It seems I have rubbed some of my Christian family the wrong way lately. I don’t know what I did, because they won’t discuss it with me. So naturally I can’t fix anything — assuming there is something to be fixed in the first place. In such cases my kneejerk reaction is always to exonerate myself. They are just coping with guilt feelings, I am just bearing the brunt of their hostilities because I put myself in their path, if they were better Christians they would face me and talk it out, etc. I’m sure you have had similar reactions to similar circumstances; perhaps you are even having them now. And perhaps we are correct in our assumptions.
But the bottom line is this: there is a schism in my family, and (despite my best intentions and their alleged character flaws) I may have something to do with that.
So since it appears I am going to get no help from the other side of the non-argument, I have taken it upon myself lately to reexamine my approach to brethren who are wandering, indifferent or erring. It’s all fine and good to say we should have “the spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). But what does that actually look and sound like? How might I self-diagnose more effectively?
I’m still thinking. I’ve been thinking for decades now.
I doubt my musings will be any more helpful for you than they are for me. But here they are in any case. If you have better ideas, I would be grateful if you would share them with me.
Our good intentions do not always come across. I know I have failed in this regard over the years; I probably still do. We have a heart full of golden apples, but we struggle to fit them into the proper silver settings — to borrow an analogy from Proverbs 25:11. That should not be good enough for us. We do not want to merely mean well; we want to do well. That means anticipating the way we will be received and, if necessary, adjusting our approach accordingly. Surely the principle of “going the extra mile” — that analogy, of course, coming from Matthew 5:41 — is utilized well in these situations.
Face-to-face is best. Sometimes it can’t be managed, for one reason or another, and you are forced to adopt other tactics. The good news is, we have many options in our day and age. The bad news is, most of them work very poorly in these situations. Handling interpersonal conflicts is often all about nuance, and approaches such as texting and social media handle nuance very poorly. Social scientists say at least two-thirds of our communication is non-verbal; using nothing but words is setting yourself up for failure. Jesus told parties at odds one with another in Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15 to “go” make amends. Granted, that was before we could do that from the comfort of our couches. Still, we all know there is no substitute for looking someone in the eye. If we are hesitant to do that, it may be a sign of laziness — or worse yet, insincerity.
Sarcasm is almost always a bad idea. That is tough for me to say; sarcasm is kind of my thing. But it’s difficult to manage in bridge-building situations. People who are already on the defensive will take virtually anything as a slight and an invitation to cut off contact. It may be satisfying in the short term to “stick it to them” before they unfriend or block you. But there’s no point in giving them a good excuse to make you into the bad guy. The kinder, gentler approach is better in practically every circumstance. Some claim to have “that kind of relationship” with the estranged one — always picking at one another, never taking offense. That may be so, but you would be surprised how often that sort of assumption results in long-term damage.
Finally, assume the best until it is completely unreasonable to do so. “Every benefit of the doubt” is probably too much leeway to grant, if we are to be honest. I often joke about someone being “trapped under something heavy” and therefore incapable of reaching their smart phone and returning a text for a couple of days. The fact is, if I respond to a friend’s text immediately and don’t hear back from them for a couple of days, they almost certainly did not suffer a heart attack or find out a near relative just passed away. I can safely assume they know I am watching for a response, and I am reasonable in taking offense at being “ghosted.” That said, there are any number of reasons why someone might not respond in the timely manner that I would prefer or expect. Love “believes all things,” after all (1 Corinthians 13:7). I should not jump to the worst possible conclusion at the first opportunity. And even in a situation in which I am being obviously and blatantly ignored, there is still room for love and patience. Perhaps it is nothing more than the proverbial “bad day.” That is no excuse for rudeness, of course; but I will admit, I have had bad days as well. It may be that the offender may come crawling back in a few days with the most sincere apology ever offered. I should be hoping to get it and accept it, not preparing for a cutting and (in my mind) well-deserved response.