Monthly Archives: July 2013

Empowerment

 

caged bird image

 

When Tim and I got married, I thought outright conflict was a sign of breakdown. I had no idea it could be a source of redemption. So instead of being direct, I was passive aggressive, making issues about him, rather than being honest about my own feelings. I didn’t know how to ask directly for what I wanted. I felt like a victim to Tim’s preferences and differing opinions. I stayed busy, trying to manipulate my circumstances (and Tim) just right, so I could get what I wanted.

 

I felt powerless, like Tula in my Big Fat Greek Wedding. My only option was to learn to subtly control, like Tula’s mother. “The man is the head of the household, but the woman is the neck… and she can turn the man any way she wants.”

Little did I know that this was killing my marriage. My inability to confront Tim was limiting my ability to love him. Rather than challenge him to grow and risk him temporarily withdrawing, I shirked conflict to keep him close. I didn’t know how to hold my ground, if we differed about something. For example, I was desperate to get to Europe before we have kids. Tim, ever practical and not a big traveler, wanted to fund our emergency fund. I melted into a silent, sulky puddle, sending thinkly-veiled judgments in his direction. The story I was telling myself was  that I was powerless. So I tried to convince Tim to think and be like me. But we are almost completely opposite in many respects.

This is the (extremely limiting) story I was telling myself: I am trapped because Tim doesn’t like to travel. He will never give in. I will never get to Europe because it’s not important to him.

Sometimes I tried to rationalize away my dream to numb the disappointment: Tim is probably wiser than me anyway… Other times I just blamed him. Tim is boring. He is uptight and stingy. He clearly doesn’t value culture. (I could go on, and it just gets uglier from here…) I rarely, if ever, said these judgments aloud, but I didn’t have to. They filled the atmosphere in our home and clouded the way I saw and interacted with him.

In the 3rd year of our marriage, I went to a high intensity, 4 day, jump-start-your-life weekend by Reinvent Ministries called Impact. The weekend is designed to be a mirror for how you’re showing up in life, and it’s based on the principle of personal responsibility. They contend that whatever you have in your life is of your own choosing–even if you don’t like it. That idea didn’t work for me. I wasn’t responsible for not going to Italy! It was definitely Tim’s fault. He was the one holding me back.

Through the course of the weekend, I slowly began to see that I was responsible for my problem. I realized that I was choosing to avoid conflict, rather than fight for what I wanted.

Why would I do that when Europe was so important to me? Well, for starters, I was  getting a lot out of my little system. I didn’t have to take ownership of my dream. I got to be right about Tim. It wasn’t my fault. And most importantly: I was afraid if I engaged in conflict, Tim might emotionally withdraw. I wanted to avoid feelings of abandonment more than I wanted to go to Rome. I was the only one responsible for my own disappointment–and all the blaming and judging in the world wasn’t going to get me the Vatican.

If I wanted to go, I was going to have to own it and fight tooth and nail for it.

 

Travel plans in Europe

I came home from Impact with a new spark kindled: the power of personal responsibility and ownership of my own life. It was a weak little flame. Responsibility was a flabby muscle that had never been exercised and I could barely stand, let alone walk in it. I was used to making excuses for just about everything (why I was late, why I hadn’t done this or called or whatever). But the power of personal responsibility changed my life.

 

I sat down with Tim, told him how much I wanted to go to Europe, how important it was to me, and that I wanted to go within 12 months. What do I need to do to make that happen? Will you help me?

We argued. We disagreed. This wasn’t as important as saving for the future, he said.

I quailed, replaying that old story: My voice wasn’t going to be heard and I might as well give up because he has all the power and all the say.

By some act of God, I got back up and started swinging, for the first time EVER. This is important to me. I’m going to fight with you until we figure out how to make it happen.

We got stuck because I wouldn’t back down. We were in a stalemate–we were both choosing to live in a story where our limited resources seemed to dwindle & possibilities dissipated. We didn’t see a way through it, so we prayed. We prayed and God gave us a miraculous solution to get on the same team. I would throw my energy towards fully funding our emergency fund, and Tim would put everything he had toward funding Europe. We would be praying for & working towards each other’s goals as an act of sacrifice and love.

At the time I worked for hourly wages at a non-profit kids’ arts organization, and Tim was just a green staff accountant at a small firm. Through grace and commitment, we raised enough money to travel to Europe for a month and have a fully funded emergency fund, in 11 months.

Europe was miraculous. It happened because I took ownership of my desires. I communicated them directly. I stood my ground when challenged. I fought for and endured emotional withdrawal (short-term) to reach a goal. I didn’t wheedle and weasel and covertly arrange things… I was direct. And it worked. Tim and I were on the same team, even though we differed about what was important to us.

