Barbed-Wire Christians

12i-Barbed wireAre you a barbed-wire wrapped Christian? Even if it’s not you, I’m sure you know “that one person” who fits the description. Unless you completely agree with absolutely everything the person has to say (which I doubt is even possible), you watch them poke and wound others. Fighting takes precedent over kindness, arguing over listening, being right over engaging in a relationship to reach out to others. They are “come,” not “go” people, who focus on getting everyone to agree to and adopt their own perspectives instead of engaging people where they are and doing the messy life with them while living truth out loud.

How can you avoid being a barbed-wire Christian?

Laugh at yourself more than others. Live with high hopes and standards of civility. Instead of chronically fighting back, fight how and when God intends. Pursue and follow Jesus well, because when you do, you won’t be retaliatory. Instead, everything you do and who you are becoming will be motivated and prompted by God alone.

What Card Are You Hanging Onto “Just In Case”?

“I realize I’m holding the divorce card in my pocket, and I need to get rid of it.”

It was a confession inviting accountability among those who were listening. The woman wasn’t proud of the card she was holding as an option. She humbly admitted in order to fully try to resolve a situation, she needed to set aside the option to get out. She needed to refuse the escape clause.

For her, it was a divorce card, but there can be so many other cards we carry with us “just in case.” We list a variety of situations in which we will use our card, and we believe we are fully justified, mainly because of what the other person does. We feel out of control because of what someone else can do–because others always have the freedom to make their own decisions, even those that impact us–so we cling to control by reserving a rarely-stated but powerfully-threatening card that we will pull out faster than the yellow penalty card on the soccer field. Even if we haven’t been wronged, we know there is potential, so we reserve the right to strike back.

But holding that card takes room in our lives, especially emotionally.

Maybe you’re not quite ready to ask someone to hold you accountable to get rid of the card you’re holding “just in case,” but at the very least, be honest with yourself about the card you’re holding. Count the cost of it.

Dealing with a Surprise Attack

imagesHave you ever received a surprise slap during a conversation? That experience when you feel a judgment, accusation, or confrontation comes out of nowhere?

Sometimes, you know it’s coming. It’s been brewing for awhile, waiting for just the right time and situation to spew forth. You can brace yourself for it. But when it catches you by surprise, it’s difficult to receive. Instead of responding, you might react…by lashing out, justifying yourself, or shutting down.

How can you prepare ahead of time for something you don’t know is coming? How can you remain sensitive to the possibilities of the relationships around you without taking everything personally? How can you take on a new perspective, one that takes you into consideration (after all, you’ll have quite a time completely ignoring your own perspective) but also widens the scope?

Sometimes, when people attack, accuse, or judge you, it’s not as much about you as you might think. Sometimes, they’re struggling through their own stuff, and you’re available at the time. Something you do or say reminds them of what most irritates them about someone else, or themselves. Perhaps you’re a safe sounding board, and even though you wish they’d take a less aggressive approach, they need to process out loud without a lot of interference. They might be questioning some things on their own, but they’re not quite ready to get personal with their questions. In fact, for the time being, they might have built up walls of protection to resist any personal reflection, because it’s just too daunting to face. It’s easier to examine and interrogate someone else’s life than their own.

You might never know the exact reason for the slap, and in the moment, it might not help a lot anyway, unless you’re willing to quietly use it as a motivation to stay engaged and be compassionate. Confronting the reason when emotions are already high will likely make the situation worse. Besides, your assessment of the situation might be wrong.

The bottom line is, someone is taking jabs at you, and you want to jab right bag and accuse, attack, and judge. So…do you? Should you?

Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “Is there some truth in what she’s saying to me?” Pause before you get defensive. Maybe God wants you to learn something about yourself that you would prefer not to face, especially from “that person.”

Ask yourself, “How can I honor God in my response?” If you’re able to calmly assess that it really isn’t about you, why take offense to it? Why not help the person process? Give her respect. Ask her questions to help her clarify what she’s thinking. Let her express herself, while responding in a kind way (kind, not as in becoming a doormat for people to walk on, but as in honestly engaging in caring conversation).

Sometimes, people seem to wrestle with themselves and others when they’re actually wrestling with God. What seems personal is…but it’s more about a personal relationship with God than something between you and the other person. Of course, God uses relationships to grow us, so pay attention. Do it His way, and you’ll grow toward Him and honor Him. How you respond is about your relationship with Him. Let Him determine what you need to take as personal. He’s not surprised by the slap. He saw it coming…and He also saw how you’d handle it and use it to trust Him.

Pay attention to God along the way. Then, when you’re faced with a surprise, you’ll be as prepared as He intends you to be. You have what you need…or rather, WHO you need. Trust Him through the situation. Honor Him with your response.

When the Fight Gets Personal

personalattackTo be attacked and accused when it’s justified is one thing. Being faced with the truth can be difficult, but you really can’t argue with the truth. Being wrongly attacked and accused is something else. And it’s difficult to take. When the fight gets personal, it’s tempting to fight back with the same tactics. It’s tempting to assume intentions, fling accusations, and choose the words you know will sting the most. But there’s another way.

I’m capable of fighting dirty. And by “dirty,” I mean anything outside the “fair” zone of Scripture. While I’m not proud of it, I’ll admit I’ve done it before. I’ve flung “you” statements, focusing on the person instead of the issue. I’ve angrily responded to something I heard second-hand or believed someone’s intentions to be instead of searching for the facts. I’ve stewed about something for a season before approaching someone with the issue instead of respecting him or her enough to clarify with compassionate confrontation in a prompt way.

