A Word from Walker
As we enter the chilly month of February we are reminded that, with the exception of Eskimos, most of us don’t like the cold and, at the very least, try to avoid extended exposure to the frigid elements as much as possible. Similarly, unless you are a combative and cynical person, you probably avoid conflict. No one likes being disliked. Who in their right mind asks themselves on a weekly basis, “Hey, I haven’t gotten into a good argument in a while. Let me see what I can stir up.” There are several kinds of psychological diagnoses that can be linked to personalities of people who seek to offend or stir up strife. None of them are good.
But, beyond the fringe of disturbed souls represented in these designations, the vast majority of people try to get along with others. Still, occasionally, we run into folks who just seem dead set on creating stress and even division. How do you deal with them?
First, I think we always need to ask ourselves, “Am I at fault in any way?” This is not an automatic admission of guilt. Occasionally, we struggle with a hypersensitive desire to be liked by everyone. Jesus warned of this tendency by saying, “Be careful when all men speak well of you.” I think, among other things, he was telling us to be careful of the tendency to water down our convictions in order to be popular or garner affection. Sometimes you will say things and live in such a way that will cause division because your approach to life runs contrary to others’ priorities. This is not what I am talking about. I am referring to your owning the actual fault in a situation. When we are guilty of causing or contributing to a misunderstanding, we need to confess that fault and ask for forgiveness.
The second thing we need to recognize is that beyond humbling ourselves and seeking forgiveness where warranted, there is an element of this that has nothing to do with us. This is true when either we, clearly, are not at fault, or when we have sincerely confessed our wrongdoing and asked for forgiveness. If either of these things are true and a person persists in creating relational havoc, it is really about them. Understandably, when people blame or even attack us, it can cause hurt or anger. But in reality, there is some kind of blindness or brokenness in them that is triggering their reaction. This doesn’t excuse their behavior but it does lessen the frustration on our part. At this point, we should pray for God to reveal both the impact and cause of their actions to them. While we are not responsible for understanding why they are doing what they are doing, we should explain to them how what they said has affected us. When we de-personalize an offence, it boosts our ability to communicate in a non-combative and clear manner.
Third, if they continue the behavior, if it is at all possible, we should distance ourselves from them and ask God to deal with them. The refusal on their part to hear and adapt their actions based on our respectful, plainspoken and reasonable appeal means that there is a “hardness of heart” that you can do nothing about. You can and should pour out your heart to God about this, but seeking to reason with someone who is unreasonable is a waste of time. Oftentimes, respectful withdrawal can not only create the space for God to work but also stimulate the desire for reconnection such that the surly, bombastic, insensitive person seeks you out. Then, your words have the potential to weigh more as they seek to understand the reason you created space.
No one likes being “left out in the cold,” relationally speaking. But, by putting on more protective layers, we can better navigate difficult relationships in a manner that is both wise and potentially redemptive. At least this is what I have been learning over the last twenty years. I hope my input helps a little. Keep safe and warm my friends!
Your fellow servant in Christ,