It’s never an easy thing to go into that dark night of speaking one’s mind. But when push comes to shove, go we must. I, the proverbial introvert, would rather not sit in a room, say, with public school administrators, a teacher, a friend, or even a pastor, and air a grievance. But the sooner we understand that disagreements with others are not a matter of if, but when, the better. As certainly as the sun shines, they will arrive, and arrive with all their attendant emotion and conviction. And as uncomfortable as it is to wear one’s true thoughts on one’s sleeve and get what’s bothering us out into the open, it sure beats trying to ignore the problem, which only breeds resentment.
Because I tend to be an “amiable” in temperament: the kind of person where everything’s okay until it’s not, I’m learning—slowly--the Biblical precept to speak the truth in love. And it’s tough going, the “in love” part! When you go from simply agreeing with people all your life because you never want to disappoint them or are afraid of being judged, to suddenly speaking an opposing viewpoint, it can go poorly at first! I tend to blurt things out or steamroll right over diplomacy, leaving the people who were used to my undying compliance confused at this sudden turn of events!
For me, it’s been an arduous process of finding that exceedingly delicate balance between sticking to my convictions and remaining gracious. But as sloppy as speaking up can be (and learning what battles are worth picking and when is a huge part of it) it gets us where we need to be: out in the open with our comments, constructive criticisms and opinions so that we are no longer giving people the wrong impression and misleading them as to what we think. The more consistent we are in this, the less and less we’ll blurt and steamroll, because we’ve been honest all along. I also don’t have to kick myself later because my false amiableness allowed people to walk all over me in their beliefs and opinions. This nips resentment against others, and me, in the bud.
When we speak truthfully, and the powers-that-be don’t see it our way, or a relative, co-worker or friend is offended at our honesty, at least we’ve gotten it off our chest in the interest of speaking the truth in the best love we know how to muster at the time. Though our voices and hands shake, we are beginning to set the boundary of honesty. We are beginning to grow up.
Do I wish I could stand firm in my Christian convictions every step of the way and calmly, graciously, gently and kindly share a concern or confront a problem? Absolutely. I fail at this miserably. But to expect to do it perfectly with little or no practice means to continue to be compliant and say nothing at all. I’m a firm believer that we have to start somewhere (the beginning is a good place) and, with practice, we will get better. The Holy Spirit will let us know where we held God’s grace and where we dropped it in our frank discussions with another person. That’s been true for me every time. It’s very clear in my post-game review of conversations where I could have spoken less and listened more, and spoken more kindly when I did speak. It’s good to review when the Holy Spirit is our coach.
My advice to myself when I’ve had a run-in or tough confrontation is to learn from it, repent of where I went wrong, forgive others where they went wrong and move on. Stewing over past conflicts only makes them grow more dramatic in retrospect. When I next see the person, I hold my head high (while inwardly trembling), and attempt to show the graciousness of God that may have been lacking in my last meeting with that person. If they aren’t interested in smiling back, then forgiveness and holding a grudge becomes their issue. And I can, in compassion, understand them, because I myself have been unforgiving and grudge-holding. But as a born-again Christian, I am not my own: I was bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). I must forgive as Jesus forgives me.
It is my prayer that one day I will look back on some of the bumpier discussions I’ve had and appreciate how far I’ve come, just like I’ve been able to do in other areas of my life since becoming a Christian. I can go forward in the confidence that "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” But “When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4