Chapter 11: Lies Your Mother Told You
Okay, so this isn't really about lies told by mothers. But it is about a misconception that was taught, perhaps subliminally as an assumption, if you grew up in the evangelical church. It was an assumption passed down to me, at least. Are you curious?
Here's the misconception: Missionaries are holier, more spiritual, than the average Christian and thus, there's never any conflict among fellow missionary workers.
I'm here to tell you that that's a lie! How do I know? Well, I only have to look at my own life, the many, many, mistakes I've made, the harsh words I've spoken, the grudges I've held, to know it's a lie.
I also know, have learned, that it's a tool of the enemy to discourage me, belittle me and make me feel like a failure. But more than that, it's a tool he uses amongst co-workers and fellow missionaries to cause dissension and feelings of ill will or bitterness in his goal to thwart the work God has called us to. He really hates to see God's kingdom move forward!
Why am I mentioning this today? Well, because in the last two weeks, I've received two totally unrelated emails from two coworkers that were filled with harsh, accusatory words. The most recent one felt like a severe reprimand from a dad to his toddler child (Ironically, my real dad would NEVER speak such harsh, hurtful words). Written to me--someone who's been with this organization for 35+ years.
I was reminded of something that happened to us when we first moved to the Philippines in 1992--a story I can share about our first year on the mission field.
When we first arrived in the Philippines in the fall of '92, we studied the Tagalog language in Batangas City, a small undeveloped city three hours south of Manila. We didn't own a vehicle so any trips to Manila for meetings or major shopping were done by bus--not easy with three pre-schoolers. Plus, we had to organize accommodations at, and additional travel to, our centre in Manila. So, when it came to Christmas shopping, Doug and I decided to divide and conquer. We took turns travelling the earliest bus up to Manila on Saturdays, then spending one night there or returning the same evening. Christmas shopping was fun and without stress and between the two of us, we found everything we wanted to make our first Christmas away from Canada enjoyable for our kids.
What we didn't realize is that we were being monitored by the member care couple for our field. They noticed we weren't travelling together or as a family. And, instead of contacting us to understand why OR even to offer to help, they came to their own conclusion: Our marriage was in trouble!
What? Yup. That's what they decided without talking to us. And then to make matters worse, they didn't even let us know what they were thinking--to try and clear things up. Instead, they went to the senior couple that we'd come to work with and told them what they'd already decided in their minds (and, by the way, what they documented as truth). The senior couple who already knew us, thought the idea ridiculous. We'd told them what we were doing and why. But even then, the member care couple believed the worst.
When the senior couple we'd come to work with told us what was going on behind our backs, we were shocked. We knew nothing of all this swirling gossip, because that's what it was. I was upset but my hubby was closer to furious, not just because of the accusation but also because of the way it was handled (or not handled). We'd never been treated this way. It was our first assignment and we were just trying to adjust and adapt, learn the language, be good parents and basically survive that first year. And then this. We were so hurt.
I wish I could tell you that that was our one and only conflict experience with fellow missionaries. But missionaries are only human and no holier or more spiritual than other believers. We are all broken people in need of forgiveness, redemption and healing.
I'm still not close to being perfect, but I HAVE learned a few things along the way when it comes to conflict in the work place, no matter where you are. In the last two weeks, I've been able to give feet to the practices I'm sharing here:
Be humble. Humility is elusive. You don't really know if you've learned it until you're confronted with something. Your response will be your indicator. I've had a fair bit of practice in this. Hahaha! But I think I'm getting there.
Breathe and pray--don't react. I can be quite spontaneous, so reacting comes naturally to me. Not good. I'm getting better at taking in some deep breaths to calm myself and then inviting the Spirit into the situation. Both these things help me get my bearings.
Process. I'm a writer, so I write to process. But I'll also process by vocalizing my emotions, sometimes to a wall, often with my husband. If he's not around, I'll give God an earful of emotions. He's a big God. He can handle anything without an accusatory response. Either way, find a safe place/person to process with. Get out all that pain and frustration. It will help you get to the bottom of things--to the hard and heart things that truly matter.
Don't reply immediately. Or if you do, write your response in a Draft. Then let it sit for a day or more. If possible, read your reply to someone else to make sure your words are clear. But also, to make sure your underlying tone is gentle or at least benign. And remember, once your email is sent, it's documented. So sometimes it's best to NEVER send your response--at least not that response. That's how we handled that whole situation in the Philippines. We never replied. But, unfortunately, we remained guarded around this couple. They'd lost our trust. Not sure if that was the best way to handle things but it was all we had energy for at the time.
Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Consider where they're coming from and perhaps what they're dealing with in their own lives, be it physical, mental, emotional, familial. Maybe you don't know what that is. Maybe you do. Just remember that EVERYBODY is imperfect, has baggage, and is in need of redemption, just like you.
There are two sides to every coin. In other words, perhaps you DID do something wrong. Sometimes we can't see the real issue because it's wrapped in hurtful, accusatory words. Ask God for the wisdom and understanding to get past the emotions. This morning I read Psalm 119:32 which reads, "I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding." We all need our understanding broadened when it comes to maintaining relationships and understanding others. This verse reminded me that God can give us that.
Apologize. Your part in the issue may have been small. Size doesn't matter. An apology from you in response to the accusations will go a LONG way to soften the other person's heart, drop their guard, and help them realize that you're offering a kind way to move forward in your relationship. And who knows. Perhaps down the road, after things are smoothed over, a deeper friendship will grow. With the email I received two weeks ago, I remembered these words from Prov. 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." I responded with gentleness and the person replied with an apology. Relationship restored.
Remember and pray. Remember that there's a battle going on--a spiritual battle. As I said before, the enemy is trying his best to cause dissension among the ranks so that the work and the Word won't go forward. Pray against those flinging arrows and stand firm in your faith because "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be silent" (Ex. 14:14).
Always give God the glory. Always! Hopefully relationships are restored. If so, thank God for His help and guidance and peace. But I'm not naive. I know conflict involves two parties. If the other party isn't willing to dialogue and move towards healing, then you need to leave the relationship in God's hands. Thank Him that He's helped you do your part. Then rest, remembering that He's all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful and that He's in control.
No lies. Here's the truth: His heart's desire is for us to live in harmony--for us to be "the sweet aroma of Christ..." (2 Cor. 2:15).
May that be my desire, our desire, as well.