Somewhere along with the plasma, platelets, and hemoglobin, list-making is in my blood. As flipping through the notebook I've been using for the last four years indicates, even my journal entries are spotted with lists, especially if I don't have time to compose my thoughts. I thought that lists might be more direct and straightforward for readers as well--or you could just say I'm typing this in a hurry--so this week's post (and perhaps several others to come) is in the shape of a list.
A list of several small reflections I've had over the years, over the process of several difficult relationships with people I don't like/who don't like me/whose interaction with me is usually characterized by tension and conflict. This goes for people who don't see eye to eye with you on significant issues; on people with very different personalities from yours; or even people whose habits and characteristics annoy you. I think I don't need to spend too much time elaborating. If you've ever been tempted to gossip (read: "rant") you probably can explain this better--with more colourful language too probably.
1. Pray for the person. My mom told me this when I was very small, and it sounded so ridiculously, unrealistically simple that I always remembered it. Years later Ken Sande also reiterated this in his book The Peacemaker, and for good reason. If you're struggling to love someone, start by praying for the person. Almost like clockwork, the Holy Spirit gets to work on your heart and prepares it--you might not be able to start making advances then, but eventually you will; and you'll find yourself motivated increasingly by sincere concern instead of animosity/duty.
2. Pray for yourself, for grace, humility, love. As you probably already know, just the thought of it sometimes truly feels like part of you (the old man, according to the Bible) is dying. And boy, it hurts. We need to be greater than that bitterness, that grudge, that pride, that anger, that self-righteousness and entitlement, and yes, hatred.
3. Start spending more time with them, whether physically or communicating.
4. Focus on the things you can connect on. You need to have non-sensitive/explosive things you can relate over, or every time one of you just opens your mouth the other will flinch.
5. Examine what is the ratio of criticism/negativity to positivity/neutral in your communications. Be honest. This is often quite sobering and makes me realize, I'm not their favourite person either; this is what I come across to them as.
6. Give extra thought to tension, whenever you're tempted to criticize, scold, argue. As with dealing with children, it's important that you don't act in the flush of the moment's anger, or from personal reasons. We have to honestly ask ourself: how much of this is out of sincere love and care for the person's well-being, how much of it is just because it offends my own personal sensibilities and preferences, what I want them to do so that I will feel at peace, I will feel good? Because if humans have any defining characteristics besides two eyes, two ears, two legs, and an affinity for terrible decisions, it's a deceptive heart. If you are more concerned with them stopping a certain particular action than the state of their heart--well, just be aware that is the main message they're already receiving. To qualify: if destructive and harmful habits/actions are the case we might have to take decisive action and not just withdraw piously citing this as a reason.
On the flip side--and I've seen myself lapse into both extremes--are we too hesitant, too afraid of conflict to bring up these issues? Do we repress our concerns, telling ourselves that we're being considerate, we're controlling ourselves, only to end up bitter and resentful over time, or exploding unreasonably one day?
7. Appreciate them for who they are, see their strong points, their individual gifts and strengths. Challenge yourself to, if you can't see this.
8. It won't kill you to be silent whenever you want to say something hurtful, even if you feel convinced then that it's warranted or necessary. Often our emotions in the spur of the moment lead us to say things we regret, or things which are foolish and do more harm than good.
9. Sometimes, if you are in a more advanced stage where both of you are mutually working on the relationship, you could muster the humility and courage to ask them what makes it most challenging for them to open up to you/ warm up to you. Maybe you've never realized it before, or meant to come across like this, but you come across as the kind of person who responds negatively to anything that you don't like/that went wrong--blaming/scolding them instead of being supportive and trying to help. Which causes them to simply avoid telling you about anything problematic (dear parents! parents!!) Maybe you've ignored them or hurt them before, and they hold it against you. Maybe you have certain traits which make it hard for them to trust you or take you sincerely. And the list goes on. This takes courage and humility to bear, as the one listening. It also requires trust that the other person will answer honestly and constructively, without giving in to the temptation to tear you down indiscriminately. But when it works, it's hugely helpful in teaching you to see yourself with their eyes, and grasp some of the obstacles in your relationship.
