Continuing on the theme of people in the Church being real with each other, I’d like to bring up another issue that I’ve noticed in myself that keeps me from growing and perhaps someone else will be able to relate.
I’m finding that if someone challenges me on something I do or say, sometimes I can be lightning quick at shooting down their challenge with my laser-guided, razor sharp justifications! Unfortunately for the person bringing the challenge, they just haven’t realised how perfect and flawless I am yet (go back and read that with a tone of sarcasm) so it’s my job to explain to them that the weakness they think they’ve seen is actually one of my greatest strengths and the problem is their flawed perception! (if you stopped reading in the sarcastic tone, go back and keep it going up to here) Still don’t know what I mean? Maybe an example will help*:
Friend 1: “Hey Bob I was hoping I’d catch you today, I just wanted to share a little something with you because you know I love you and I feel like I should point out something you might not be aware of.”
Friend 2: “Of course friend, you know I love and appreciate your wisdom in my life. What is it?”
Friend 1: “Well I’ve noticed that you have a bit of a habit of talking a lot about people when they’re not there and speculating as to what is going on in their life. I’ve seen you do this on a number of occasions and some were particularly harsh and negative. I know you wouldn’t do this intentionally but I think you have a problem with gossiping.”
Friend 2: “Haha! I’m so glad you brought this up! I can totally see where you’re coming from but let me explain. You see I’m just a very caring person and so I care what’s going on in other people’s lives. I also have the gift of discernment so I can usually tell what’s happening in others’ lives. I’m an external processor so I have to think out loud so talking to people helps me to think. So you see there’s nothing to worry about.”
Friend 1: “…”
Friend 2: “I’m glad we were able to clear that up. This was a good chat.”
Any of that sound familiar? Now I’m not saying that Friend 2’s response couldn’t hold an element of truth in it, I just wanted to expose what the surface level of this issue could look and sound like. Friend 2 is likely to start conversations with “I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…” or “I’m only telling you this so don’t tell anyone but…” Friend 2 clearly has an issue with gossip but has learned how to dress it up in Christian terms so that they don’t have to recognise or deal with it and they may even convince Friend 2 of this so the challenge won’t be repeated. In fact the more they do it, the easier it gets as their conscience gets “seared” leading to a deadening of their conviction (1Tim 4:2) to avoid gossip.
I’ll try another example.
Friend: “Don’t take this the wrong way Terry but I think you are quite aggressive and controlling in group settings. It’s like we always have to do what you want to do or you get into a mood or try to make us feel bad.”
Terry: “Come on Friend, don’t be such a wimp! You know what I’m like, I’m just a passionate and decisive person! So much of the time everybody is just faffing around, someone needs to make a decision so I do. I don’t always have to have my way.
Friend: “Last week you said if we didn’t play Articulate you were going to leave.”
Terry: “I was just joking…”
Friend: “You sulked in the kitchen the rest of the night… Was that a joke too?”
Terry: “Well Articulate was just better than all the other options.”
Does any of that sounds familiar? When Terry’s friend has tried to point out a weakness (aggressive and controlling), Terry has turned it round into an apparent strength (passionate and decisive). Terry’s behaviour at the party is the sort of behaviour you’d expect from a toddler but his ability to cover it over with excuses makes it difficult for his friend to get through to him how he is making people feel.
I think that we all have weaknesses and our ability to recognise those weakness in ourselves or when others bring them up is key to us being able to grow together as a church community (or human beings if you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian). I think we need to never get beyond the point where we’re willing to have people challenge our behaviour and thoughtfully consider what they say and ask the Holy Spirit to help us take a proper look at ourselves. Becoming more like Jesus is a team sport! This takes a massive amount of humility and maturity especially if it’s not brought in the way you’d prefer.
God sometimes challenges our humility and maturity by sending messages through means that we don’t like.