That experience made me realize: showing up as a victim is not as fun as taking responsibility for my life, ultimately. Victims don’t get what they want because their lives are at everyone else’s disposal. They are constantly unhappy, dissatisfied, disgruntled and it’s everyone else’s fault. They get to be right, garner sympathy and blame other people, or the weather, or the traffic for their problems…. but they never get what they want.

Where do you find yourself? Do you prefer to be a victim? How might that be limiting your life, and the way you can love other people?

For more information on the Impact training, you can check out their website at Reinvent Ministries. There’s another training coming up in Southern California August 1-4.

 

 

Note: I recognize that this post isn’t long enough to address theological issues regarding the work of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, etc. If something bugs you, ask me about it and I’ll do a follow-up post on it. My basic answer? We need Jesus and can’t do anything on our own… but we have the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit in us… let’s sit in that tension together?

 

 

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How to Have a Fierce Conversation

Hard conversations make us feel vulnerable.  Any way you look at it, conflict done badly (either bullying or avoiding) is deeply rooted in our self protection. Typically, when we are angry, we don’t show the soft underbelly of hurt, fear, sadness or pain underneath. Maybe we avoid conflict to control what others think of us or how they’ll respond. If we’re honest, sometimes we prefer to keep our distance and keep our judgments. We proudly insist on being right, even to the point of denying the ways in which we’ve contributed to the breakdown in our relationship. Yet, conflict that engages our vulnerability can create a stunning new possibility: an opening for deeper intimacy. Choosing to enter the fray, disarmed, is an act that only described as love.

I wrote a bit more about conflict as a path to security and love yesterday, here.

This is the model my church uses. If you are a leader of any kind of organization, I highly suggest teaching and using this model with your staff or congregation. It can reduce drama, backbiting, gossip, jealousy, and unnecessary office politics. This has personally saved several close friendships, my marriage, my working relationship with Ana on The Aurora Crossing, and my relationship with other leaders at my church. Regardless of how you use it, I hope that this might be a means of reconciliation in any relationships in your life where distance has won over love.

 

Cover of "Fierce Conversations: Achieving...

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Fierce Conversations: Call the person and make an appointment to talk. Set a neutral meeting space where you both feel safe. If it’s a mutual conflict, it’s helpful if you both use the Fierce Conversations model–make sure to agree about it, up front.

Answer the questions in advance, for a focused, concise conversation. Reading your answers should take a total of 60 seconds. Practice reading the statements to an objective 3rd party, and get their feedback on how you’re coming across. Are you judgmental? Angry? Try again until you can communicate in a way that makes the listener feel safe. Ultimately, this will help you be heard.

 

When you meet, take turns doing your Opening Statement, with the listener repeating back what he heard, giving the speaker an opportunity to clarify. Repeat until the Speaker feels understood, then switch turns.

Fierce Conversations‘ 60 Second Opening Statement.

1. Name the issue (Only one. Resist the temptation to make this particular conflict about everything that’s ever gone wrong in your relationship. “You frequently cut me off in conversation and interrupt me.”)

2. Give a specific example of the issue. (“During our staff meeting yesterday, I was describing my point when you cut me off with a joke and proceeded to talk about your department after that.”

3. Name you feelings about it. Avoid saying things like “You made me feel _______.” No one can make you feel anything. Your feelings are entirely your own. Instead, use “I” statements. (“I feel shut down, unheard, unimportant, belittled and devalued and disrespected when you interrupt me at staff meetings.”) 

4. Name what’s at stake in the relationship if this continues. Is it trust? respect? authenticity? (“I want to have a good, mutually respectful working relationship. I value your contribution to the team, but this behavior makes me not want to work closely with you. We have the opportunity to collaborate on some future projects, and I think the unique combination of our different gifts could be a real strength, but I feel afraid of entering into a collaboration, because I’m dreading feeling unseen and not treated as an equal. I am afraid that my contribution won’t be heard or valued.”

5. Share your contribution to the problem. (In my opinion, this is the most crucial element of the entire conflict model. Nothing diffuses the rising heat of defensiveness like taking responsibility for our part in the issue. We are ALWAYS a factor in the conflict, and finding our contribution suddenly gives the other person permission to find their own. It’s a way of saying, “I’m sorry—I was part of this, too. I could’ve made it better and I didn’t.” “I should have come to you sooner, instead of letting this boil over for the past few months. I also could’ve spoken up and told the team that I wasn’t finished with my report. I didn’t choose to own my own power to redirect the conversation and the attention back to what I had prepared. Instead, I simply stopped talking.”

6. Make a simple, direct request about what you’d like to change. I’d like you to wait until I’m finished with my entire presentation before commenting. I would really appreciate you not interrupting me or making jokes or wise-cracks during staff meetings, while I’m presenting. Other times are fine. This would help me feel a mutual respect between us and give me a desire to collaborate with you in the future.”

