Tag Archives: conflict

It was an accident!

I never wanted to be a writer. Ever.

My first article for A Life Overseas was only the second article I’d ever written. Seriously.

But God retains his sense of humor, and I retain my sense of gratitude. I’m grateful for the leaders of the site who gave me the bandwidth, and I’m grateful for you, the readers, who continue to give me the brainwidth. Thank you.

There are about 9,000 more readers now than there were three years ago. So I thought I’d go retrospective with this post, collating former articles and re-presenting them to you. I’ve divided them into some rough categories:

  1. Rest & Laughter
  2. Family
  3. Missiology
  4. Grief & Loss
  5. Theology
  6. People

Feel free to browse around and see if there’s anything you missed that you want to unmiss. And if you feel like these articles could serve as a resource for someone else, we provide handy sharing links at the bottom. Merry Christmas.

 

REGARDING REST & LAUGHTER
Please Stop Running
God doesn’t give extra credit to workaholics. Jesus doesn’t call us to work in his fishers-of-men-factory until we drop dead from exhaustion. He is not like that.

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Staying alive is not about how fast or how slow you go; it’s about how much margin you have.

Laughter as an Act of Rebellion
To remember the sun’s existence on a rainy day is to remember Reality. Dancing in the downpour is a prophetic thing: It will not always storm.

No, Seriously, Laugh
“If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.”

 

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REGARDING FAMILY
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
Jesus loves Third Culture Kids. He feels their searching and longing for home, and he cares.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.

Missionary Mommy Wars
They are battle-weary and bleary-eyed, burdened by expectations that would crush the strongest.

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
Marriage is for intimacy. The sharing of souls and dreams and flesh. The first taste of summer.

Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.

 

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REGARDING MISSIOLOGY
10 Reasons You Should be a Missionary
Your bargaining skills will improve…with the police.

The Idolatry of Missions
For too long, we have idolized overseas missions. We need to stop now.

10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
The toilets are different.

Why Are We Here?
Through our actions, our preachings, our service, we announce the news that God is not absent. We show and tell the redemption of all things.

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement
We need the Psalms; not because the Psalms will teach us how to be super Christians, but because the Psalms will teach us how to be human Christians.

Misogyny in Missions
Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private.

Go to the small places
When we overdose on our own importance or the magnitude of evil in the world, the small places are the antidote. Narcan for the soul. Or at least, they can be.

It’s Not all About War: Balancing our Kingdom Rhetoric
One is all about sacrifice. The other is all about Shalom. One says, “Go and die for the King!” The other says, “Come and find rest for your soul.”

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
“Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

 

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REGARDING GRIEF & LOSS
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
How could we question the plan of God by crying?

When Grief Bleeds
Grief is a powerful thing, echoing on and on through the chambers of a heart.

Worthless
The feeling rises and crests like an impending wave barreling towards the surface of my heart. And with each wave of worthlessness comes an intense weariness of soul, a near drowning.

To the ones who think they’ve failed
So, you failed to save the world. You failed to complete the task of global evangelism. You failed to see massive geopolitical change in your region. You failed. Or at least you feel like it.

When you just want to go home
He’s longing for home too. So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Remember, the one with the most toys does not win.

The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland
Grief is a gift that the Church needs to learn to deal with.

 

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REGARDING THEOLOGY
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
God doesn’t always lead in straight lines.

Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
If you find yourself in the dark today, not sure of what to do or where to go, I’d like to give you three pinpoints of light. Three true stars by which to navigate the night.

My House Shall be Called
If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

A Christmas Prayer
The star challenged prejudice, inviting outsiders in. So may the Church.

Before You Cry “Demon!”
Blaming the devil shouldn’t be our default.

When God Won’t Give Me What I Want
Maybe Jesus says it’s bread, maybe he says it’s nourishing and important, but maybe it looks an awful lot like a rock. Do we throw it back in his face, screaming?

 

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REGARDING PEOPLE
Anger Abroad
I see a lot of missionaries wrestling with anger, but I don’t hear a lot of missionaries talking about it. I’d like to change that.

How to Communicate so People Will Care
Speak from the heart. Or be funny. Or both. But never neither.

6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
A furlough is one of the best “weight-gain” plans out there. It’s sort of like pregnancy, but with furlough, the cravings occur every-mester.

Facebook lies and other truths
Our supporters and friends probably won’t lose money by showing a picture of a vacation. We might. On the other hand, our friends won’t make money by showing a picture of a destitute child or a baptism. We might.

