How good are we at forgiving, rebuking, saying sorry and the like? Let’s reflect together in this new series.
H ave you ever come away from a conversation feeling seen, believed in? Feeling freer, more alive and grounded?
I call these unwrapping conversations because they remind me of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus had been wrapped in layers of cloth and spices, as was the custom. Jesus, after calling Lazarus back from the tomb, turned to Mary and Martha and said, "Unwrap him." New life was there, but trapped under death clothes.
I can’t think of a better metaphor to capture the high calling of community and fellowship.
Unwrapping starts with visionary compassion or holy curiosity. When Michelangelo was asked how he sculpted his statue of David, his reply was that he imagined a David within waiting to be released.
Visionary compassion is the ability to see what is hidden. Four things can help us do that.
• Be attentive to expressions of the new life of Christ.
Let’s say a friend shares how distant or depressed she feels. Yet you notice an act of kindness, even a small one. Visionary compassion might say, "Given what you’re feeling, where did the love you just showed come from?" or "You know what I find amazing? You got out of bed, showered, got dressed and showed up for coffee. How did you do that, given how strong the urge was to stay in bed?"
• Be attentive to discrepancies with the new life of Christ.
For instance, a friend shares a struggle that leaves him feeling guilty and ashamed. Rather than try to fix what is wrong, visionary compassion would seek to set free what is deepest and most true. Visionary compassion might say, "I love your guilt and shame! It’s proof there’s something deeper in you that knows you’re a better person than this. Any thoughts on what’s causing what is most true to be stuck?"
• Be attentive to your own death clothes.
Intense, out of proportion, emotional reactions are a sign our death clothes are hindering our freedom and growth. We can’t think straight when anger or anxiety overwhelm us. We need time out to flush out the stress hormones and restore a sense of being grounded in Someone bigger than the person who hurt us.
Once we do that, anger and anxiety become friends, calling us back home to our true selves in Christ. Getting there often requires we pray for mercy – to be set free from what robs us of our freedom in Christ to love.
• Replace the word confront with connect.
Confrontation is adversarial and provokes a who’s-wrongwho’s-right logjam where everyone loses. Connection creates a place of safety and trust where our own vulnerability often draws the other to vulnerably meet us.
Connection might say, "When you did or said XYZ, here’s the impact it had on me. Is that what you intended?"
If it was intentional, we can say, "I know you’re a better person than that. What made you want to hurt me? Did I offend you? If so, I’d love to hear about it."
If the person refuses to talk and repeatedly offends, it’s time to place boundaries not to protect ourselves, but to fight for our friend. For instance saying, "Treating me this way again and again suggests you don’t want a relationship with me. I’ll respect your choice."
Hopefully the pain of the loss of relationship will move the person to engage with us about what is going on.
Unwrapping one another is taking our fellowship skills to a new and life-giving level.
Ron Pagé is a psychotherapist in Ottawa. He explains more in a one-hour presentation called "Walking Deep: Experts Please Abstain" at youtube.com/watch?v=_tMMN01JkNI. Illustration adapted from Vectorium.