For further information see the way Israel’s prophets spoke to them… Proverbs 27:6 says that you can trust wounds from trusted friends. I totally believe that and I champion close friendships that are raw and honest and real. However I think we can go too far with that and start to close our ears to anyone who isn’t a close and trusted friend and keep them from speaking into our lives and highlighting our behaviour. After all our friends won’t always be right. We can be tempted to hide away in an ivory tower and surround ourselves with friends that we know love us but that we also know largely agree with us and perhaps trap ourselves and end up protecting ourselves from receiving truth which of course is stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying let’s have everybody speaking into everybody else’s lives. There will be times when people bring us challenges out of the blue who have little or no relationship with us and instead of writing them off straight away thinking “They don’t know me” “They’ve got major issues so they couldn’t possibly see clearly enough to judge me” we’ll need to be in a place where we can hear them out with true patience, wisdom and discernment and the input of others. I am saying that we should be approachable. I went through a time in my life where no one would confront me because I gave off a vibe that a) I am pretty perfect and b) You aren’t nearly spiritual enough to challenge me. I’m still on a journey of breaking that down but I’m feeling the benefits of opening my life up to people who know God and love me to take a look at how my heart matches up with my actions! I really love and value the people in my life who do that for me, even when I don’t respond too positively. I think remembering that God speaks through people (people are cray cray) will really help us in this!
There’s also a responsibility on those bringing challenges to be bursting at the seams with grace and love so that they do all that is in their power to ensure that a word of correction is well-received. I’ve heard a lot of people (including myself) bring direct and accusative challenges to other brothers or sisters under the banner of “tough love” expecting people to listen to them and change. In the second above example, Terry was likely to feel somewhat under attack from the way his friend challenged him and that put him on the defensive. Danny Silk, an american minister would say that the goal of any confrontation among friends should be intimacy or in-to-me-you-see. That is, in challenging one another’s behaviour our first objective should be to allow the other person to see how their behaviour is affecting us (or others) on the inside. A simple way to think about this is not starting our sentences with “YOU” e.g. “You are selfish and evil.” But rather starting them with “I” e.g. “I feel like sometimes you make yourself and what you want more important than me and that hurts.” This means we are accepting that our perception might not fully reflect reality but we’re showing it to our friend who we believe cares how we feel and allowing them to process it. (Gents this isn’t going to win you any MANLY MAN OF THE YEAR awards in the world but you’ll definitely be a candidate for sonship in Matthew 5:9)
Lastly I think remembering that no-one has it altogether keeps us from being afraid of exposing our weaknesses to ourselves and to others. I think this requires real wisdom and restraint because it can be very easy to begin a pity party where all you ever talk about is your weaknesses. That’s not healthy or fun… for anyone. Acknowledging that we have weaknesses without joining with the Holy Spirit to put work towards them isn’t helpful either. I’ve found it hugely liberating and empowering to discover that other people in the Church have issues that they’re still working through and God still loves them, speaks to them and uses them! Without making a parade out of it I think exposing our weaknesses also encourages others to work through theirs. I heard a guy called Christen Forster say something like “When we hide from God we hide from ourselves, when we hide from ourselves we hide from each other and then we end up thinking we’re pretty righteous.” I have to stress that this is a community project! We can’t do this alone. The presence of God in our lives is supposed to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. It’s fruit for other people to enjoy! You can’t be kind by yourself, kindness is designed to work in relation to others and the same goes for the rest. We need this. I need this. You need this. And sometimes it’s scary. Let’s not run from truth and transformation because we don’t like the packaging it came in. See the Pharisees for further details and let’s encourage and empower each other to grow and become more like Jesus by challenging and building one another up with boundless grace.
Final thought: “Accountability is not just someone pointing out your faults, it’s about someone holding you to your calling.” – Ian Rossol
Thanks for reading. If you found this helpful, do have a read of the post “Let’s Be Honest” for further thoughts on this area. I’d love to hear some feedback from you on your thoughts and feelings if it’s encouragement or criticism : )
*You may never have seen, heard or had a conversation like this before where a friend is honest enough to confront you. Ask yourself a few questions. 1) Am I perfect? 2) Do I have good friends? 3) Am I scary? The answers might help you figure out if 1) You’re Jesus 2) You have people around you who care more about you than they do your friendship 3) You give people the impression that they able to challenge you without being attacked themselves.