In 2017, Get to Know Some Dead People
Wisdom was building her house long before people started tweeting in the eaves.

Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not.
Conflict does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but you cannot have intimacy without honesty. And you cannot have honesty for very long without conflict.

 

REGARDING THE ENDING
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

And so it happened that I stepped out the door, aware that God might start sweeping me to places unknown. And he certainly did. But it was there that I met all of you, and you’ve turned out, after all, to be not so dangerous. Thank you for journeying with me. Let’s keep going…

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

Conflict and Our Dustlikeness

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Conflict. If you’ve been in church work for long, you know what it’s like. People abound, and conflict happens. Then there’s the big blow up or the cold exit or, even scarier, the explosive exit. I’ve been in church work for a decade and a half now, and big blowups and bad exits seem to be the default setting for church conflict. I don’t like this kind of conflict. I run away from it – and from the scary people who cause it.

Kay Bruner likes to say that there are difficult people on the field. I say yes. Yes, there are difficult people on the field, and sometimes, they are ME. Sometimes I’m difficult, and sometimes conflict comes because I am difficult. Not because I mean to be, of course – but my good intentions don’t remove my propensity to offend.

I have a hard time fessing up when I offend, and my reason for this is two-fold. First, I don’t really like the fact that I’m still not perfect and that I still sin against others. The acknowledgement is still so cumbersome to me. But secondly (and perhaps more importantly), I fear I won’t be forgiven. Oh, I know God forgives me; I have full assurance of that. But I still don’t trust God’s people to forgive me. I’ve been in too many relationships where people said they would forgive, but they never really did.

Lately, however, I’ve had ample opportunity to seek forgiveness, and God’s people are proving me wrong. They are forgiving me and showing me the love of Christ in tangible ways. Receiving their forgiveness and their assurance of committed love is an almost sacramental experience. It’s a direct connection with my Savior: someone is sticking with me. Someone is forgiving me, giving me a second chance. That is Jesus in bodily form.

Receiving compassion for our dustlikeness helps us to be more compassionate towards ourselves – and towards others. It helps us to forgive ourselves, and in turn, to forgive others. Unmerited forgiveness is a gift we believers give each other. It points other people to Jesus and is because of Jesus. And while the usual take on conflict and reconciliation is usually “humility,” I think if we focus on that, we are missing the point. The point is, God can forgive, and God’s people can forgive, and wherever you find restoration and reconciliation happening, the Spirit of God is moving among His people.

In this way, conflict can be a conduit for grace. The only catch (yes there is a catch) is that the forgiveness, reconciliation, and move of God that I’m talking about only happen in community. And I’m convinced that one of the bravest things we can do is to stay in that community. When it gets hard, when it gets uncomfortable, when conflict starts to escalate, can we stay in relationship with others? Not in pathological or dangerous relationships, but in regular, everyday fallen relationships?

All of our relationships will have a degree of unhealth, because all of our relationships have people. Our relationships are not going to be perfect, and our community will disappoint us. And sometimes our community will be unhealthy because WE are unhealthy. Other times we will make allowances for other people’s issues, because they – and God – make allowances for ours. Let’s not make a cold or explosive exit too soon, for unconditional love is only proved unconditional when we stay.

So the next time you’re in conflict with someone on the field, think of me, the difficult one, and be kind. Be kind to your difficult person. Show them Christ’s love, and give them another chance. Or a second or a third or a seventy-seventh. If they prove to you that they intend to be difficult or abusive, then by all means draw some boundaries and don’t give them limitless chances to harm you. But maybe by giving them a second chance, you’ll prove to them what God’s love looks like, and they, like me, will recognize grace and be grateful — and you will have won a brother or a sister over.

Have you ever experienced God’s love in the midst of conflict?

Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not.

Let’s talk about conflict, ‘cause that’s fun. I mean, hypothetically, at some point in the (distant) future, you may or may not experience an uncomfortable disagreement with someone. Maybe.

In this imagined scenario, the ensuing “discussion” could arise between you and your spouse or kids or co-workers, or maybe even — like this would ever happen — yourself.

So, when conflict comes, what will you do? Will you run away scared? Hunker down? Gear up? Lock and load?

Whether your natural tendency is to ostrich or explode, these two principles must be remembered:

Principle #1 – Conflict always has Context

Principle #2 – Conflict always precedes Closeness

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How many of you have ever experienced conflict? Go ahead, raise your hands. Do you see all those hands raised? Yeah, me neither, but I’m guessing that all over the world people on their phones or laptops are raising hands. It’s a pretty shared thing, this interpersonal junk. (You can put your hands down now, we don’t want people thinking you’re a weirdo. Oh wait, you’re a missionary. Nevermind.)

