A few months ago I wrote a post about stepping into a boxing ring. The ring is a theoretical — but very real-feeling — stand-off. Since my mom passed away, I’ve imagined God much more as an opponent than a friend or protector. I felt I was headed into the ring to square up and duke it out with God to ironically, find a little peace.
I proceeded into the ring with fists tight and high, guarded and braced to protect. And nothing happened. No dramatic blows or knock-outs. Just nothing.
This fit my story of where I thought God was: Nowhere. Not coming. And, certainly not showing up for this show-down. Sounds about right.
One day a friend of mine asked me how I typically handle big conflict with friends. I first thought that I really don’t deal with much conflict with friends. Typically, whatever happens stems from everyone’s imperfection. I’m not perfect, I certainly don’t expect anyone else to be either. I said we talk it out, apologize and move on. Very mature. Very Pollyanna. But my friend knows me well so she dug a little deeper and after a minute or so I stopped myself. She had me. Time for a little for truth-telling.
If I’m being honest — like real honest, like the kind of honest where you admit things that reveal just a little too much raw truth — I’d admit that I’m not as forgiving as I’d hope. When big conflict happens my philosophy is more like “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a second time… You’ll never get close enough for a second chance.” One fatal misstep and that’s it.
As I’m explaining to my friend how I usually maintain a little space from someone after feeling hurt, I repeat what I’m saying, a little slower this time. Once I’ve been hurt I seek space and usually wait for the other person to make a move. I usually try to maintain the appearance of being untouched by it all but deep down, I’m reeling. I’m quick to castaway and slow to forgive. Then it dawns on me: Just as I do with humans, I surely do with divine relationships as well.
At some point, I have to be willing to let my guard down enough to hear the other party out. My disposition cannot demand that the other party demonstrate how very badly they want to be in my good graces. (After I’ve treated them like this, I’m not sure anyone would jump at the opportunity.) Rather than fists tight and up, maybe I walk into the ring hands down and open, exposed and defenseless. Maybe I check my attitude ring-side and thoughtfully walk in. Maybe I sit there long enough for the other person to feel safe approaching.
My initial strategy approaching the ring is flawed. Round 1 in the ring is counter-intuitive. It’s easy to fight. It’s easy to throw around mean words, especially with someone I’m angry with. It’s easy to dismiss someone when I assume the opponent has poor intentions from jump.
I’ve learned so far that counter to my instinct, resolving conflict begins with being open to resolve the conflict, not a pledge to open up or create deeper wounds. No skilled negotiations, hefty sucker-punches or strategic tactics. Instead, I’ll walk in with my hands open and sit down in the middle of the ring, actively practicing patience and hope, waiting for the opponent to show.
This will be interesting.
Whistling: Friends that push in all the right — and annoying — places.