Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to have a hard conversation

Here's the deal. Have you ever had something blindside you that involves someone you never expected to see on the opposite side of the fence? That happened recently. And while we were sorting through the pieces and praying about how to respond, I kept thinking (i.e., God repeatedly reminded me) of some "ah-ha!" lessons that helped right then and there. So these are mainly for my own future reference, but if anyone reading this has some thoughts on it, please comment! I feel like this is one of the first situations of such magnitude in our lives, and it probably won't be the last...and I want to be as ready as possible next time around.

1. Knowing what not to say is as important as knowing what to say. 
This will be my lifelong lesson, I think; it is so hard for me. When I get mad, I am silent for awhile...and then? I spew. And if you've hurt someone I love, my over-developed sense of justice kicks in and my blood boils and I let myself do it because it's on behalf of someone else. But  I have to leave it with the Lord, especially when it feels so personal to me (Romans 12). 

If it isn't kind or pertinent, and if it doesn't contribute to the other person understanding your perspective, don't say it.

2. Get your hindsight glasses on. 
Looking back five years from now, what words will I be proud of saying? And what will seem petty or childish? I want to know - and have the other person know - that I  handled a tough conversation really well, actually. I was mature about it and had good perspective on the real issues without letting it get nasty. The only way to do that is to step back and get that perspective on the issue before talking it through with them.

3. Understand your obligation to forgive regardless of whether or not the other person has acknowledged wrong of any kind.  
I have struggled with this concept for years, wondering if you can forgive someone who hasn't yet requested it. Is forgiveness like a gift, and you can't force someone to accept? But I've come to the conclusion that I forgive those who hurt me for my own benefit. I do it because it changes my heart, washing away the resentment and bitterness. It allows me to move on with a clear conscience and clear space in my soul for God to fill with His grace. And all this can happen a word being said between us.

When I was little, I was told to "forgive others because God forgave you." So, if God forgives sin when we confess, then suddenly my forgiveness of others is dependent on them 'fessing up and agreeing that they wronged me. But the crucial difference is that God is in the business of changing hearts and making them repentant. That is where human forgiveness cannot emulate divine. I do not forgive others  directly because God forgave my sin; I forgive them because God has changed MY heart and made it possible for me to let go of anger and grudges and walk away. Much more indirectly connected.

4. God doesn't need me to someone else's Holy Spirit.  
Someone said recently, "Well, it's high time they learned that their choices affect other people, and you have every right to say so." Sadly, that wasn't true. I don't have every right to point out their error. I can gently draw to their attention the hurt that they brought me, but nothing more. Consciences are sacred places; tread lightly, if you go there at all.

5. Always speak the truth - but that doesn't mean the whole truth has to be said.  
Answering questions like "Are you mad?" and "How do you feel about it?" can be tricky for me -- they are such great launching pads! ("Well, she asked....") I was talking to a friend lately about how some friendships reach a point similar to a romantic breakup when the other person says, "Let's still be friends." My mind says, "Absolutely not - that bridge is burning down as we speak." But I feel trapped into politely lying, "Of course!" My friend, clearly wise, reminded me that there's nothing impolite about saying graciously, "Let's see what happens, okay? If it happens naturally, that's wonderful. But if it doesn't, let's not feel awkward about that either." That's being honest without being incendiary.

6. It's okay to have longstanding differences. 
"Talking it through" does not have to involve anyone changing their position. And if the relationship was based primarily on the very thing that is now dividing you, it's even okay to walk away without promises of everything staying the same. Perhaps the storm cloud actually has a silver lining somewhere that allows you to find a new, stronger foundation for the friendship. Or perhaps not, but either way is okay. Paul and Barnabas disagreed in Acts 15, and while they went their separate ways, it wasn't acrimoniously done.

7. The fastest way to cool anger and move on is to get an eternal perspective on the situation. 
We all wound and fail each other, and will continue to do so until we reach heaven and find that there is no more sin and no more pain. How we handle it is what matters right now. Turning our eyes on Him, we can let go of bitterness and resentment and, looking "full in His glorious face, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."


  1. EESH! I do NOT envy your situation at all. It sounds really tough :( Hugs to you!

    I have learned (by trial and error!) and adopted a mantra for controversy - in that "I need to be careful to RESPOND rather than REACT." Most of your points would fall under the responding, rather than reacting umbrella for me.

    ESPECIALLY when blindsided. It's so easy to flare up or be passive aggressive or be inappropriately reactionary in situations like this. All you can hope to do is pray, respond and pray that the other person is looking to handle the situation in the same Christ-like manner that you are. Ya know? If not, you can only be responsible for your part in the matter and how you chose to handle it.

    The forgiveness point, I can completely relate with. I've been telling myself for about a year now that I forgive someone at work, who really has no idea that there's anything to forgive and if she did, she certainly wouldn't be apologetic. I haven't quite arrived at the whole-hearted forgiveness yet, because I have to keep telling myself this - but it's progressing. I agree that forgiveness is for your own benefit - and I do agree that we should forgive much but we've forgiven much, but I'm not sure I'd go so far to say that God doesn't forgive us if we don't confess. The forgiveness is done - "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." It's whether we confess and believe where we have to act. And yep - that's where the Divine comes in. He gives us the faith to confess, believe and have a repentant heart. And you are right, we can't do that for someone else. (drat it all...)

    Sounds tough, friend. So sorry you have to go through this.

    1. Thanks, Amos! It's so hard to pray first and then respond, isn't it? And to wait long enough to form a good response instead of reacting. But it's a good mantra!
      Your thing about forgiving your co-worker: that's something else about isn't usually a one-time thing! Over the past few weeks, I've forgiven the person multiple times. It's like bitterness has deep roots and even when you cut it down and can't see it anymore, it springs back up when you aren't looking. That part can be so frustrating because I feel like I can't past it. But I'm so thankful that God doesn't get frustrated with me about and comes alongside every single time with the same reminders.

  2. I especially liked the #4.

    I've found that many of my disagreements with folks in the past has stemed from me trying to force my views on others. Everyone is on their own spiritual journey and maybe I'm at mile marker 25 and they are at 23. So, that one really struck home.

    I've also found that when I have major disagreements with others and it can easily turn into a match of outsmarting each other with more powerful logic (or the right verse, in or out of context, which I gleefully point out). It never ends well. So, in my old age, I've become a whole lot more interested in minding my own business and just trying to keep my mouth shut in general.

    The forgiveness aspect: When I think of how much I deserve eternal much I've wayward I have been, wandering away from our Holy Father, returning with burning tears, repentant, and then returning to my sin like our disgusting cat returns to her vomit (yep.)... I just think to myself that I am not worthy to judge another human being. We are all terrible sinners...we just get used to our own sins and then other people's sins look SOOO darn terrible.

    But, I do have a MIL. I don't know that I haven't forgiven her. I just know that she causes emotional devastation in our house on a regular basis. Haven't sent out that rope of "Lets see how it works, OK?" Maybe I should. But that would assume that we'd actually TALKED about the issues, which we haven't, and can't apparently.

    Sooo not easy. Remember you and I can't forgive anyone without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks for posting Kate!