Conflict is not something “out there” that other people deal with. This is us. This is our story.

 

Oh, Conflict!
I used to work in an Emergency Room, so I’ve had people try to cut me, spit on me, and in other ways break me. I’ve helped security guards and police officers wrestle dangerous patients to the ground. By the way, did you know they make “spit hoods”? It’s a mesh net that covers a patient’s head to keep the spit from getting from their mouth onto your face. Pretty cool, eh?

I’ve also worked in churches with church people.

I served as a youth pastor, working with peoples’ kids. Sometimes there was too much pizza, other times, not enough. Sometimes parents thought we weren’t doing enough cool stuff, while other parents thought we were doing too much cool stuff.

I served as a worship pastor. Corporate worship, now there’s an area where everyone has ideas and they’re not afraid to share them. It was an a cappella church (i.e., no instruments), and you would think that might reduce disagreements. NOT SO.

I served as a camp director. I listened to staff complaints, teen complaints, parent complaints, caretaker complaints. Once, a camp manager was angry with me because I wouldn’t tell the teenagers to STOP SPLASHING IN THE POOL. Apparently, by playing in the pool, too much water was splashing out of the pool. Duly noted. And ignored.

We’ve all experienced conflict, and we’ll all experience conflict again. So here’s the first thing we must remember.

 

Principle #1 – Conflict always has Context
Conflict is very rarely just about the facts, and it never happens in a vacuum. All parties bring their unique historical issues to the table even if they’re not aware of it. That’s what makes this all so interesting.

Much of conflict’s context exists just under the surface:

– Fears (of losing love, or support, or respect, or safety)
– Past experiences with conflict (positive or negative)
– Goals that might be thwarted
– The family’s approach to conflict
– The culture’s general approach to conflict

If we don’t want to fly blind (or be blindsided), we must seek to understand the context. In addition to considering underlying fears and goals (yours and theirs), ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the typical approach to conflict in my passport culture?
  2. Growing up, how did my family handle conflict?
  3. Do I pretty much handle conflict the same as #1 and #2 or have I changed?
  4. What words come to mind when I hear the word “Conflict”?

Consider talking through this list at your next team meeting.

Now, when we’re looking at the cultural component, it’s important to remember that the Gospel is counter-cultural in every culture. There are parts of your culture that are really bad and unhealthy and need to change, just like mine! And there are parts that are great and wonderful, just like mine!

I was speaking at a regional missions conference last month and I asked the participants to tell me what words came to mind when I said “Conflict.” Many of the attendees said things like, Scary, Shame, Anger, Rage, Dangerous, Yelling, and a whole slew of negative words. One lady stood up and said, “Opportunity!”

She was from Switzerland.

Our background and culture will greatly influence how we deal with conflict, for good or bad. Do we run away and hide or prepare to fight? Do we get louder or quieter? Do we think conflict is mainly about peace or justice?

Painful experiences from our past also provide context for our current conflict. If a current situation triggers painful memories or associations from times past, that matters. It’s possible the current situation is solely because someone’s a jerk, but most likely, there’s also underlying pain and fear that is historical. It’s worth your time to see it and address it.

 

Principle # 2 – Conflict always precedes Closeness
Many people treat conflict as if it’s radioactive. They avoid it at all costs and only touch it with protective suits, Geiger counters drawn.

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That makes sense if you see conflict as a direct threat to closeness, or intimacy. However, I believe that conflict is necessary for intimacy. Put another way, intimacy requires a tremendous level of honesty, and you cannot be honest with another human being for very long without conflict.

Conflict does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but you cannot have intimacy without honesty. And you cannot have honesty for very long without conflict.

 

Conflict and Christ – Changing the Paradigm
Conflict is scary. It’s also normal, and it can be healthy and actually really good. Just ask Jesus.

There’s the famous “Get behind me, Satan!” passage. And the incident with the tables. There’s the conversation with Peter about feeding sheep that left Peter “feeling hurt.” There’s the whole “whitewashed tombs” fiasco. And the time Jesus just ignored the Pharisees.

Jesus once abandoned a crowd that had plans he didn’t like. Another time he allowed the crowds to worship him, which was something the ruling elite didn’t like. Jesus surprised Pilate with his silence. And he taught the disciples to ignore some of the most respected people.

At least once, Jesus didn’t like his Father’s plans and told him so.

Can you think of some more examples?

