There are two blog postings I’ve been planning to write since last week. When I sat down with my laptop ten minutes ago, I planned to launch into one of them. But I just can’t. The purpose of this blog was for me to process my faith, thoughts, feelings, and actions. I need to be true to that. So, what’s really on my mind…
Anyone who works with people has to handle conflict…that means EVERY person in the world. Some professions make this more likely than others. I have a friend who works for the state taxation department; she handles lots of angry citizens on the phone. I have a twin sister who is a teacher. After only one year of teaching myself, I can attest to the amount of conflict teachers handle. (I’ve deleted my soap box on this issue down to this: Most teachers want to teach, to guide, and to help. They make 1,000 decisions a day. They will make mistakes. So do you, and so do your children. Please keep all of that in mind when you criticize them.)
The pastorate is one of the professions that handles conflict regularly. We handle conflict amongst ourselves, as co-workers. As a pastor to students, I handle conflict between myself and parents, myself and teens, myself and volunteer youth workers, conflict between parents and teens, conflict between parents and youth workers, conflict between teens and youth workers, and for heaven’s sakes, there’s plenty of conflict between and amongst teens themselves.
Some of the popular, big-name pastors these days advocate ignoring criticism, which often comes forth during conflict. I just can’t accept that. Certainly, there are some criticisms worth ignoring. For example, a peer during seminary was criticizing a professor’s Biblical interpretation. The professor responded, “Joey, you and I fundamentally disagree about the nature of God and the Gospel. There’s no point in us arguing about this.” Sometimes agreeing to disagree is necessary, and in those cases, ignoring criticism is sometimes warranted.
But sometimes, God speaks to us through criticism. Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes we miss the mark (one of the meanings of the word, “sin”). Sometimes we unintentionally hurt someone. Sometimes there’s truth in the criticism, and it hurts to hear it, but it can call us to repentance and reconciliation.
Oftentimes, the criticism isn’t even the issue at all. More often than not, when someone is criticizing, they’re acting out a hurt they feel. Sometimes they’ve been disappointed by me, and they’re retaliating with an issue that’s not really the issue at all. Sometimes they’ve been hurt or let down by someone else or by God or by the church, and they’re lashing out. Is it fair? No. Does it hurt? Yes. Is it an opportunity to be a pastor, to listen, and to guide toward healing? Yes.
Even when I can keep the above in mind, and even when I’m able to hear the criticism, to listen, and to respond without defensiveness, it still hurts. I’m learning that I still need to sit, to pray, to talk, and to cry.
Sometimes the verbal attacks leave scars.
I think Jesus once showed people his scars to prove that he was real and that he was himself.
I have some scars. It’s okay. They make me me. They make me real.