Heart for Conflict and Forgiveness

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“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” (Matthew 6:14)

(July 12th, 2014)

“I think I understand why there’s the line “be quick to forgive” because if you don’t, it just festers to the point where you’re not even sure what you’re mad at but it’s ugly and it’s broken and it’s not life giving at all. It just sits on your heart eating it away…I need to forgive…There’s just a lot of brokenness I’ve been embodying over the years since starting college…

Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is a process. Forgiveness is love.

As “Pops” said, “Without forgiveness we might as well be trying to drink poison hoping that it will have some effect on the other person.”

Seriously, who likes conflict? I don’t. I hate the gut turning feeling I get when I know I said more than I should. I hate that icky feeling you get in your heart when someone has let you down. What probably hurts the most is that these horrible feelings are more than likely caused by people you care about.

One of the hardest realization I had at IVLI was that I couldn’t get through the month without having what I and all other IVLIers call “difficult conversations”. As the phrase implies, it’s a conversation that is difficult and that you probably don’t want to have but these type of conversations are needed in any type of community, but most importantly they need to happen in a Christian community.

A difficult conversations, as explained in the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, (great book, seriously going to recommend it to anyone working on a team) comprises of 3 components:

  1. The “What Happened” Conversation. The “who said/did what” type of conversation. Simply what events occurred that led to the argument/disagreement in the first place. With this type of conversation, it’s good to hear both sides of the issue and how the other person understands the situation and why, as well as any impacts.
  2.  The Feelings Conversation. As stated in the book, “Feelings are the heart of the situation. Feelings are usually complex…”. In a difficult conversation, all feelings involved should be addressed, “without judgements or attributions,” and should be acknowledged before problem solving.
  3. The Identity Conversation. This conversation is a little bit more inward looking. “How does what happened affect my self-esteem, my self-image, my sense of who I am in the world?”.

Each of the above conversations are important in a “difficult conversation” and each need to be balanced for this type of conversation to work.

I’m a really emotional person. I’ll be the first one to tell you that. If you know Meyers Briggs, I’m an ISFJ. Heavy on the “F” or “Feeling” spectrum. A lot of my “difficult conversations” tend to lean more towards “So how does that make you feel?” or “I feel like…” so essentially I have no trouble expressing how a certain event makes me feel and sometimes I forget that other people aren’t as in tune with their or others emotions. I will admit though that I tend to avoid having the “what happened” conversation and the “identity conversation” because, honestly, they scare me. What if I’m wrong? What if I’m overreacting? Am I playing into the angry black woman role that the media seems to perpetuate? A lot of the avoidance, I realize has to do with my pride.

During my time at IVLI, I had multiple difficult conversations, some as short as, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to your worship music selection…” to as long as, “Because of certain instances in the past I feel exhausted, undervalued, and unsupported as a leader, friend, and sister-in-Christ…”. Some conversations were easy to fix the tear between me and the other person with one stitch of a conversation and some tears still need a few more stitches. That’s ok.

“I promise you that I will still probably say the wrong things,” a friend told me during one of our difficult conversations at IVLI. Some may have been frustrated with that but I appreciated the honesty that this sibling-in-Christ had. Being part of a community is never totally sunshine and rainbows. (Sometimes it is and sometimes you really have to hold yourself back from putting a frog in their bed…which I DIDN’T do…but it was a thought…) When you have different people working together, even under a common goal, you’re bound to rub someone the wrong way and vise versa. Also, from personal experience, it really does no one any good if you keep yourself from having a difficult conversation and forgiving someone.

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit,” – (Psalm 32:1-2)

Seriously, stopping myself from having difficult conversations with someone because of my pride or fears really doesn’t affect that person much but it affects me a lot. Of course, you shouldn’t just put all the blame on someone and realize that you might also play a role in whatever happened, but a lot of times miscommunication and lack of grace and humility between different people from different backgrounds and culture happens. At one point during my time at IVLI I explained that growing up in a Christian community like my home church meant that saying “fine” meant you weren’t fine, and with a lot of my “aunties” and “uncles” at my church that sort of response would not fly. The people I was explaining this to didn’t know that “fine” for me meant “engage me, ask what’s wrong, that’s showing love” but instead took it as “leave me alone, I don’t want to talk, I don’t trust you”. Weeks of feeling inadequate, left out, and unwanted could have been avoided if I had just stepped up and had that type of conversation earlier. Afterwards I felt really great and finally understood, even in such a small way, by my brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes starting difficult conversations can easily clear things up.

And sometimes, starting difficult conversations is just the beginning of a long road of repeatedly forgiving someone when they’re actually trying their hardest to do better even when cultural and background and life barriers cause them to trip sometimes.

“I promise you that I will still probably say the wrong things…but I care for you as my sister-in-Christ and our friendship is worth it…”

Yes, we will mess things up, say the wrong things, misunderstand each other countless times…We will be hurt, we will be frustrated, and in my case, a lot of tears will be shed.

“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times,'” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Yes, I will probably continue to be the emotional cry-baby of my leadership team until the time I graduate and even way beyond that. That’s just who I am. But by choosing to forgive people, especially my brothers and sisters who have hurt me in the past, forgiveness as Christ has forgiven me will turn many of those tears of sadness into tears of hope, joy, and love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

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Reference: Stone, Douglas, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Revised/Expanded ed. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2010.

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