Healthy Confrontation—and Unhealthy TriggersSep 17, 2017 05:36AM ● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Earlier this week I attended a meeting with 30 other people. The topics at hand were shifting leadership and self-examination as we moved into a season of significant change. We all shared faith in Christ and a dedication to move in His Spirit toward a direction in unity—but how to get there? And isn’t that always the question?
As it turned out, I was one of the first to enter the room and find my spot. When I noticed the number of chairs set out, I realized there was an expectation of a greater number of people arriving than I originally anticipated. I felt my blood pressure go up. I have always struggled to be around a crowd of people, and while 30 people is not overwhelming, 30 people with strong opinions on weighty topics could press me in. As the room filled up, I started my deep breathing, tapping my foot anxiously until my husband arrived.
One by one as topics were introduced and I sorted out which personalities in the room were going to weigh in, I prayed for patience, grace, and love. I have a deep love for each of the people who were in the room that night; we serve God together. But I am a feeler with heart overload, and when confrontations arose, I found myself noticeably sucking in my breath. People made difficult statements to each other in love. Full-on panic set in for me. I began to plan my exit.
To be fair, all topics were handled in loving ways and with kindness and open ears and hearts. So as I drove home after the meeting (I managed to stay until the end), I cried out to God:
Why am I like this? Why am I so impatient when people express opinions? Why do I crawl into myself when people disagree with each other? Why am I having an ungodly response to what was a godly meeting? Lord, I prayed in advance of this meeting and prepared my heart. What else could I have done?
You see, I was very ashamed of my reaction, even though it didn’t directly affect another person in the room and it remained all in my head.
I came home and confessed to my husband (who was at the same meeting). He immediately confirmed what I was beginning to realize in my own heart: trigger. Confrontation was a trigger long ago cast into my psyche:
Conflict is not safe.
You will be hurt.
Resolution will not fully happen.
Your feelings don’t matter.
Perhaps you can relate?
The truth is: The confrontation was healthy. Conflict was processed safely. Resolution was in-process, but these were safe, forgiving people who would see the process through from beginning to end.
I don’t know about you, but that description applies to only a few very special people in my life. Experience has taught me that many people stop along the way of conflict or confrontation and either leave hurt hanging out there like meat waiting to be cured at the wrong temperature and environment or only express their own pain. They don’t stay in their seats long enough to hear the other person share. There are some relationships I have had to end or keep a long distance from because of their inability to reciprocate love and mutual understanding when conflict comes up.
And because history is a wicked, clingy informant, I sat through that meeting waiting for another shoe to drop, for hurt to be left in the air, for resolution to never happen.
But that is not what happened because:
· Christ was invited into the discussion.
· There wasn’t preferential treatment.
· Voices were heard, and boundaries kept people safe.
As my husband pointed out, it is an area I am still learning to heal, trust, rest in. It will take time. Not every authority figure in my life has been healthy—not even in the church. We are imperfect people walking out the promises of God, and some leadership understands that better than others.
So what are these promises, the ones that tether us to truth when the past wrongly informs us?
Here are just a few (with my inserted comments):
James 4:5-12, ESV
Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?
God dwells in us.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
When we need grace for each other, He is sure to give it to us.
Humility is required on our part.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
We should submit all thoughts to God and put them through His filter (before speaking).
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
There is a direct correlation between drawing near to God in fellowship and Him guiding us.
We are all sinners—which levels the playing field, doesn’t it?
Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
There’s that humility thing again!
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
God takes us judging and speaking evil of each other seriously.
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
God is the judge of all of us. He can be trusted to be fair and to save us.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We speak truth to each other under the covering of love. Love should be the motivator and the net to fall in when misunderstandings happen.
God grows us, the Body.
As His Body, we are to build each other up in love.
Ephesians 4:20-27, 32, ESV
But that is not the way you learned Christ!-- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. ...
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We have to speak with each other as functions of the new selves He has clothed us in—granting us access to the righteousness and holiness of God.
He can renew us in the spirit of our mind, empowering us to think more as He does.
We no longer speak lies but only truth because we belong to each other as the Body of Christ.
We will be angry. That is clear. But we are not to sin in that anger or allow the anger to go—get this!—unresolved because that is where the devil gets a foothold.
Kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness are to be our new posture toward each other.
As we learn to walk in these new creations He gave us and we draw near to Him regularly, we will find how much our own disposition changes to reflect His, and confrontation and conflict no longer have to be scary or unsafe.
I took my old self into that meeting the other night. I think the next time I need to remind myself that with those who share in celebrating their re-new-ed minds and hearts in Christ Jesus, we do not have to be afraid of speaking truth when it is done in and received in His great love.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.