Response to Emotions

jesus-weptJesus wept. (John 11:35)

His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. His emotions weren’t out of control. He simply wept. He felt. He expressed those feelings.

And so did the people around him after he wept. They certainly had a variety of responses:

  • The Jews said, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36)
  • Some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
  • Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.” (John 11:39, following Jesus commanding the stone of the tomb be removed)

We respond differently to situations, as well as to the way others respond to those same situations. We declare people are too sensitive or justified. We’re surprised by how well or poorly we think they’re handling something. We have our own emotions to sift through, and our emotions affect our response to others’ emotions.

Be careful. Emotions are great companions but terrible leaders. They enhance life, but they don’t run life. Don’t give them the power and control they don’t deserve, either in your own life or your assessment of others.

Stories

Anyone who met my dad has a story about him. And he met a lot of people. He saw lots of people on a regular basis. But he also made friends with people he knew for a short time. He nearly always went away from the interaction with a story about the person’s life, a bit of news, or an odd connection he’d discover about something or someone they had in common. My dad was always searching for and collecting stories, connecting the dots.

(I sometimes wonder what stories people who had short encounters with him took with them, and what they shared with others. Like the guy outside Macy’s in Manhattan. Did he go to work and say, “I had the strangest conversation today with a country boy who was standing outside Macy’s while his wife and daughter shopped. He looked completely out of place but acted as if him being there and saying hi to people as they rushed by was absolutely normal.”)

For as much as he talked and shared stories, he listened well. He had absorbed a lot of information throughout his life. Like all of us, some of it was probably useless, but I was often surprised at how what I thought was a useless fact, brought up at just the right time, resonated with someone just enough to make a connection.

Maybe that was the point: connections. Dad rarely started a conversation out of the blue. He listened for springboards, bouncing off what someone else would say. People remember him because of his stories, but the stories stuck because he engaged people. He went along with the flow of the conversation, not trying to force it but simply using it to journey with someone, whether it was outside a department store in New York City, during biweekly treatments, or over coffee before the sun was up.

People were important to him. People often listened, because he listened to others. He collected stories, then wove them into others’ stories. If he was in a crowd with someone who seemed to be talking just to hear herself/himself, he wouldn’t engage. (In fact, you might even catch him rolling his eyes and moving his hands as if to say, “Blah, blah, blah. Will this chatter ever stop?”) Dad shared lots of words, but if the words themselves were the goal, he was out. If the interaction between two people was the goal, he was in.

Too often, we have an agenda to sharing our stories and knowledge. We want other people to know what we know. We want to share what’s going on in our lives. But the best way to do that is to listen to what’s going on with others. That’s when the dots begin to show up, the dots that are similar to our own, the dots we can connect.

And if we can’t connect the dots with others, what’s the point?

If we don’t connect the dots, it’s just a lot of “blah, blah, blah.”

Must Respect Be Earned?

respect-1I’ve heard it often recently:

He’ll have to earn my respect.

I refuse to respect someone who does that.

Just because someone’s in a certain position doesn’t mean I have to respect him or her.

I get it. It’s difficult to respect someone who is behaving badly, refuses to show respect to you or someone else, or seems to have severe character flaws.

But…

if we wait until people prove they deserve respect before we extend respect will we ever have respect for anyone? Who actually deserves respect (if we’re fully aware of everyone’s motives, thoughts, and attitudes)? On what standards do we base our respect? Don’t we all somewhat use our own standards? What’s important for one person to display is low on the priority list for someone else. One person sees assertiveness and outspokenness as important, while another sees patience and humility as essential. When we pit one quality or behavior against another, we fail to see the benefits something we personally don’t respect might have in specific situations. Instead of pitting qualities against each other, we might be better off seeing them on a sliding continuum. Then, the most important quality is the ability to discern where to be on that sliding continuum in different situations.

We don’t have to admire and fully support someone to extend respect to him or her as a human being. Respect isn’t unconditional acceptance. Respect is common decency. Respect isn’t supporting actions and attitudes that oppose our own beliefs. Respect is stepping outside a situation briefly enough to see that we all have flaws, and we can communicate in spite of them. Respect isn’t letting the bad stuff slide by unchecked. Respect is knowing how to approach people in productive conflict.

