From a recent sermon by Rev. Greg Ward:
“Does it feel, sometimes, like the whole world is in the midst of a conversation that isn’t finished? The conversation between who we’ve been and who we are called to be? The conversation between the certainty of what we know and the humility of all we don’t? And, of course, within these conversations are the conversations that have needed to happen, but haven’t. The conversation between the rich and the poor… Between light skinned people and people of color… Between Democrats and Republicans?
I could go on… but our countenance drops when reminded of the many wedges or walls or glass ceilings preventing all the needed conversations. And a sense of despair for the times we’ve tried to begin them and the first thing we hear is, “As I was saying…”
This world is filled with division… and hungry for communion (by which I mean, communication… community…)… which calls us into holy conversations…”
Holy conversations. What do you think of when you hear that phrase? I think of people learning what they didn’t know they didn’t know. I think of people opening to some new way of seeing things. I think of conflict dissolving into a real head scratcher of what-were-we-so-upset-about?
When I hear the idea of holy conversations I think of the larger social, cultural, political conversations that never quite finish or resolve. But I also think of the more intimate conversations between husbands and wives, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters. I’m thinking of all my mother and I haven’t said yet. Whew. What’s missing could fill stadiums. But I’m working on it. I’m working on it.
Regardless of what comes to mind, the idea of holy conversations is an intriguing one. And so is the consideration of what might be getting in the way of us having them.
When it comes to race relations in the US, perhaps it can come down to the mere idea of distance. We are still a highly segregated society. Something like 91% of whites don’t have people of color in their lives–and I’m told the statistic is largely the same among people of color not having any white friends. Distance is how most of us solve most emotional/anxiety based problems, irrespective of race. We simply remove ourselves.
Would it be possible to un-complicate this very complex issue? What does it take to close the distance between two human beings–be it on a larger social scale or on a much smaller one, like in your marriage or between you and your sister? Mother? Grandfather?
What might it take to have a holy conversation in your significant relationships? What part might you play in those conversations that never quite finish? Consider the following three principles to help you assess how you’re doing and to see if there is some way you can improve your part of the equation.
Curiosity is the desire to know something. When you’re thinking of your relationship with your spouse or your children what do you desire to know about them? Perhaps you feel you know all there is to know about them when it comes to problems and conflict. Perhaps you recognize you know very little. Can you think of 2 or 3 things you really don’t know about their perspective or about where they are coming from? Can you think of 2 or 3 ways you can approach them that aren’t demanding or emotionally laden? Inherent in the principle of curiosity is a lightness of spirit—a nice alternative to the heaviness we often feel in our relationships.
Detachment gets a bad wrap in our culture these days. It sounds cold and unfeeling, but it’s actually part of the foundation of warm, open, and caring relationships. Detachment is all about calm—not acting calm or faking it until you make it—but actually being calm. And I’m not talking about being calm when you’re by yourself and not being challenged. I’m talking about walking around in the midst of conflict or chaos in a state of chill. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? How might you assess what your current level of chill is in your most important relationships? Here are a few questions from therapist and writer Lorna Hecht-Zablow to ask yourself to begin to understand where you are on the continuum between chill and kill. Answer each question with a number between one and ten, ten being an extreme ‘yes’ and one being quite low.
- How aware are you of each other’s moods?
- How easily do you “push each others buttons”?
- To what degree do you have the feeling of “walking on eggshells?”
- To what degree do you try to avoid controversial topics?
- How concerned are you about hurting others’ feelings?
- How easily do your own feelings get hurt?
If you’re scoring on the low side, don’t worry. You’re in good company with the rest of us 7 billion or so human types. One of the most powerful and direct ways of getting to a more chill place (and staying there) has something to do with how far we can get practicing the third principle below.
Meaningful Connections with Multiple Family Members
How possible is it, in your extended family, to have a holy conversation? One where you are really curious about another, one where you can learn something you didn’t know you didn’t know. One where old conflicts turn into what-were-we-so-upset-about? The reality is, the chances of having a holy conversation with your mother or great aunt or whoever won’t be increasing if you don’t even show up. Keeping your distance, for sure, is highly adaptive in keeping the peace for a time. But it tends to escalate things over the long haul because it makes relatively small issues seem bigger and bigger–kind of like how our fear of the little monster in the closet turns it into a fire breathing dragon before we’ve been properly introduced. As the theory goes, the more we are able to succeed with our original families, the easier it is to live with more calm and curiosity in our chosen families and in society.
Check out this article written by leadership consultant John Engels about connecting with difficult family members, especially over the holidays. He’s got 7 great principles that can really prepare you for those just-around-the-corner holiday visits.
Did you know we are expanding?
We have begun by hiring our resident intern Josh Turton, LAPC, NCC. You can read more about him on our home page. Josh has a sliding scale available for 5 individuals or couples. Don’t miss out on quality yet affordable therapy now before the January rush!