Category: Conflict


It’s Not About You

My sister Shelah likes to say this. Most of the time I hear her pronouncing these words, it’s been an attempt to remind another sister that there are other people also living here. For a while there, Shelah said it so frequently that it became background noise! Really, though, I think she’s making a good point. In fact, I think there’s actually more than one good point to be made from it.

One is the context in which Shelah used it. It was an admonishment not to be selfish and a reminder that the world does not revolve around you. It was a (sometimes much needed!) reminder to behave better and remember others nearby.

That’s all good, but I think there’s another, more subtle benefit to this admonishment. It doesn’t have to be all about you. It’s not required, demanded, forced, which means that sometimes it can be easier to let things go, because they are not about you. Relationships inevitably produce friction between the people involved. Sometimes that friction occurs because those people have some problems with each other. Other times, though, friction occurs because one or both of those people is having a bad day and become unusually sensitive to little things. Things that are normally fine are somehow so completely irritating or upsetting or otherwise emotionally charged. Molehills ARE mountains!! And sometimes the person-having-bad-day is easily offended, and some of sort of conflict breaks out.

If it’s your turn to be the unfortunate offender of a person who is having a hard time thanks to life in general instead of with you in particular, you might try offering a simple apology that deals specifically with whatever the (minor) offense was, such as, “I’m sorry that what I said was upsetting. It didn’t come out quite right, and I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” Sometimes that’s enough, and sometimes they’re still grumpy butts who are still having a bad day and still feel snarly. At times like that, minor conflicts are easily escalated into mountains, and this is a fantastic time to remember that it’s not about you.

Don’t get sucked in. Don’t take it personally. Don’t accept blame for their bad day. Don’t get huffy about their snarling. Don’t make an effigy of them and burn it, or turn their picture into a dart board. Don’t worry about their audition for a part on Sesame Street as Oscar the Grouch.  Give them some grace. Be a good friend or neighbor. Remember, instead, that God loves ’em – bless their grumpy, little hearts -and that they’re having a hard time that is not about you. It’s much easier, I think, to then forgive the conflict and let it go. Makes for lighter living and better sleeping if I remember that often enough, it’s not all about me.

What do you think?

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Getting back to brokenness, more brokenness, and Isaiah 53, I found out something interesting about Isaiah 53. I’d been told that passage was a prophecy concerning the coming of Christ. I can’t say I’d ever investigated that, so I thought maybe before I went blathering on about how it is about Christ, maybe I should check and see if that was anything more than my imagination or a belief held by a weird minority. It seems to be a pretty widely held belief in Christianity, so – whew! – all good there. What was interesting was this bit from Wikipedia: “Isaiah 53, taken from the Book of Isaiah, is the last of the four Songs of the Suffering Servant.” I like that phrase, not in a “it warms the cockles of my heart” sort of way, but as in it seems significant. It seems applicable. It seems relevant to what God has been teaching me about brokenness. I want to to think it over a bit more, but since I’m talking about Isaiah 53 now, it’s worth mentioning. Guess I better move along to Isaiah 53.

One thing that stands out immediately is that this man is going through some hell. His life is not at all easy. He’s the “man of sorrows” who is also described as “rejected,” “crushed,” “wounded,” “afflicted,” “oppressed,” and other painful adjectives. I don’t know about you, but when I think about how I want my life to be described, words like these are not on my list. They make for a hard life.

To make it even more difficult for him, “we esteemed him not.” The poor guy didn’t even get any sympathy. Nobody cared that his life was hard. I guess he just wasn’t… attractive enough. His life was hard and full of troubles. It wasn’t pretty. He wasn’t somebody other people wished to emulate. Instead, folks assumed that he was “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” People were pretty sure that not even God liked him. The man was cursed.

And you know what? None of it was his fault. His situation, full of the bitterness of grief made more heavy by the pettiness of people, was not his fault. He “had done no violence.” He was an honest man, an innocent man. He didn’t deserve the pain he experienced, the contempt he faced, or the death he died.

And “yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him…”

What?

He’s innocent. He’s righteous. It’s well established that the ones who merit punishment (and the suffering servant sure seemed to have been punished!) are the wicked. The guilty are the ones who have earned wrath and hard things. The innocent, the righteous, the just, the downtrodden… aren’t they supposed to be exalted, glorified, comforted, and otherwise cared for by the God Who is their provider and defender?

What’s going on here? Why is this okay or desirable? “It’s not fair,” would be what my emotions like to indignantly scream when I hear about situations where my sense of fair play gets offended. This would definitely be one of them. Why, God? Why is this okay?

Tell you one thing. Why is it all about me? Why do I read something like this and get offended? Why is my sense of fair play so important? Why do I instinctively, without the least thought, make it all about me and my values?

Until next time!

Drawing

Blood tests are never fun. They always involve needles, poking, prodding, and at least a little pain. I don’t know anybody who enjoys the experience. Unfortunately, in these United States, blood tests are a fact of life. They represent an accurate and relatively noninvasive way for doctors to acquire facts. Until something better comes along, we’ll all be getting poked and prodded in the name of good health.

