case may be they speak their mind in the situation and don’t spend a lot of time regretting what the consequences may be.  Obviously, the danger in this is that you could say things that you should regret later whether you actually regret them or not.  I have a friend that calls this a “scorched earth” mentality.    You open your mouth and let the flames of your acidic personality engulf the listener, leaving a path of smoldering emotions in your wake.  Not cool.  What happens over time is that you become numb to the hurt feelings around you without realizing that you have relational B.O. (body odor for those who are confused) and people will keep you at an arms length.  Some of us may be okay with this but it is not a great community builder.  People begin to fear what you may say to them and will cease telling you things that matter to them because they don’t know how you will react.

God has a lot to say about how to do conflict well.  There is the tried and true Matthew 18 model that gives us insight on how to approach a situation where there are already hurt feelings but I am talking more about an every day practice of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).  It involves us caring more about the relationships around us than our own personal preferences.  That includes people like me who are conflict avoiders actually speaking up and saying something for the sake of the relationship even when we don’t want to.  It also includes people with a “scorched earth” mentality who have to begin to care more about how those words might affect people who hear them.  I love this verse from James that sums it up pretty well:

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.  Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21)

I think to be people who love others well, we have to be good listeners.  Let’s actually hear what the other person is saying before we assume the worst, cut them off and than inject our wrong opinion on the matter.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t speak up, it means that we are slow to speak up.  We let them voice their opinion, then we say something.  This shows that we actually value their opinion.  That needs to be our posture from the beginning.  Our attitude has to change about the person before we even start the conversation.  Let’s embrace humility, not the unhealthy kind but the kind that says I value someone else’s opinion.  We also have to put the weapons that other people use aside.  Let’s not back stab, assume the worst, name call, trash talk, mock or stereotype.  In the interest of being authentic…guilty as charged.  I do those things too.  Let’s agree to put those aside together.

Lastly, let’s let God’s word penetrate our hearts and become the posture of our souls.  His words are not static print on a page.  It is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and capable of invading our lives…yes, even in the 21st century.  It is not an archaic document incapable of having relevance today.  It is supernatural because God is supernatural and can create a universe by simply speaking into nothingness and darkness.

Let’s not subscribe to the “silence is golden” model or the “scorched earth” mentality.  To love others, we have to do conflict well.  Pray for me and I’ll pray for you.  Peace.

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