Do you know what I mean? I DON’T mean how to have a vital blessed marriage or deep abiding friendships. Such unparalleled blessings are the result of unrelenting work, ruthless self-examination and being right with God. That does not lend itself to following general advice on a blog.
I am just shooting for a lower standard here. By peace I mean you hold no grudges, harbor no residual hard feelings from past slights, do not find yourself inwardly cursing or criticizing, actually look forward to seeing the person (unless they’re boring) or at least don’t avoid them or dread seeing them. You may say, “I can check all these off, I’m there”, BUT….if you get together with someone and somehow you get into a fight, or get snarky, then guess what? You aren’t at peace, you’ve been fooling yourself.
So what qualifies me to give advice on being at peace? 1. I have actively forgiven anyone who has wronged me, whether they asked for forgiveness or not. That even includes people who have stolen from me, and those who have betrayed my trust. How do I know I have forgiven them? I can think about them with no animosity. 2. I am no longer capable of being or feeling offended, even if someone were to make fun of my conditions (funny walking and writing due to stroke). I simply don’t take offense. In very rare instances when someone does make fun of me, I agree that I walk funny and say “be glad you’re not me.”
Feel free to question and disagree with anything I am about to say. But if you want to be at peace with others, don’t dismiss what you haven’t practiced. Why am I the way I now am? The apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15 “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” No Paul, I am the foremost sinner! I live that, so what right do I have to be offended? You don’t think you are a sinner? Not even a little? Then accept that your relationships will all eventually turn to shit, and you’ll be blaming others.
So let’s start with the way you talk to yourself. You know, that hypercritical voice in your head, the one that curses out others for every little slight. Oh, you don’t do that? What a saint you are. You certainly don’t need my advice. But for everyone else, let me posit an extreme example of why not to take that voice seriously. Let’s say that someone is constantly berating themselves, telling themselves “you are worthless, life will never get better, you should kill yourself”, so that person decides to do that by jumping off a bridge. They jump, and at that very moment, when it’s too late to make a better decision, that same voice says, “why’d you do that, there’s all sorts of reasons to live, you really aren’t that bad….now it’s too late.”
That is one of the ways people talk to themselves–self denigration. That same voice denigrates others. That voice hates everyone and everything. Is that voice you, or a demon or something possessing you? Who knows? I do know who controls it, who can laugh at it and ridicule it (no, you can’t totally silence it, so ridicule is the next best way to tame it). Who? You only! While we’re at it, who runs the projector of the movies of your past hurts, insults, offenses that make you so hurt or angry? You only! Who can decide to speak to your inner self the words that bring life? You only! But will you?
What really stops us from speaking words of life to ourselves? When I was a little kid, I was super sensitive. The slightest look askance or mildest rebuke sent me into a tailspin of self pity. I would frequently go off alone and fantasize. Not about revenge, but about killing or injuring myself as a way of saying “look what you did to me.” The strange attraction of victimhood that leads to self pity is the main barrier to people loving themselves and others. Victimhood feels good, because it makes you somehow feel noble, and removes your personal responsibility for your circumstances and bad decisions. But it’s a poor substitute for love and duty.
RELATIONSHIP KILLING HABITS: THE TO NOT DO LIST
1. Frequent use of accusatory over-generalizations, such as always and never, as in “you always do_______ or you never______.” Most people who do that don’t even think about what they are saying. How can you know what someone always or never does? If you believe you know, pity you.
2. Mind reading, of which #1 is an example. If you act or talk as if you know what someone always or never does, or if you tell someone else what their intentions or their motives are, you are in effect saying you can read their mind. Sometimes you guess right, but most of the time you just piss someone off. Even if you did guess right, you have turned the other into an opponent, and they will not admit you are right.
3. This is one I still stumble on and might be the hardest to break: instead of listening and trying to understand what the other is really saying, you are simply formulating your rebuttal.
4. PRIDE!!! This is the worst one and the root of all the other sins and mistakes and transgressions. Pride is exhibited by rash words, ridicule of wise counsel, immediate reaction and anger. Some of my favorite proverbs about pride are: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2); “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1); “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (12:15-18); “By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom” (13:10); “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly” (15:1-2); “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (17:10); “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” (18:12). And my favorite, the end result of pride: “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.” (Proverbs 29:1).
5. Saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” as if such phrases meant anything. In the next section I will explain how to effectively ask forgiveness.
6. Over talking! Know when to be silent, which is way more often than you would like, but show your wisdom in deeds rather than blab. “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28); “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Provs 18:2).
7. Self talking the problem rather than the solution. A simple example is telling yourself, or someone telling you, “don’t forget to ___________”. The mind cannot visualize a negative, a “not doing”. If you are trying to visualize not forgetting, what are you actually visualizing? Yes, forgetting. In relationships the problem is whatever offense you are thinking about, and the solution is so obvious that it can’t wait for the next list. The solution to not forgetting is remembering. Tell yourself to remember something rather than not to forget. You will be surprised how difficult that habit is to break. Visualize how you want the relationship to be, rather than the offense.
THE TO DO LIST (in reverse order of the not do list)
7. Why is it so hard to visualize how you want it to be? Because you have to imagine something that either hasn’t happened yet, or something that was lost. It’s easy to remember the offenses, and that will not make peace.
6. When you are tempted to speak, stop and consider what outcome you are hoping for. Are the words you are about to utter likely to get that outcome? Will the words edify, bless, illuminate, educate? Are they wise counsel, are you okay with your words possibly being ignored or misunderstood? If you can’t answer positively to all those questions, take the proverbs above to heart, and remain silent.
5. When you have offended another, whether intentionally or not, and if you value the relationship more than you value being right, say “I was wrong to ____________” “will you forgive me?” Not I’m sorry or I apologize. But I wasn’t wrong, you say? Doesn’t matter, your pride needs effrontery. The words “I was wrong” affront your pride, so say them for that reason. No way fool, no one tells me what to do you say? Okay, stay broke, or lonely, or angry while you exalt yourself, I don’t care.
4. What else do I need to say about pride? Most of all, God hates the prideful. The flip side is “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7).
3. Listen intentionally, not to formulate a snappy comeback, but to understand the heart or the hurt behind someone’s words. You’ve heard of active listening, where you wait for the person to finish their say and then ask clarifying questions. Keep that going until they acknowledge that you understand. Then see #5 in this list.
2 and 1. They are similar enough to be combined. If you practice #3 on this list you won’t fall into 1 or 2 on the other list.
None of this is easy, but what that is easy is also worthwhile? Now go practice and when you fall, keep getting better. I will do the same.