10. And most importantly--not just when it comes to dealing with difficult people, but with everything else--
--meditate on Christ's love for us, and our unworthiness.
True empowerment and freedom comes when we can accept the life-changing significance and hope that lies in both truths, taken concurrently.
Every morning when I wake up (which usually means going through four alarms, not including my sister's) I sit up, a veil of tangled hair helping me transition to facing light and the world. Gradually consciousness returns to me like clothes falling upon the nakedness of a sleepy mind, chasing away the last confused shreds of a dream, sweeping drowsy fluff away with increasingly vigorous strokes of the broom.
And I'm up.
Maybe not the nicest way to wake up, but effective. Most of the time.
I think this threshold moment, the transition between sleep and activity, pretty much embodies the two recurrent feelings/states that make up much of my life. (When I say this, I mean what comes to mind when I ask you to imagine an ordinary day in your life, the way you get through countless days without blinking an eye. Obviously I don't mean that I spend most of my time sitting on my bed in a permanent state of stupefaction, on the borderline between asleep and awake. Come on. Captain America took less than five minutes to 'defrost' and get back to reality after being frozen for seventy years, so.)
The adrenaline rush of getting things done, being productive (or trying to,) having a hundred tabs open in your brain, finishing one task to start on another.
And then the feeling when you've finally finished your day and plop onto the sofa--or the floor--or any surface. Browsing Instagram feeds on your phone and thinking vaguely, I should shower--I should sleep--but I'm too tired, or is it lazy, I've been rushing around the whole day, let me just sit here for a while and be a complete bum. When you turn off your brain, you could say. My family has a term for that--lumping. Very expressive. The down time, when you suddenly get tired from trying and doing so much, and just want to be a potato. Basically the whole spectrum from healthy R&R to brainless crash-burnout-phone-zombie-Lump-Mode.
These are the two recurrent modes which characterize my day to day life, whether I like it or not.
They are also, however, the things I tend not to think about when I'm examining my spiritual life. Talk about the illusion of the spiritual/secular divide. I'll consider my prayer time, how many times I managed to do my devotions this week, whether I fell back into pet sins, whether I lost my temper or owed someone an apology...but not those parts of my life.
It was consequently not what I expected when Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 draws the link between the individual's spiritual life, and (very 'secular') work, habits, and lifestyle. Search the Scriptures made this link explicit for people like me--Paul emphasized the importance of daily work and habits/life in the life of a Christian because it reflects his or her spiritual state.
They are not to be underestimated. Not to be swept under the rug and dismissed as 'not spiritual.'
Paul's usage of the terms "disorderliness" and "tradition" was not what I expected--something to do with addictions or lusts, doctrine and rituals, respectively. Instead, he uses those terms as characteristics of the way Christians' daily lives and lifestyles should be led. When I set myself the task of trying to define both terms within the context of those verses what emerged was:
disorderliness--laziness; selfish usage and exploitation of others; entitlement; busybodies; imposing on others out of pride.
tradition--humility, hard work, diligent in what is good, quietly being and setting a good example to others.
All these, Paul challenges us, are not abstract values, not constrained to the 'spiritual' component of our lives, but rather down-to-earth, constant characteristics of our day to day, everyday lifestyle. That I can see either characteristics of 'disorderliness' or 'tradition' in the way I work, in the expectations I have of others and myself, in the way I lump, even.
Our spiritual life isn't relegated to the minutes we spend reading our Bibles or praying each day, the way we run virtual lives on games. That those 'secular' parts of my day are not neutral, but are a continuation of what happens during my devotions. I was challenged to think twice on those parts of my day, the 'secular' parts when God is furthest from my mind simply because I didn't think what I was doing was important spiritually.
Maybe the very thought of having to see even those 'secular' parts of life in a spiritual light seems exhausting. The last thing you have energy to do. More self-examination and guilt-tripping and things to be careful about, oh my poor head, can I do this?
But Paul reminds us, both before and after his discussion of 'tradition' and 'disorderliness,' not to be discouraged...
"But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one...
Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ...
...do not grow weary in doing good."
2 Thessalonians 3
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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