7. Give the person an opportunity to respond.

So now… go do it! Write back to us and tell us how it goes!!! P.S. If anyone reading this has an issue with me– please call me and let’s talk it out. 

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Conflict: The Journey from Fear Into Love

In 2010, I started attending a church that prized itself on being a “confrontational community.” While not perfect, these people were serious about living out Jesus’ command in Matthew 18–to actively seek reconciliation by dealing with conflict directly. It is a central value of the church, so vital to the health of the community that they spend half of their membership class teaching a conflict resolution model called Fierce Conversations.

 

“If you come to me and complain about so and so, I’m going to ask you, ‘Have you talked to him about that? Because otherwise, that’s just gossip, and I’m going to send you straight back to him to talk it out,” the pastor told us. He explained that little things (comments, small actions, broken promises, like showing up late when there was an agreed upon time) are like single bricks that can pile up between people. They are small and we can ignore them at first–until we stub our toes and get annoyed. Left alone, however, these bricks can build a wall between people. He encouraged us to deal with issues immediately (don’t let the sun go down on your anger...), to keep trust from breaking down.

 

The pastor replaced the word conflict with the( much less anxiety provoking for me) word conversation. “If you’re not talking to someone [not in conversation], you aren’t in relationship with them.”  He said engaging in conflict is an act of love. Love stays in the conversation. 

 

Unfortunately, many people simply “accept” each other’s shortcomings, while forming small judgments about each other. Trust is broken down in tiny increments, but we excuse it, saying, “It’s not a big deal” or “That’s just the way she is” instead of owning that we are hurt and having a conversation about it. There’s a time and a place for overlooking a fault, as Proverbs says, and I’m certainly not advocating nitpicking. However, I think much of our “overlooking” is really a mask for polite indifference–and indifference is the opposite of love.

It is literally the absence of care. Indifference never confronts, because it doesn’t care enough about the person to engage. Indifference just slowly ebbs backward, comfortable with its judgments. Here’s a heart check to tell the difference between grace and indifference:

 

  • Grace acknowledges sin, engages in honest relationship, and then chooses forgiveness and reconciliation, anyway. The end of grace is relationship.
  • Indifference ignores sin to its face, but perhaps judges it silently, and the end is distance.

 

Apathy

 

This is a hard truth. When we avoid conflict, we may care for the person, but we don’t care enough to be honest with him about how his behavior is affecting us. We don’t care enough to mend the relationship—we just drift away, telling ourselves that we’re just not a “good fit” as friends or lovers. We accept the distance, not realizing that we have a hand in creating it, by not caring enough to tell the person we’re feeling hurt by them.

 

Why do some of us avoid conflict? The reason we avoid most hard things: FEAR.  I am afraid that honesty might upset the applecart. Afraid that conflict might end a relationship. Afraid the other person can’t handle it. Afraid of abandonment. Afraid of being humiliated or shamed. Afraid of being bullied, disbelieved, or told I’m too sensitive.  Afraid of being wrong. Afraid of recourse or punishment. Afraid. Afraid. Afraid.

 

English: Words associated with Fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” The word “drives” is an active Greek verb, meaning to thrust, throw, cast, and strike. How does expel fear? It engages, not accepting distance. We have a loving God who pursues relationship, actively confronts our sin, and chooses to forgive. This kind of ongoing conversation creates security because the love is permanent, no matter how we may fail.

What if we can expel fear and become more secure in love by choosing honest, fierce conversations? Isn’t that a move toward Christ-like-ness? God certainly doesn’t accept distance between us. In a word: Incarnation. 

 

Direct communication has always been extremely uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t modeled in my family or culture. I’ve been a chronic conflict avoider with a sugar sweet smile and a heart brimful of hidden resentment. I’ve chosen distance over engagement, and judgment over conflict. Learning how to have fierce conversations has transformed my life and salvaged my friendships. I used to shut down with shame if I had done something “bad” that required a “conversation” (dun dun dun…..) I used to loathe confronting someone else, because I was afraid of how they’d react.

The Fierce Conversations conflict model has given me a way to both confront and be confronted, lovingly and productively. The more I engage with others in issues large and small, the deeper and more cemented our relationships become. We build trust and security. We have a sense that history can repeat itself in a good way. If we worked through this issue, then we can work through the next one. Conflict can be a door of hope. Indeed, through it, fear can slowly be cast out of our love, one conversation at a time.

 

I will post the model tomorrow, so that you can use it. In the meantime, think about your relationships. Is there any relationship where you are annoyed or frustrated? Have you allowed distance and indifference to creep in? Have you been “excusing” the other person, when actually a particular behavior is driving you nuts?

 

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