 

The Way of Jesus
He didn’t “do conflict” the same way every time. He occasionally used conflict as a doorway to deeper intimacy and commitment. Sometimes he was very passionate and active, while other times he ran away or was silent. He stated his opinion clearly, but remained aware of authority lines and obeyed. He was always aware of the context.

How does Jesus’ approach differ from yours? Do you need to more actively engage in necessary conflict, or do you need to pursue holiness for a bit and shut up? Jesus’ approach varied. Does yours?

 

Conflict and the Love of God
Now we come to it. The best advice I can give you for dealing with conflict: Become more and more aware of the magnificent love of God.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:16-19

You want to get better at dealing with conflict? Wrap your heart around the Love of God. Dive deep into the love of the Father. Ponder the intensity with which the Father loves the Son, and see how the Son loves the Father.

Consider the mystery that the eternal Creator loves humans, and meditate on the miracle of the incarnation. Invite the Holy Spirit to show you what He thinks of your teammate. Or spouse or child.

 

Remember How Loved You Are
Do you really believe that your WORK is not what makes God love you? Do you believe that even if you never accomplished anything else, God wouldn’t love you less?

He loves you just as much now as he did before you were a missionary. You cannot earn more of God’s heart. It is not divisible. It is turned towards you, just as it has been towards the dawn of Creation.

The father did not kick the prodigal son out. The son left, and the father let him. BUT, as soon as that son came back within sight, THE FATHER RAN.

And he still runs. For you. For your heart.

And whether you return to him from a life of workaholism or whores, ministry or mud, when you return to Him, HE STILL RUNS.

Because the Father loves you. And he entered into great conflict to make a way for you to come back. Don’t ever forget that.

 

To Recap:
The next time you meet Conflict, remember that it’s got Context.
Remember that it precedes Closeness.
And remember the Crazy love of God.

May God richly bless you all,
Jonathan T.

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More on conflict:
Necessary Endings, by Dr. Henry Cloud
Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzer
Ask a counselor: What about conflict?, by Kay Bruner
Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles), by Elizabeth Trotter

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

Marriage can really be a drain on missions.

Marriage on the field can be a constant source of distraction, discouragement, and pain.

But I hope it’s not.

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I’ve written before about marriage and its purpose, but today I’d like to take a step back and speak directly to husbands: my brothers.

This advice is carefully given, and with no slight hesitation. After all, if you want people to argue with you (and I don’t particularly enjoy it), then write about marriage. Even so, I will write. Because it matters. And because I hope the men who marry my sisters will do these things. I hope the men who pursue my daughters (in the very far distant future) will do these things. I hope my sons will do these things. Because marriage is important. It’s also really complicated.

Marriage is a complex thing (2 into 1) entered into by complex people (humans) who have to do complex stuff (live).

And you all know this already, but missions is a hard gig for marriages. You’ve got sky-high stress levels, extreme temperatures, lots of broken things, financial tightness, the fishbowl of fundraising, and a rewarding but very hard job. Sounds like fun, right? Well, if you add all of that to an unhappy marriage, I can tell you the one thing you certainly won’t be having is fun.

So, onward! What are three things you can do to care for the heart of your wife? And for the record, I’m trying all these too, man, and learning as I go.

 

1. See Her
Your wife needs you to really see her. She’s not touched up and airbrushed and two-dimensional. She’s not a product of Photoshop. She’s real, with body and mind and soul. And she needs you to see and value all of her.

She’s the one who shares your memories, your children, your bed. She’s also the one who shares your future. You chose her. So brother, keep choosing her. She is, after all, a daughter of the King.

Read this article (and the comments) and hear the cry of women who long to be seen. [Although it was written to singles, many of the points, as well as the comments, speak to this issue directly.]

Now, here’s the deal: it’s very hard to turn towards your wife and really see her when your face is glued to the porn screen. Watch two-dimensional fakeness, body parts flying for your pleasure, and try to see your wife as anything more than disconnected pieces. It’ll be really hard, bro.

Porn kills love.

And watching porn keeps you from seeing your wife.

Porn is really expensive. Even the free stuff. Want a reminder of the cost? Check out Matthew 14 or Mark 6. The story of Herodias’s daughter dancing for Herod reminds me of the old anti-drug campaign in the States: This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs [porn]. Herod was willing to give away half his kingdom (or behead a prophet that he didn’t actually want dead] because he thought a teen girl was hot. Yikes.

Turn to God, man. Repent. Get some strong accountability. Yeah, it’s scary, and costly, but the price you’re paying is way higher, and climbing.