And because I’m admitting to having fought dirty in the past, I’ll also admit something I’ve discovered about fighting dirty: it’s exhausting! It’s exhausting to hang onto things. It’s exhausting to let issues pile up and lead to bitterness. It’s exhausting to try to figure out what someone’s intentions are instead of just asking. It’s exhausting to take control of the situation instead of just asking, “How and when does God want me to respond?”

I don’t take fights as personally as I used to, because I’ve found that when I filter every conflict, issue, relationship, etc., through God’s perspective, my perspective changes. I learn things about myself I didn’t know. He reveals himself to me in fresh ways. I’m rejuvenated even through exhausting conversations. I have peace even in chaotic times.

I try to leave the “I’m being attacked so I need to attack back” mentality behind, because looking beyond it helps me clear my mind and heart, making way for God’s intentions. My perspective is less clouded when I remember I’m not the cause, result, or purpose of something. Involved? Yes. Fully in control? Absolutely not. That’s God’s job.

I recently had a conversation with someone who repeatedly assaulted me with verbal accusations, firmly built on assumptions that (I’m sure) made sense in her mind but made absolutely no logical sense. As she threw one blow after another, I had such an overwhelming peace of God’s presence. He invited me to glimpse at the situation with just a peek into what might be the reality of what was going on. First, she was hurting. I was being blamed for some of the hurt, but it really wasn’t me who could shoulder the blame. (And I’m not saying I am never to blame, because I certainly am! It’s just that I wasn’t to blame in this particular situation.) Instead of anger toward being unjustly accused of a laundry list of infractions, I felt compassion. I was sorry she was struggling. I wanted to help her work through some of the issues. I knew I wasn’t going to be the one to help in the big picture, but I committed to help in any way I could, starting with the way I responded…with respect and compassion instead of retaliation.

Second, I could trust the One I knew could shoulder the pain and hurt. Even though it felt personal, God assured me he didn’t see it that way. He reminded me of the pain he endured for me and reminded me that he’s equipped me to endure some pain for him. I don’t take up his cross because I can handle it. I take it up because he can. I respond in the way that he guides, because he says. I can’t do it in my own strength. I can only respond in his strength.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:24-26, NIV)

Then he told me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘You will not succeed by your own strength or by your own power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord All-Powerful.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Because you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you don’t have to take a lot of other relationship issues too personally. It’s personal when God says it’s personal.

Mama Bear Claws

You can mess with me, but don’t mess with my daughters!

I have Mama Bear claws. I don’t like to be threatened, but threaten or harm my girls, and I’m ready to attack. I can restrain myself (most of the time), because I don’t want to fight my girls’ battles. Well, I might want to fight them, but I know it’s better for them to exercise their own skills in confrontation, problem-solving and personality conflicts. I know they have to learn how to deal with demanding teachers, territorial friends, unreasonable employers, and well-intentioned but sometimes misguided family members.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a daughter was unjustly treated by a teacher who seemingly wanted to flex her authority muscles.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a friend consistently talked to my daughter with disrespect.

My Mama Bear claws came out when I felt my daughter’s employers were taking advantage of her work ethic.

Few people have seen my Mama Bear claws, because I don’t call the teacher, friend, or employer and intervene. I want to equip my daughters to discern what the best course of action is. It’s not easy, because it’s not about retaliation (which is what my Mama Claws often seem to be all about). We have to balance respect for authority with the timing, reasons behind the confrontation, and future of the relationship. I don’t want to bad-mouth those in authority in my daughters’ lives, because they have to learn the balance, and they (usually) have to continue the relationship in some way.

My Mama Bear claws pop out quickly on the inside but (thankfully) rarely show their ugly, unmanicured daggers on the outside. Ironically, my daughters see them the most often and not in the way you might expect. In talking them through the possible solutions of dealing with the issues, my passion to protect my daughters often comes out in a bossiness to instruct my daughters (in loud tones of frustration). I’m not frustrated with my daughters, but that’s how my Mama Bear claws often show.

I’ve even scratched my husband with them. While discussing an important issue about our now nearly-grown daughters, he needs only to make one brief statement, suggesting something I think wouldn’t be beneficial to one of the girls in a critical area, and – I growl and swat (figuratively, of course). It’s not his fault. He’s simply trying to interact with me, which might not be a great idea when I’m in protect-my-cubs mode.

It’s not my intention to growl at and attack the ones I love. They’re the ones I’m trying to protect. My intentions and my actions don’t always match. I’m not trying to be hypocritical. I’m doing life the best I can, but sometimes I’m caught offguard. And in some of those offguard moments, my reaction might be to attack.

The times of crises are rarely times we can learn new coping strategies. We need to establish our habits in everyday life in preparation for times of crises. We know they’ll come – rarely when or in the way we expect them.

I’ve tried to using my Mama Bear claw moments as teaching times for my daughters as they wade through conflict, but also I’ve learned a lot about myself. It hasn’t always been pretty. God gave me my Mama Bear claws. They’re a gift for those times I, as the mama caregiver, need them for serious protection. But I can’t rationalize when I should (or shouldn’t) use them. That’s up to God.

It’s the same with everything God has given me. He created me uniquely…and in his image. In return, my responsibility is to steward everything he’s given me with intent purpose of fulfilling his will, not mine. That means I need to be familiar with his will. I need to know enough about God and draw close to him so in those times of quick response, I will stand up, sit down, speak up, or shut up…whatever he’s requiring of me for that moment.

Are you using what God gave you for his intended purpose?

Are you rationalizing or miscontruing any behaviors or relationships in your life?

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. James 3:3-5