Someone once said that serving in mission brings out the worst in you. It has and it did.
15 years ago, my anger was so great and unprocessed after serving in mission, that not only did I leave, but I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I spent a lot of time flat out on my bed wondering if this was it for my calling and my life, as I realised that 95% of people never fully recover.
Well, God was kind. Two years later I came through it to recover fully, but aware like never before that my anger management had to change.
And so, I worked on it. I realised that you can sin not only by exploding but also by imploding. An emotionally healthy spirituality will seek to recognise the anger inside, understand it and then look to express it carefully and sensitively.
I felt (and still feel!) poor at conflict management, but I was getting better, grateful for a second bite at the cherry of life.
Fast forward a decade and here I am this morning wondering what to write about, and I think about yesterday evening when I had two calls. The first, was a pastor asking for advice with his anger and the second, another leader elsewhere asking if I would do a course on conflict management amongst some of their leaders because they don’t know how to be reconciled.
…you can sin not only by exploding but also by imploding. An emotionally healthy spirituality will seek to recognise the anger inside…
All this when I couldn’t feel more broken in this area of anger management. But then 2 Corinthians 1:4 smiles at me over my shoulder, “God comforts us so we can then comfort others”. Well, I can certainly share from my mistakes.
So, let me share three principles that I’ve found helpful, taken from a secular management book (Crucial Conversations – Patterson et al).
Make it safe.
No conflict goes well if both parties aren’t feeling safe. If I’m not, I can say, “I don’t feel safe to express my feelings – I’m afraid it’s going to come across wrongly”. If I suspect the other person isn’t, I can try to create that space. “I’m sorry, I’ve spoken a lot and I’ve not heard you out,” or “I can see I’ve hurt you and I hate doing that. I do want to get better at communicating with you. Can you help me see what happened?”
Search for mutual purpose.
Instead of tackling a problem as enemies, I try to come at it together as friends. Last year this point saved a marriage in Turin. One wanted to move to another country, the other didn’t. The argument was so bad that only one agreed to meet. Having listened, it seemed they both wanted the marriage to work but just put priorities on different values. I urged the spouse to underline that they both wanted the same thing – a healthy family – and then talk about why each wanted what they did. Friends not enemies. That was revolutionary for them.
Get the facts clear.
Separate the facts from the story, I tell myself. For example, Mario is late to meet me. I’ve got so many things to do it’s just not fair for him to do this. How can he not be considerate towards me?! Alternatively, Mario is late. Well, he does so much. He’s probably listening to someone pouring out their heart. He’s so loving.
Same facts, different story. And if he is regularly late, I still just state the facts, “Hey Mario, I’ve noticed you were late the last two times as well.” And I let him reply. It could be cultural, it could be the timing doesn’t suit him, it could be that he’s normally late – in which case, I adjust my timing in future!
I wish I always reacted in these ways! I don’t but I keep working on it. And perhaps it’s not by chance that this last year in church, we’ve started attracting a number of new, young couples. Perhaps they can easily identify with these battles too? May God give us all grace to be angry and not sin.