Most of us can embrace that. Not all are so fortunate, though, and my sister Kimberly is one of those folks. She hates getting poked more than anybody else I know, but still, every year, she has to go through it. Today was this year’s draw.

My family, and my mom especially, try very hard to help prepare Kimberly to face the terror. We sat at home this morning and practiced (without needles) step by step until Kimberly was feeling confident about it. She was so scared at first that she wouldn’t even let us touch her, and that was at home with people she knew and no unfamiliar objects. When she was ready, the lot of us piled in the car to be her moral support. The plan was to get the blood drawn and then head off to her favorite Chinese restaurant for lunch. We got to the lab, got everything ready, and she was doing well enough to bare her arm in preparation for the stick.

It was great until seconds before the phlebotomist walked over. I don’t know what happened. She was fine, and then she was panicked. Her sleeve slithered back down in a blink of an eye. Her body went stiff. She went from confident and happy to scared and stiff.

I don’t think she was reacting to anybody. Everybody was so nice and helpful toward her. The phlebotomist was careful to explain. The lab tech was very patient. We all tried to reason with her, to persuade her (Mom told her that Mom needed Kimberly’s help to help Mom take care of Kimberly), to soothe her, and even to bribe her, but Kimberly was having none of it. Her fear ratcheted up higher and higher until she was starting to make a lot of noise, and we realized that we were going to have to move her away from the whole group.

As soon we started to move, she bolted. She ran for the wall and pressed herself, all curled up defensively, against it. Her tears plastered her face, snot was leaking from her nose, and as she panted rapidly in fear, I thought she was about to vomit. The poor kid…. the poor, poor kid… I cuddled myself around her and tried to calm her down a little bit. Shelah and I managed to get her up and walking toward the ER. As soon as she realized that we weren’t leaving, though, she did what Mom told us is called the Downs drop. She went totally limp and hit the floor. There was no holding her, no keeping her up or restraining her. I think I’d have had more luck trying to hold onto a soapy balloon full of jello.

She stayed on the floor for a few moments, fighting and flopping against both family and staff, until Shelah managed to time a snag and get her carried to a stretcher. There she was enveloped in a blanket, carefully pinned, and speedily poked. At that point, the sun came out. Everything was great! She hopped up and said, “I’m so proud!” The drawing was complete.

It was a trying experience. Everything we could think of to help Kimberly, we tried, but at the crunch, her fear won and forced a situation where we had to use force to help her. All the practice, the bribery, the education, the kindness, the whatever… it wasn’t enough. The poor kid, you know?

I’m not any different. I could so identify with the feelings she projected. Blood draws won’t make me panic like that, but if I think about some of the places I’ve had to go inside myself, I’m just like her. I’ve been where I couldn’t be touched, where I would fight and flop to get away, where it didn’t matter how much I’d practiced, where the bribes became irrelevant, where my trust failed, where I would injure myself to escape those trying to help me, where my fear was so consuming that I’d choose sickness and death over healing and life if left to my own devices… Thank God for a Savior!

How do You do it, God? How do you keep working with us over and over even though we panic and drop on You? How is it that Your love never fails? How do You continue in Your longing to keep on gathering?

Matthew 23

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Irene, Oatmeal, and Leviticus 19

Allow me to take a moment and pray for the East Coast folk upon whom Hurricane Irene is about to land.

God, it looks like there’s a doozy of a storm headed for the American East Coast. Lots of people live there. I’m sure some of them know You, and some of them don’t, but know You or not, they are all Your’s. Protect their lives and health, please. Look out for their hearts. Turn this potential disaster into something good, and strengthen the faith of Your people. Show us all how good You truly are. Amen.

Moving on to oatmeal, I found out this morning oatmeal cooked with raisins, cinnamon, and a little orange zest tastes ridiculously good. I added maybe half a teaspoon of honey to mine as well. It almost didn’t taste like oatmeal, but I suppose that’s one of the really fun things about morning servings of oatmeal. It seems to appreciate the company of flavor and does its best to support it. Give it a try!

Earlier this week, I was snooping the Old Testament laws, looking for information about the treatment of death. I was curious how God and His prophets told the Hebrews to treat death, dead bodies, and mourning. I also managed to get completely derailed, because there is all kinds of interesting stuff buried in OT law. The part I want to chat about today can be found in Leviticus 19. If you have a few minutes, take a look at the whole chapter. It’s well worth the look.

When I think about law, I, probably helplessly and without conscious thought, associate it with judgment. The law’s there, somebody breaks it, and – shazam! – they get judged. The law and judgment – or perhaps more accurately, punishment – are two sides of the same coin. One without the another renders both ineffective. Of the two, I undoubtedly pay more heed to judgment or punishment. Those effects are more immediate and personally drastic, I suppose. Some laws I’ll obey because I think they’re good and wise and benefit both myself and society. Others, I’ll obey because I don’t like being punished. I’m not always wise enough to see the value in those other laws and must therefore be ruled by some fear.

