As we move into the holiday season, we may want to have in mind some ways to connect with family members that won’t escalate into a debate. Combativeness opposes connectedness.
Here’s the thing: We need to be prepared. When others challenge the things most personal to us, we often react instead of respond. Since faith is so connected to us at our core, it becomes a highly sensitive topic. Therefore, we must learn and practice ways to guard our hearts and our words even when we feel uncomfortable.
Have you heard the fable about the argument between the sun and the wind? The wind challenges the sun by saying, “I can get that coat off that man faster than you can!” The wind begins to blow and blow, tossing up leaves and sending a strong gust. The jacket flaps in the wind and the man pulls it close and tight around him. The wind blows again and again, until the man crosses his arms over his chest and puts his head down as he hurries on.
Finally, the sun says, “Allow me.” And he peeks out from behind the cloud and begins to warm the man. Before long, the man pulls off his coat and carries it. What a lesson for us!
The angrier and louder we get, the more we raise the guard of those around us. Let warmth pervade your speech and actions, then watch the walls melt and others feel drawn to you.
Here are five practical ways to “let your light shine” by engaging with others in kind, gentle ways:
1. Make your mindset “us.”
Be and stay firmly in the camp of the person with whom you are talking. Look for ways you identify with or relate to them. Talk about things everyone can relate to. Here are a few: experiences, losses, achievements, struggles, entertainment, family, and dreams. These are HUGE categories to explore without having to implicate a “hot topic.”
2. Refuse to use or accept labels.
If you have a habit of sweeping everyone under a broad label, you’ll find it difficult to see others for who they are instead of as “one of them.” Labels have a way of separating us from others. Instead, look for the individuality of the person. None of us likes to wear the negative stereotype associated with labels, so let’s not do it to others. For example, someone could easily label me “divorced.” While it is part of my story, it is not who I am. There’s a big difference.
3. Realize that – unless you’re an attorney – it’s not your job to try to compel anyone to think as you do.
As a Jesus-follower, I have seen this get messed up often. In fact, I’ve messed it up myself quite frequently. Hear this: Our role is simply to carry the light, not to set people on fire with it. Jesus never raised His voice to compel others to think as He did. He didn’t hold up signs or write angry blogs or put others down. His invitation is and always has been just that – an invitation. It’s not a threat, not a manipulation, not a mob mentality. Jesus’ example is humility, grace, love, gentleness, blessing, and peace.
4. Likewise, realize that someone else’s beliefs are not a threat to your own.
It really is OK to have a conversation where everyone shares why they believe what they do without it feeling like a personal attack on someone’s identity. When Jesus has changed your heart, you can rest in it. You can allow others to speak what they need to say; then engage them about their thoughts. You can never hope for someone to be open-minded about what you have to say if you are closed-minded to them.
5. Appreciate and relax in the stretch.
Talking about hard things can be a gift! It can make you a little nervous because maybe you hadn’t looked at things that way before. It can cause you to dig to understand. Think of it as a mental exercise. It grows your thoughts in a new direction and helps you get a better grasp of why you believe as you do. There is nothing wrong with saying you don’t know the answer, but that you certainly will explore it.
God is big enough for hard conversations. If we avoid relationships because we are afraid of what others might say or think, perhaps it’s time to make that a focus of personal prayer. We must ask God to help us blend gentleness and boldness. It really is possible.
God loves people. ALL people. He invites us to do the same.
Central Divisional Field Director