Resources:
– Want to see what a porn addicted missionary looks like?
– And here’s a list of resources from A Life Overseas writer, Kay Bruner.

 

2. Listen to Her
Listening is an extremely validating gesture. It feels good to be listened to. It’s like someone cares. So yeah, you want to care for the heart of your wife? Listen to her. Want to see how you’re doing? Complete this short quiz and then have your wife do it too. Then compare scores.

If your scores are vastly different, that’s probably worth noting and may indicate that one or both of you aren’t really listening (or communicating) very well.

Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.

Need help? Check out this book by John Gottman. He’s got decades of experience helping couples listen (and hear!) each other. By the way, his research indicates that healthy couples devote at least five hours per week to specific, focused, I’m-paying-attention-to-you time. If you’re too busy for five hours per week, you’re too busy. Find some margin.

Not interested in a book? Check out this short article with some basic (but important!) info on listening.

Not interested in research? That’s cool. Check out 1 Corinthians 13 and ask how a patient, kind, non-boasting, humble, non-demanding, non-irritable, non-record keeping husband would listen to his wife. Then listen to your wife like that.

 

3. Touch Her
Not like that, dude. Chill.

This one’s last, but not because I want you to see her and listen to her so you can sleep with her. That’s just crude.

No, that’s not the kind of touch I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of touch that tells her you’re there for her. I’m talking about comforting touch. Intimate touch.

I’m talking about touching her with your heart.

I’m talking about holding hands and long hugs. I’m talking about a soft kiss that has nothing to do with a proposition.

I’m talking about loving her with your arms. I’m talking about showing affection in a culturally appropriate way. Often.

Ladies, if you’re reading this (and I hope you are), please help us out. We’re not really very good at reading minds. Tell us what kind of touch you want and don’t want. And ladies, can I just say one more thing, it’s OK to want non-sexual touch and ask for it, just like it’s OK to want sexual touch and ask for it.

 

Conclusion
These are generalities, I know, so I won’t feel too bad if your wife reads this and says, “That’s not me at all!” Cool beans. Just makes sure you ask her what is her? What is it that will help her feel loved and cared for?

For our 5th wedding anniversary, I bought Elizabeth a large, framed periodic table of the elements. My dad warned me that might not be such a good idea. He was so wrong. I knew my wife, and although most folks wouldn’t find that sort of gift endearing, it was a slam dunk.

If you really took the time to see your wife, to listen to her, to touch her, would she feel cared for? Loved? Probably.

If not, then ask her what would help her feel cared for and loved. Easy Peasy.

You might be thinking, “OK, remind me again why this is on a missions site?”

Well, because you take yourself (and your marriage) with you.

And because it matters.

And because we’re most likely working with people, and people often get married, even in other countries.

And because marriage is The Beautiful Hard.

Oh yeah, and because I really, really like seeing “husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church.”

May God help us all to love our wives like that!

— Jonathan T.

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Ladies, I know that many of you feel loved and cared for already. That’s wonderful! However, as a pastor and lay counselor, I also know that many of you don’t. You feel widowed by Missions, unheard, unloved, and alone. That really breaks my heart. If that’s the case, perhaps this article could spark a conversation between you and your husband. If he doesn’t want to budge, or if he thinks everything is just fine, please reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor or member care person. You’re not alone, or at least you don’t have to be.

Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles)

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I don’t like conflict. I’m scared of it. I don’t want people to be upset with me; I don’t want people to think I’m upset with them. Conflict is stressful and instills in me a strong desire to RUN AWAY. I shut down both physically and emotionally, and I fail to deal with the issue at hand.

I want everyone to be happy. I want this to happen without actually having to talk about the things that make me, and other people, unhappy. But I can’t avoid unhappy situations indefinitely. With 7 billion people on this planet, and no two of us alike, conflict is unavoidable.  I can’t hide away forever from my emotions and the emotions of others.

In mission training I learned that my approach to conflict has a name: I am an Avoider, or Turtle. Turtles believe that any conflict, regardless of what it is or how it is handled, will inevitably harm relationships. We thus avoid conflict at all costs. We hide in our turtle shells and refuse to come out to talk. However, when cornered or forced into conflict we aren’t ready to deal with, some Turtles (like me) might lash out in anger. The typically conflict-avoidant Turtle has now morphed into a Snapping Turtle. Ouch!

