This is the third in a series of five themes on dynamics that facilitate ill health and ineffectiveness amongst global workers. Here is the original list and links to read the first two:
Relationships in Crisis
The first two themes in this series have dealt with spiritual deficiency and exhaustion. These dynamics deplete us. Throw in stress and the normal daily hassles of life and something will have to give. We have observed that under such prolonged duress we begin to break down spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Relationships begin to break too. Stress fractures begin to appear in relationships. Left unattended, those small seams split open into painful canyons between us and those around us.
Do you remember the massive bridge collapse in Minneapolis several years ago? People were simply commuting along in life when suddenly the entire infrastructure of the bridge gave way. People’s lives were lost that day. There had been no major accident or earthquake. Small stress fractures grew into major structural compromises until it all came tumbling down. That is a painful illustration of what can happen in relationships when unresolved conflict and misunderstandings are not leaned into with intentionality. Marriages break and kids are deeply wounded. Teams dissolve. People lose out on the opportunity to witness the love of Christ expressed in mercy and forgiveness between others. This need not be.
All too often in our work we encounter couples living in an atmosphere of stoney silence. In public they appear fine, if one does not look too closely. But at home, it’s like a deep freeze. Some parents find their children distancing themselves. Ministry teams have a list of unresolved conflicts. Staff lose trust in leadership. Of course, this can happen anywhere. But when the context is within the outrageous demands of life and work cross-culturally, everything is compounded. The level of unresolved conflict – whether mild and under the surface or extreme and public is astounding. We are “nice” to each other but will not honor one another by speaking openly, honestly, and with maturity. We are masters at being passive-aggressive and practicing triangulation.
Again, this need not be.
“By this they will know that the Father sent me, that you love one another.” Isn’t this the greatest challenge and opportunity?
Here are a few brief, maybe obvious, suggestions. As always, the list is not comprehensive. And it has to be stated that these situations can be very complex and require effort beyond merely extending forgiveness, for example. However, these following suggestions implemented will head off a lot of relational pain.
1. Take care of yourself. This may seem counterintuitive. It is not selfish. We cannot care and lead others if we cannot or will not self-care and self-lead. I cannot give away that which I do not have. Too many of us are still carrying around baggage from younger years. If I feel like God is always angry with me, how can I be merciful to others? If I am not acutely experiencing God’s love and care for me, what do I have to extend to another? Many of us can seek out formal counseling for these deep, life-long wounds. The point here is that my life can be an overflow of the love, grace and mercy from God. But I must receive first. Tend to you own “stuff” rather than pick at someone else about theirs (Jesus addresses this with the “log and splinter” analogy). Seek intentionally for God to mature and deepen you and you will have much to bring to all your relationships. And how do you steward your own heart – do you relate to yourself well? Are you gracious with yourself?
Do not cease to grow in your own self-awareness, spiritual depth, emotional intelligence, and relational skills. In the end these are all fancy phrases for “loving well” – which is the greatest command. Some resources are listed at the end of this article.
2. Be deliberate in tending to your core relationships: spouse, children, friends, teammates – whoever fits into this category of core relationships for you. If you do not have the time or energy for this, see previous entries in this series. Spouses court one another. Parents pursue and listen to your kids. Make time for friends. How many spouses and TCK/MK’s are out there who feel they are second in line to “missional strategies?”
3. Deal with unresolved conflict. I know, its scary. I learned some time ago that conflict will not kill me. Painful? Yes. Certain death? Not required. Our unresolved conflict is eating the heart out of the gospel’s power. People do not want to see slick programs. The world is dying to witness love. Teams, please get “it” on the table and talk about “it”, whatever “it” is. If you are carrying something in your heart, no matter how small you think it is, go and talk about it. Make this top priority. Do not put “it” off any more. Confess. Apologize. Forgive. Forgive, again. And again.
If you need some help, that is not unusual. Ask for someone to come alongside to help. That is not a sign of weakness, it is wisdom.
4. Being a leader is big these days. But the greater work is being a follower. Followership is too lightly treated. We are all followers first. If I cannot submit to authority I will likely mishandle any authority granted me (like parenting or team leading). How is your followership these days? Are you following close to Jesus? Are you making it easy for the leaders in your life to lead or are they groaning in their spirits (see Hebrews 13:17)? Leading cross-culturally today is one of the most complex tasks in the world. Be gracious to positional leaders in your life. If you are a leader, see #1. You cannot lead people well if you cannot self-lead well. Here is an article recently published by TalentSmart titled “Why Your Boss Lacks Emotional Intelligence.” Organizational leaders ought regularly to take a glance over their shoulder. What is the relational wake you are leaving? Is it one of people tended to, heard, cared for, and empowered? Or are there people who are afraid of failure, feeling unknown and unheard, and others who are simply angry because of another “policy” being upheld as if it is more important than their unique circumstances?
5. Humble thyself. The Bible does not instruct us to pray for humility. It instructs us to be humble. Humility is a choice. Unforgiveness is not wise. Passive-aggressive styles of relating are not acceptable. Holding grudges is not being like our Father in heaven. “Forgive, even as you have been forgiven by God in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:32).” Ask God for mercy and move toward others with the humility of one forgiven-one to another.
The greatest work we do is loving others. If I am a linguistic expert and do not love….You know where this goes…
Fight for others. Fight for your marriage, your kids, your team, your community, your friends. That is what Jesus did for us. Jesus told us that this alone can have the effect of causing people to know him: “If you love one another…..”
Shepherds: How are your relationships? Again, we cannot lead people where we have not gone ourselves. If your marriage is thin, you will not be able to tend to others in their marriage. That goes for singles, parents, or teammates. How is your followership? As you tend to others take courage and lean into these areas in other’s lives. Do not assume that what is presented is the whole (or real) picture. It is not nosey to ask someone about their core relationships. It is caring to do so. Remember, Jesus is who we all need all the time. Bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus.
Peter Scazzerro Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: You cannot be Spiritually Mature and Remain Emotionally Immature
Bradberry and Reeves Emotional Intelligence 2.0
Henry Cloud Integrity