When Friends Betray

communication-73331Now it is not an enemy who insults me—otherwise I could bear it; it is not a foe who rises up against me—otherwise I could hide from him. But it is you, a man who is my peer, my companion and good friend! We used to have close fellowship; we walked with the crowd into the house of God. (Psalm 55:12-14)

The distance between people who have never been close rarely feels as far as cracks and chasms that grow between people once close to each other. The latter might be minute in comparison to the former, but it can feel overwhelming, isolating, and painful.

When distance grows, we feel betrayed. Not always, but it’s strongly possible we’ve had something to do with the betrayal (and distance). Even our reactions can influence the crack-soon-to-be-chasm. We can’t change what someone else does, but we can certainly choose how to respond to it.

When friends betray us, we don’t have to betray them. It might be wise to keep our distance, but we can choose respect, forgiveness, and compassion, even if it’s in our attitudes and conversations that have nothing to do with direct communication with them.

When friends betray us, we don’t have to betray them. It’s easier to build a bridge over a crack than a chasm.

Answer Carefully

internet-business-questions-answeredPeople ask a lot of questions. And that is good. As Christians, if we’re not being asked questions, there’s a problem. Either we’re not getting out and about enough, or we’re not approachable enough.

I’m not just talking about questions from people who aren’t Christians. Christians need to ask each other questions, too. But we must be careful answering questions. We don’t have all the answers. Even when we think we have an answer, we need to accept the possibility (and responsibility) of being wrong. That might not be our intent, but it’s always possible.

There is always a motivation behind the question, and it might not be obvious. Questions that might sound like interpretation are more than likely questions of application. People might ask, “What does this mean?” or “What do you think the truth is about…?” But the underlying question is often “What do I do with this?” or “How will you respond to me even if I disagree?”

You can’t know all the implications behind the question, but you can always answer with humility and respect. Speaking the truth is always important, because it is the only firm foundation for the relationship, for you, and for the other person. But speaking the truth always needs to be done in love, which involves respect, patience, kindness, and self-control.

 

Communication and Talking Aren’t The Same

blah-blah-blahSometimes I talk without communicating well.

I know I don’t control someone else’s attention or response, but I can pay attention and respond as I’m talking. After all, talking isn’t the point. Communication is.

I’ve often used the phrase, “But I already told you…” or “I said…,” as if the simple fact that words came out of my mouth secured successful communication.

It doesn’t.

The weight doesn’t completely rest on me, but I need to take communication seriously enough to know that I have some responsibility. I know my motives and my style, so I may think that just saying something to someone or sending an email or text gets the job done. But communication is often less about the content and more about the relationships involved. If I don’t respect the other person through the communication process (and my attitude), what have I gained? What could someone else possibly gained?

The goal of communication is rarely isolated to information.

Communication involves people, so respect, patience, forgiveness, and humility must be a part of it…perhaps even the goal.

 

I told you so.

imagesSaying “I told you so” might get your point across. It might prove you were right and someone else was wrong. It might give you some status…for a moment.

You might feel like you win (and someone else loses, and you’re okay with both). But in reality, “I told you so” is boasting. It drives a wedge between people.

So what if you told someone something and they have now learned the hard way? Isn’t learning the hard way enough? What if, instead of kicking them while they’re down, you reached out a hand of encouragement, helped them dust off, then offered to walk the next few steps together as they limp?

Of course, sometimes staying alongside someone isn’t the most healthy option for either you or the other person. You need to walk separate paths for a while. And if you’re walking separate paths, there’s still no need to say, “I told you so.”

Let them realize it in their own timing. It will stick longer, and you’ll maintain some respect for yourself, and potentially from the other person. After all, would you continually go to someone for advice and help if they constantly remind you how smart they are?

You don’t have all the answers. None of us do. Let’s be humble with what we do know, be willing to grow and change as we discover our misunderstandings, and respect others every step of the way.