Perhaps you also dislike conflict, but instead of running away from it, you simply give in to everyone else’s wishes, never voicing your own. If you want everyone to be happy and are willing to give up your own wants and desires in order to maintain harmonious relationships, then you might be an Accommodator, or Teddy Bear. Teddy Bears, like Turtles, wish to preserve relationships. Instead of outright escapism, though, Teddy Bears ensure that in any given situation, everybody except themselves is satisfied. They try to make everyone happy, but they are in danger of never feeling “heard” by others.

Or maybe you’re not afraid of conflict at all. Maybe you’re so confident that your solution is correct that you won’t even consider other people’s ideas. If so, you might be a Shark, or Competitor. (And you might be interested to know that Turtles and Teddy Bears are petrified of you.) When a decision must be made quickly, you have the ability to lead a group and make that decision both quickly and confidently. However, in slower situations, people may feel you do not value them or their contributions. People want you to listen to them and take their perspective into account when making a decision, something that is not easy for you to do.

There are a couple other conflict styles. A Compromiser, or Fox, wants everyone in a given situation to give up something they want, with the assurance that they will receive something else they want. Everyone wins a little, and everyone loses a little. Ideally, everyone receives something they want, but each person is also missing something they want.  That’s because Compromisers are looking for a “good enough” solution in the quickest time possible — and this is especially helpful in a time crunch.  However, Compromisers can sometimes be seen as acting too quickly to reach a solution, making people feel “unheard.”

The last style is the Collaborator, or Owl. A Collaborator is similar to a Compromiser, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. But where a Compromiser wants everyone to win a little and lose a little, a Collaborator wants everyone to feel 100% satisfied with the outcome, and they are willing to work as long as it takes to find that perfect solution. Although they care about everyone’s happiness level, coworkers can be frustrated by the slowness of the Collaboration process. The Collaborator, likewise, can become frustrated when people aren’t willing to work on a problem as long as he or she is willing. Incidentally, in mission training, we learned that Collaborators are often the most frustrated people on the mission field. They want a perfect solution every time, and that’s just not possible.

So what happens when all these conflict styles try to interact?

  • Turtles run away from important discussions. The Turtle is scared, and hiding meets the Turtle’s need to avoid conflict. Other styles want to discuss the problem at hand, but they become frustrated by the Turtle’s refusal.
  • Teddy Bears make everyone happy, right? But nobody can help them, because nobody knows what they want. Compromisers and Collaborators often want to know how Teddy Bears (and Turtles) feel. They value every person’s input and want to make a decision that incorporates everyone’s needs. When they can’t coax the Turtles and Teddy Bears to share their needs, Collaborators and Compromisers become frustrated.
  • Competitive Sharks may get things done quickly, but they risk alienating people while doing it. And they don’t just alienate Turtles and Teddy Bears – they can also alienate Compromisers and Collaborators, who want everyone’s input to be valued, including theirs.
  • What about when a Shark meets another Shark? Sounds scary to my Turtle self. Let’s not even go there.
  • A Compromiser may try to get to a solution too fast and fail to listen closely enough to people. Compromisers might convince people to give up too much too soon when making a decision, and they might not realize that’s hurting people.
  • Collaborators want to find a perfect solution, and they don’t care how long it takes to get there. If you’re a Collaborator and people don’t want to talk to you, it might be because they know the discussion will be L-O-N-G. A solution that makes 100% of the people 100% happy may not be feasible. So you might need to settle for less-than-perfect and learn a few things from the Compromiser.

Knowing I’m a Turtle has helped me understand why I react to certain people’s conflict styles. It explains past relationship patterns, and it illuminates current relational issues.

As a Turtle, I’ve often felt a sense of pride in the fact that I preserve relationships by avoiding conflict. But pride is bad news, and the supposed relationship preservation is only partly true, anyway. Sometimes relationships are preserved by actually talking about sensitive subjects, instead of avoiding them.

I’m learning that if I avoid all difficult conversations, I risk growing bitter about an issue. I’m learning that I can’t just think about myself and my own personal need to avoid conflict. I’m learning that sometimes I need to love someone enough to broach difficult subjects.

I’m learning that I can have calm, rational conversations about sticky subjects. I’m learning that these conversations can be gracious and kind instead of the violent explosions I expect them to be. And I’m finding that these kinds of conversations can lead to solutions I had never even thought of.

In short, I’m learning that I can and must grow in conflict resolution — and that it’s not as scary as I had always thought.

 

What about you? Which conflict style do you favor most? Do you tend to Avoid, Accommodate, Compromise, Collaborate, or Compete?

Is there a conflict style that’s particularly difficult for you to interact with?

