Today, in America, we are standing at a dire moment in history. It doesn’t matter what side of the conflict you’re on. We are all in grave danger of failing to love.
Oh my friends, as we began this new series, “Managing your heart well in the midst of fear and raging conflict,” I started to think about how profoundly I have failed in this area.
I am talking like horribly failed.
I had a groan come up out of my heart, as I thought about it, and then Jesus said, “I love you.” And by that I knew he meant, “Share what you’ve learned so that others might have a chance to act differently.” You see, I’ve got some wisdom about this. It’s come at a costly price. I wish I didn’t have it, actually. I wish that I’d never found myself in the situations that resulted in my having the opportunity to walk out the sort of processes that lead to the attainment of this wisdom.
But I did.
And today I’m going to tell you about what can happen when you miss the mark, when you don’t handle your heart well in the midst of fear and conflict, when you make the problem bigger than the person, when you lose sight of the relationship. Because today, and tomorrow, and every day after, you’re going to get to make a lot of choices about how you’re going to handle your heart... and others.
I also want to tell you about the beauty, kindness, and tenderness of Jesus and what He can do with that moment in your life. (Be it one, or be it many.) Because no story is over until He enters the room. Y’all know what I mean? (We’ll talk about that a little later this week.)
I think we’re all aware that, after we hurt someone, repentance comes first. I don’t know about y’all, but for me to even get to that place I have to hardcore get into the presence of God.
I want to be known as a woman who repents quickly, surrenders to the Lord easily, and has a delightful aroma of humility all up over her. I'M NOT THERE YET. (Let me know when I get there.)
So first, we do what we have to do to be able to repent. We apologize. We make amends. We seek to repair what we damaged.
And then you may need to give yourself compassion.
For me, having tenderness for my own weakness is actually harder than admitting that I messed up.
The beginning of having compassion for myself started with having perspective. My internal dialogue had to go from, “You failed, you ruined everything,” to “These are some of the reasons why you failed.” Essentially, I had to process what had happened, without pride or shame.
I needed to have perspective on who I am.
In the days to come you may need to have perspective on who you are, and who the person you are talking to is. And why BOTH of you are failing to love.
I believe in right and wrong. I’m a researcher; I will read and ask questions until my eyeballs fall out. I understand people. I feel big feelings. I care deeply. And I have weaknesses. Pride and stubbornness being just two pertinent ones. The point? If I am in a conflict, I am probably ABSOLUTELY committed to what I believe.
And then there’s my history. I grew up with a parent who was constantly critical, demanding perfection, ridiculing and demeaning what missed the mark. As a five-year-old it devastated my heart; I was terrified to mess up. For years I struggled with feeling terror at doing anything wrong, for fear of what it said about me. By the time I was approaching adolescence I had changed; I had stopped feeling my feelings. (Except for anger!)
Emotions, a tender heart and mercy, were too costly, so they were discarded as weaknesses.
As I got older, if it ever even seemed like someone was disagreeing with me, I would come out swinging. I didn’t wait to be criticized. I didn’t wait to be corrected. This was how I protected myself.
Sometimes we forget the power of our family, our insecure attachment styles, our learned behavioral traits. If our parents didn’t teach us how to process our big emotions, if they didn’t have the capacity or skills to instruct us in how to remain relational in the midst of conflict, it is highly unlikely that we are going to be able to. Either we’ll run away, shut down, or come out swinging.
What was your family culture like? Were you taught how to remain relational during conflict? Were you taught how to handle your heart when you were scared or upset? So...how are you doing today?
One of the biggest problems I still face, that we all face, is having the ability to remain relational in the midst of trauma.
Neurologically, there are parts of our brain that act as relational circuits; you can think of them as dimmer switches. The irony is that I’m a person who is committed to being attuned to others. But herein lies the catch: IF I AM UPSET, I LOSE THIS ABILITY! If I am upset, my relational circuits shut off and I literally, neurologically, lose the ability to remain relational.
How many people have you watched behave like this? It’s like a switch flips and suddenly they are NOT the person that you know.
I had to spend far too much of my growing up years weeping, ashamed and alone, grieving my bad moments with the people that I loved. I wish greatly that I could spare as many people as possible that particular pain…because it hurts like hell. Trust me.
I've had little and big moments of failure. My immaturity and inability to remain relational during conflict resulted in harsh words or actions on my part. It resulted in offense, it resulted in strained relationships. My personal worst moment - of letting a conflict be bigger than a person - resulted in a dear friendship ending.
I failed to love.
Loving requires humility. Loving requires that we make people more important than problems.
Can I ask you, in the midst of yesterday's election results, what are you willing to lose? Are you willing to love?
Sometimes we mess up, badly, but we’re able to work through the pain and make it to the other side.
Sometimes the relationship is so wounded that both parties can’t see past what happened. And sometimes it seems like that broken thing was just the culmination of a lot of broken things finally breaking for good. And now you don’t even know how or where to try to repair what is fractured.
No matter how it goes down, it hurts like hell.
It hurts to know that you hurt someone that you love. It really hurts if it was unintentional. And, if you’re like me, and you expect a great deal from yourself, it’s even harder.
Sometimes it feels like you’ll never forget your failure, and the grief, the pain of loss, settle on you like a cloak you can’t take off. Sometimes the shame and embarrassment of what you did wrong keep you from wanting to make it right, or trying to form new relationships. And sometimes the judgment of others around you, who saw your failure but don’t understand, is even worse than how badly you failed.
And here we are, today, a nation in shock.
I have been amazed, not at the massive outcry of lament that’s arisen, but from the number of people - that I considered to be emotionally mature individuals - who have lashed out with angry Facebook speeches against anyone who voted third party, or “if you voted for Trump then you support sexual abuse.” Friends. Stop. Back away and connect to Jesus, get the relational part of your brain back online. This is hard and so many are hurting, but we are not going to be able to DO THIS THING if we fail to love.
If you are verbally questioning someone’s intelligence or morality (or both) because of the way that they voted, you are ineligible to have a discussion until you can get your brain into a relational zone.
We stand at a moment in which the disagreement is vast and wide. We stand at a moment of total meltdown. We already live in a relational desert, in a place where joy is catastrophically low.
Very few of us possess the ability to be ourselves in the midst of trauma.
This is the prime moment for a nation, in trauma, with their relational circuits disengaged, to spiral into a breakdown of relationships in families, friends, communities, businesses, churches.
We can stand for what we believe and disagree with one another. But we MUST learn how to do this in a relational way, where PEOPLE matter more than the conflict.
The people who voted for something you abhor (on either side) are dear, precious people. Their lives and their hearts matter. Friends, it’s not worth it. The satisfaction of perceived victory, or of a higher moral ground, is not worth more than the people we disagree with. There is no faceless entity named "America." (You know, the one people keep addressing in, " Good job, America, you're racist and stupid.") America is 320 million people. Each one of those people have a name and a story and a history and their lives have value, even if we profoundly disagree with them.
I am watching social media and I am mourning. We are poised to destroy one another with grief and anger and fury and pride and boasting. Our relational brains are shutting down. We are swept away by trauma or by glee. We are jumping forward into a most extraordinary failure to love.
And then there’s Jesus.
And that’s the best part of the story.