Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time to Make Waves

This New Year's resolution
carries a high degree
of difficulty.
January is winding down, and I’ve not yet addressed the old stand-by topic of New Year’s resolutions… If you’re a regular reader, you may recall that last year I took Roddy Dinsmore up on his challenge to resolve to “know Jesus.” I have no idea if I rose to the challenge. I did manage to have some quiet times, to complete The Story at a fairly reasonable pace, and to have a spiritual insight or two… but do I “know” Jesus any more deeply than I did before? I’m not sure how one would go about measuring such a thing… So I’m not going to try. I can honestly say that I’m glad I did all the things I did that may or may not have contributed to spiritual growth. And I do hope that I don’t know him any LESS than I did before…!

Anyway, resolutions for this year? I have two. The first, I revealed in my monthly column in our local paper, The Chapel Hill News – that I plan to shop, eat and rock LOCAL as much as possible. I think it's important to get to know my neighbors and help their businesses stay afloat.

Resolution number two is a bit more of an amorphous blob, but solid in my own mind nonetheless. On the surface, my resolve looks sort of like: I’m not going to take sh*t off anybody.

Donald Miller's most
recent book
But that’s not really what I mean at all. It’s more like… well… Maybe it would help if I tell you that I got the idea is from Donald Miller, the author of – among other things – Blue Like Jazz, (and, yes, I’m saying him again.)

His new book, Storyline, is all about achieving your goals – writing and fulfilling your own story, and here is one piece of advice he gives: Engage conflict. 

He says, “Move from conflict avoidant to conflict engaging: All great characters have to go through conflict. Without conflict, stories are boring and characters don’t change. Real-life people are the same. The more we avoid conflict, the less impact we will have.” 

So that’s my self-promise: to “engage conflict.” I bet you’re thinking, “Whew! I’m glad I don’t have to deal with HER on a daily basis!” Or if you’re my husband, you may be thinking, “Oh crap… THAT’s why she’s all up in my grill these days.”

But I’m hoping it won’t be like that exactly... I mean, I’m not going to go around picking fights or anything, as fun as that prospect seems — and I'm pretty sure I could take you. No, it’s just that I’m usually, as Donald Miller says, highly “conflict avoidant.” I am really big into having people like me and not be mad at me.tiptoe around people's irritabilities... try not to make waves… mostly, anyway. 

So now, instead of just going with everyone’s flow, I am going to try to speak up when I feel misunderstood. I mean, if I just keep going how I’m going, no one will ever understand me, right? I guess in the self-help biz, this is just called "being assertive.” Or, as I mentioned above, it could be referred to as, “calling people on their BS.” 

But, again, I hope it’s much deeper. To really know each other, we need to get into the thick of what makes us tick… what unites and divides us, hash out our feelings and motivations… That's where I'M going with this.

I guess I could have gone with a
surfing metaphor, what with the waves 

and all, but I just... didn't.
Jesus said, “If your brother sins again you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 5) He didn’t say “If your brother sins against you, just ignore it.” Which is what I am likely to do. I even get to pretend I’m being gracious. “I'm not going to bring it up,” I tell myself... “I'm just going to forgive."

But believe me, that’s not what's happening. No, I’m stewing about it. Having imaginary heated conversations with them about it while I shower. Whining to my closest friend about it. Yes, that’s my way. I am thinking that maybe Jesus’s way might be better (ya think?)… because the purpose of all the “fault showing” is to bring our crap into the light... in order to bring about mercy and reconciliation… not just rant at people to blow off steam. Will the brother in this scenario appreciate it? Maybe not – no one likes to be told they screwed up! But if you want to go deeper, you have to try anyway... because it’s all about developing strong, loving relationships. So if I get into it with you... you'll know it's because I think you're worth the effort it takes to go deeper.

Young John Entwistle?
 Old John Entwistle?
I couldn't decide,
so I posted both!
Jesus also said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5) According to this, going to church doesn’t mean much if you’re on the outs with someone… So if I’VE done something crummy to someone, I need to come clean with them… I need to let them call me on MY BS. In fact, according to Jesus, I should drop everything and invite them to do it!

So, what I’m saying is that while I’m trying to “engage conflict,” my ultimate purpose is to bring about deeper, truer relationships. Hopefully, I won’t come across as a crazy woman – like the murderous shrew in John Entwistle's brilliant song, My Wife... or even what the Proverbs describe as, “a contentious woman.” “It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman… It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman.” (Proverbs 21.)

And I am not in any way a relationship expert – just ask anyone who knows me. No, I'm definitely feeling my way in the dark here... but I am thinking that the only way I can pull it off even a little bit is by having and showing as much love, patience, calmness and grace as possible. (As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is always patient and kind. It is never jealous. Love is never boastful or conceited. It is never rude or selfish. It does not take offense and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins, but delights in the truth. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.") Although.... being patient, kind, etc., is NO guarantee that I won’t be perceived as contentious. In my experience, folks generally don't enjoy being disagreed with, no matter how pleasant the disagreer’s demeanor. I don't either... but in this new way of mine, I am going to have to be willing to listen and engage when they disagree with me as well.

So… it’s going to be a huge challenge. Huge. Because 1. I have to be patient and calm, and 2. I have to be willing to listen and engage when someone has a problem with ME. And most of all, 3. because I want people to like me. That said, I'm going to attempt this double back-flip with a twist of a resolution anyway... because I want them to like the REAL me – not the current, way-too-agreeable, non-wave-making me, but the real me. But what if they don't? Oops.

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