One value of law which I often fail to consider is protection. Laws aren’t (shouldn’t) be there just to beat the crap out of you. They should also be protecting you and others – protecting those who are vulnerable – from cruelty, injustice, and force. Let me pull in a couple of specific verses from Leviticus 19.

14(R) You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall(S) fear your God: I am the LORD.

32(AN) “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall(AO) fear your God: I am the LORD.

Don’t curse the deaf. Don’t trip the blind. Honor and respect the elderly. These were part of the laws given to the Israelites by God, and I find it fascinating. I have a younger sister with Downs syndrome. I’ve spent most of my adult life working to care for people who are often elderly. My job requires annual training on abuse and neglect. Would you like to take a guess on the identities of a couple of populations that are particularly vulnerable to abuse? If you’re guessing the handicapped and the elderly, you’d be right. They tend to be people without a lot of personal power.  For instance, they may be cognitively impaired, so they can’t outsmart a predator. Physically, they’re often weak, so they can’t defend themselves, etc., etc. They also are often not assigned much value by the other people around them, probably because they usually require care instead of giving it, and this also makes them vulnerable. Their personal weakness makes them fair game to some folks, and their positional weakness in society means they can’t always count on others to help defend them from those predators.

Apparently, God’s not cool with that human trend toward callousness and lack of respect for those weaker than others, because here He is telling the Israelite nation that, basically, the handicapped and elderly are people, too. He’s insisting that they be treated like people, and He set up laws to establish that. I don’t think He likes bullies very much, and I think He loves people a lot.

Know what else in Leviticus 19? Here’s the last bit of verse 18:

you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Funny, isn’t it, how you just never get away from love?

ESP, Telepathy, Mind Reader!

Have you been wearing your tin foil lately? I’m not sure it’s necessary. If I remember right, it’s supposed to help keep those sneaky, telepathic aliens from plucking thoughts from your mind like blueberries from a bush. However, I suspect reports of telepathy are highly exaggerated and are primarily the province of sci-fi and fantasy authors. I must say that it is a fun and popular ploy, too. Humans, aliens, and demigods all with unusual and interesting powers of the mind make for some curious and fascinating plots.

I was thinking about this on my way to work one day this week. It was all mixed up with the topic of conflict. Lurking in the back of my mind was a series of memories, of being stuck in some dress that I didn’t like (it didn’t matter which dress – I didn’t like ’em!), sitting in a hard, wooden pew, and listening to the pastor talk solemnly of communion and the necessity of being pure in God’s sight before partaking of communion. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there was some passage (I’m being too lazy to go digging for it) that would be always be read that talked about the importance of clearing your conscience and making right of the wrongs you’d done before jumping in and gobbling away. It was solemn, sacred, a purity to be honored. I recall much soul searching on my part to make sure I was right and clean.

Regarding conflict, in my early years, that was the passage I remember most discussed, probably thanks to communion. Apparently, it wasn’t one I memorized for Awana, since I am not remembering where to find it, but what did stick was the idea that it’s the responsibility of the wrongdoer, of the offender, to make amends. The doer of badness is supposed to repentant and all that razz-ma-tazz.

Ah, but you know what I discovered later on in life? It ain’t that simple! Let me give you an example here. Matthew 18:

15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.

That’s the NIV’s take. Here’s the ESV:

15(W) “If your brother sins against you,(X) go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.

Isn’t that interesting? The burden of confrontation (and by confrontation, I don’t mean knock-down, drag-out fight. I mean stopping with someone to have a conversation about something that’s more likely to be dodged) also rests on the offended, not just the offender. I don’t know about you, but that’s scary. It means if I’m mad at somebody for doing something that hurt me, I also have a responsibility to approach them about the matter. It’s not okay for me to sit wounded and pouting on my high horse in the corner and wait for them to humbly come and beg my forgiveness. Stink in a bucket, doncha know?!? Seems, oh, dangerous to make the victim also responsible for the conflict’s resolution.

It also, after thinking about it for a while, makes some sense. We don’t read minds. Far as I know, there’s no mass telepathy available to the human race. We’re pretty much locked into our own skulls with all the limitations on data observation imposed by our senses and all the constraints on interpreting that data imposed by our personalities, values, and experiences. That means that even when there’s evidence of offense right there, we sometimes don’t see it, and if we see it, we won’t necessarily interpret appropriately. I may not figure out that I just stomped all over your toes if you don’t actually tell me that I did. If nothing else, I’d guess this passage is there to help iron out the accidental offenses, the ones occurring by mistake. It gives the guilty innocents (innocent can also mean unaware) the benefit of the doubt and a chance to quickly repent before more injury occurs.

So maybe it is not horribly frightening. Maybe it’s great.

And maybe one day, we will all read minds and won’t have to do it. 😉