How has God used your conflict style to benefit relationships?

How do you think God wants to stretch you in your approach to conflict?

 photo credit

Anger Abroad

Two friends were planning to meet for lunch one day when one called to cancel, stating that she had a terrible headache. This wasn’t a typical headache, and it hurt badly. Her friend admitted that she too had a horrendous headache, and suggested they go to the ER together. (This is just one step beyond going to the bathroom together.)

They showed up at triage and told their stories, grimacing through the pain. They were ushered to separate rooms, placed on various monitors, and examined. The first friend was treated for mild dehydration and sleep deprivation. She was told to sleep more, drink more water and less coffee. (They told her that her symptoms were consistent with a condition called “parenthood.”) She was released the same day, terribly discouraged; she really liked coffee.

The second friend was examined and immediately transferred to the operating room for emergency brain surgery. She was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and spent the next week recovering in the critical care unit.

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Anger as a Symptom

Both women had hurting heads. Both wanted to find the cause, and both were helped, although the interventions were very different.

Like the headaches in the story, anger is a symptom, and we need to pay attention to it. I see a lot of missionaries wrestling with anger, but I don’t hear a lot of missionaries talking about it. I’d like to change that.

As a symptom, anger points to something. It doesn’t necessarily point to something massive or exceptionally unhealthy, but it might. Ignoring the symptom of anger is very risky, and the stakes are high. Unresolved, unaddressed anger will hurt you and those around you.

In our example above, one lady’s pain came from easily-addressed, easily-fixed factors (drink more water, sleep more, get a babysitter). For the second lady, however, treating her pain required expert care and plenty of time. Some of us may just need a holiday (preferably on a beach, with ice cream). Others may need to consult with someone who really knows what they’re doing — someone who’s skilled enough to ask the right questions, to probe, to help diagnose.

Some might say, “Wait, anger can be holy and righteous.” Yes, that’s true. But when I experience anger, either my own or another person’s, it is very seldom holy and righteous. And honestly, I think the anger exemption is usually applied too liberally. If you disagree, let’s meet for a courteous discussion in the comment section below. For now, suffice it to say that when Jesus faced the greatest injustice of all time — the most heinous crime ever committed against the most innocent of victims — he responded with love, not anger, saying “Father, please forgive them.”

 

Peaceful Missionaries?

What do you think of these statements?

“Missionaries are some of the most peaceful people I know; they really seem to have figured out how to seek peace and pursue it.”

“Overseas workers are good at letting the peace of God rule in their hearts.”

Has that been your experience? Yeah, me neither. I think we’d NEVER use the word “peaceful” to describe ourselves or our coworkers. And I think that’s really, really sad. But anger’s not the problem. Anger’s the symptom that points to the problem. So I’d like us to pause and ask, “Where is our anger coming from? What’s going on under the surface of our souls?”

Often, the ones who don’t show anger just bury it. And then, like other negative emotions we’re not too fond of, it bubbles up. Like the deepwater oil rig in the Gulf, something blows, and black tarry stuff explodes from the deep and ruins paradise (or Florida).

 

Why So Angry?

Sometimes, we’re angry at our spouses who dragged us here. We’re angry at God for calling us here. We’re angry at teammates who stay here. We’re angry at the churches who sent us here — “they’re just so mono-cultural and ethno-centric and don’t understand what it’s like here.”

We’re angry at nationals who live here because they just won’t respond to THE AMAZING GOOD NEWS THAT GOD IS LOVE!

We’re angry at organizations that issue directives from comfy offices in comfy cities that smell nice and have green space and are nothing like here. We’re angry at the traffic, the corruption, the instability, the injustice.

Maybe we’re angry at our children who don’t like it here. Or maybe we’re angry at ourselves for bringing them here.

The tricky thing is, we know we’re not supposed to feel anger at those things. And since being angry at those things is not always socially or religiously acceptable, we find a “safe” receptacle for our anger. We act on our anger in places no one sees. With people who can’t get away.

Please hear me on this. I’m not saying that being angry makes you a bad person. I am saying that if anger is part of your normal daily routine, you need to pause and assess your symptoms. What’s really going on? Where’s the anger coming from? From wounded pride? Traumatic past events that inflicted deep pain? Fear of failure?

Doctors love to ask about symptoms. Why? Because symptoms are crumbs on the trail to diagnosis.

Are you willing to follow the crumbs? The next time you feel anger rising up inside your chest? Are you willing to ask, “Where is this coming from?” Are you willing to sit down with a good listener and say, “Every time xyz happens, I get really angry.” Are you willing to give the listener freedom to ask questions?

