I’ve often dreamed about being like the model Proverb’s woman when handling conflicts with others — a wise woman who speaks the truth in love.
“When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.” (Prov. 31: 26)
I’ve longed for constancy with self-control instead of knee-jerk responses when something my husband says annoys me. I’d like to remember to take deep breaths instead of spewing word darts during conflicts with people I might disagree with. I’ve imagined soothing words of wisdom rolling off my tongue, calming words, like water streaming from a fountain, words bringing peace. I imagine speaking the truth in love all the time, in all circumstances.
Am I fooling myself?
I’ve worked on speaking the truth in love for years, both in prayer and in practice. I’m pretty good at it now, but still not great.
During my first week of a home spun staycation, in the cloak of intentional meditative time that I’ve carved out during my days, I’ve contemplated why it’s so hard for so many of us to master speaking the truth in love. Why moms and pops do we yell at our kids instead grabbing the handy dandy communication tools from our parenting tool boxes? Why can’t we harness spiteful remarks when our mother-in-laws, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, partners or co-workers trigger the worst of our emotional responses, those hiding, slithering snakes within us that slip out with whipping tongues?
Funny enough, I’ve been reading a memoir by a nun who served for 20 years in Mother Teresas’ order, the Missionaries of Charity, who helped me understand that even those of us trying to live spiritual, faith-filled lives will have trouble with expressing anger well.
I really thought, secluded from worldly confrontations, limited in the realm of human intimacies, focused wholly on God, nuns never got angry.
But in her memoir, this nun reveals a a heated moment with an emotionally abusive superior. In a justifiable fit of anger, she grabs her superior by her thin waist, lifts her up and shakes her. It’s only when she’s shocked by her own unconscious behavior, that she finally lets go.
This woman of God ‘lost it‘, her unconscious human faults slipping from her controlled life.
It’s not too different than when another nun cried out in her half-sleep, “I need a man!”
We are human after all.
I learned from this story that being spiritual and giving our lives up to God doesn’t mean anger and unconscious reactions won’t get the best of us.
I’m reminded of St. Paul’s words, “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” – Romans 7:19
Within weeks, the nuns forgave one another.
But it made me ask myself, as spiritual seekers in the world, with ample opportunities for conflicts within our intimate relationships and larger community, living in a melting pot of divisive politics, opposing points of view, and family dysfunctions, how can we possibly learn to curtail tendencies to argue with our less then perfect fellow human beings. We meet unkind people everyday who pick fights, people who test our patience. Friction runs deep — Republicans vs. Democrats, heightened religious differences, heated conversations on gun control. Even in our own marriages we disagree on how to discipline our kids, how finances should be handled, or what time curfews should be for our teenagers. Demanding bosses push us against the wall of our submerged tempers.
Just last night, after a long stressful day, my husband had it out with our teenager after one too many snide comments, while I’m saying on the sidelines saying, “guys, guys, speak with love”!
(My husband was probably thinking, enough with your blogs!)
I love reading the many gospels instructing us to speak with love and those that help calm the fury within in our souls. I’ve written them in bold letters in my journal to remember.
“Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults”.
“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.
However, when I’m tired or under stress, I lose patience. Not feeling heard or respected triggers old emotional wounds, lighting the flame of anger’s wick.
Sure, the wise gems of scripture inspire, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”.
But my question is okay, “How?” How, when we come from a family with horrific communication skills? How, when someone is downright ruthless, jealous, mean, and hurtful? How, when our kids push our boundaries like stretching rubber bands, when we’re just about to snap? How, when betrayal sneaks up like a thief in a once trusted relationship?
I’ve combed over scripture and sacred writings in search of wise instructive tools for answering my How-to questions. Yet, scripture is not meant to be a How-to, self-help manual like we want in our quick fix society.
No, but scripture does compel us to dig deep to find and live truth.
I’ve discovered a few gems of wisdom in scripture that helped answer my ‘How to’ questions for peaceful communication. Here are a few that can help those of us stumbling through rocky terrains of relating to one another in the world — and those within more cloistered religious communities who realize they’re also flawed human beings.
1. We Need to Make the Effort
We’re a work in progress — called to live a life worth of the calling of Christ, of being “completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love.”
And in doing so, We are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
It takes work to keep the peace, it takes ongoing effort to speak the truth in love.
2. We’re Given Grace, Gifts, and the Help One Another
We are given grace, gifts and our friends and communities to help us along.
“He filled earth with gifts, handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher.”
We can rely one another’s spiritual gifts for guidance, God’s design for building communities of love..
“.. until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other” .
Reach out to those who can help with healthier patterns of communication. We are not alone.
3. We are Given the Spirit of Truth
We are also given the spirit of truth — The Holy Spirit– Jesus called ‘The Counselor’ — moving in and through us, pruning our branches, shining light on our darkness, transforming our weaknesses into strengths.
4. We Need to Mature Spiritually:
We’re in training to become more Christ-like beings. Keep going..“be as nursing infants, and yearn for the word as for pure and spiritual milk by which you shall grow strong for life” 1Peter 2:3
5. Turn to Christ
We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. – The Message, Ephesians 4:15-16
The more we nourish our souls, abiding as branches on the vine, the more loving we become.
I found for myself, it’s important to keep in mind issues that could be inhibiting speaking the truth love.
Here are a few:
Is pride behind your conflicts with another? Can you seek to understand and not be understood. Put down your “I’m right” sword?
Only by pride cometh contention. Proverbs 13:10
2. Are we serving God or money, God or success, God or Ego?
Are your arguments about money or work? Is your striving for success hampering your relationship?
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other,
or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13)
3. Stress – Ignoring Basic Needs for Rest and Renewal
Lack of solitude and rest can be culprits of conflict in relationships. Be sure to have enough prayer time. Do you?
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.
He often rested, turned from the crowds to pray in quiet places. We must do the same.
4. God First, Selves/Marriage, Children, Work
I’ve noticed in my own marriage when we put our son before our time with God, our family gets off balance — a sure breeding ground for arguments. Check in with yourself regularly about any such imbalances in your life. Are you putting your work or your children before time with God? Are you putting your children before your marriage and time with God?
*Become familiar with emotional triggers and work on self-control.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.– 2Peter 1:5-7
*Resolve conflicts and arguments soon – Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. – Ephesians – 4:26
*Forgive- Forgive one another as quickly.. Ephesians- 4:31
“…speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ” -Ephesians 4:15
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