Are you willing to look for slow-burn anger? Maybe you think, “I’m not an angry person, I never yell or throw stuff.” Slow-burn anger is a favorite among Christians because it allows us to have intense feelings of anger on the inside without showing the world (or our church) how angry we really are. We have the same feelings on the inside, but we don’t show them on the outside.

We hide the burning coals of repressed anger deep in our bosom. And it destroys us from the inside out. A house will burn down just as easily from fire on the inside as fire on the outside.

We must deal with anger. The Church must deal with anger. The cost of persistent, unaddressed anger is much higher than the cost of a few counseling appointments.

 

The Anger Alternative

It is my heart’s cry that we would be people of peace.

People who adore the King of Kings and the Prince of Wholeness.

People who know what it feels like to Rest in the presence of the Almighty.

People who believe, deep in our souls, that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

 ———————————————-

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. ~ John 14:27 (NLT)

 

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. ~ John 16:33 (MSG)

 

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

 

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 (NLT)

Bribery, Piracy and Police Fundraisers

One meets road blocks on our highways. A driver stops and the man by the shack saunters out with a huge rifle perched on his hip. He glances over the vehicle and says with tired bluntness and a slight curve of a grin, “The time has come for you to pay me.” He receives the bills and lifts the branch tied to a rope so the driver can pass.

How do you feel about bribery?

For a business to operate legally in our town the owners pay taxes. Receipts are issued to clients to register transactions for tax purposes. Surprise inspectors stand outside shops and ask clients to show them their receipts. If proper receipts aren’t issued the business is closed until they comply with tax standards.

dvds

Countless shops sell pirated DVDs, CDs, and games. They operate legally and proudly display their tax registration compliance document on the wall, just as the law tells them they must.

What are your thoughts on piracy?

At the end of the year employees are paid an obligatory 13th month salary. During the month of December motorists choose odd routes so they can avoid strategic police traps. Dozens of officers on foot set up cones and stop drivers at busy thoroughfares. They confiscate motorcycles, write mountains of tickets, and look the other way when cold hard cash is slipped into their hands. Their efforts guarantee their 13th month bonus.

Do you have an opinion about authorities who take liberties?

The organization you work with may have strict policies about bribery, extortion, and other grey areas. Other foreign residents are left to find personal standards of operation.

The word ‘legal’ has many layers when you mix governments and religious belief systems. Conflicts arise when traditions of dress, diet, and holidays demand a choice. When “tipping” an official to do their job gets the paperwork through in days instead of months we are faced with the realities of cultural assimilation.

Push back against the traditional norms, and even the law, and you may face life and death implications. The moral divide for those who hid Jews during the Holocaust went beyond compliance with legal standards and called for people to invoke action against unconscionable terrorism.

How do you choose to draw the line in the land where you live?

Do you…

Cut corners? Bend the rules? Grease the wheels? Deal under the table? Justify the means by the end goal?

Or are you…

Straight-laced? A stickler? Dudley Do-right? A by-the-book type? An ‘i’ dotter and a ‘t’ crosser?

Feel free to share your stories and opinions in the comments below. 

Plays well with others

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Plays well with others

Follows directions

Shows respect

 

In elementary school, they used to have a pretty simple way of letting us know how we were doing in life, at least according to their limited observations in a few key categories. They graded us fairly simply; we were either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

When I was a kid, before the part where we got in deep trouble, my Dad used to tease my sister and I.  Whenever we would ignore an assigned task or disobey him, he’d say, in a long drawn out way, “fooooolllllowwws dirrrrections”.

As we get older we all seem to learn to what level we must follow directions. We develop into rule followers or rule pushers and we inch our way toward maturity falling in line or leaning hard on the limits. Either way, we are most often striving to find our way to a “satisfactory” rating.

Most of us find it far more difficult to ‘play well with others.’  I’ve been wondering lately, what would our first grade teachers say on our report cards today?

Eight years ago, as we prepared to move our family abroad, we were told “the number one reason people leave ministry abroad is that they cannot work well with others within their organization or community.”  We gave that statement the side-eye. What? Grown up Jesus-loving people cannot get along, cannot “play well with others”?  That hardly seemed possible.

Two and half years into our time in Haiti, we split up with the organization we’d come to serve.  We couldn’t see eye to eye with our boss-people.  They were happy to see us go. We disagreed on far too many things to continue on together. It was a painful and discouraging break-up.

If we have heard it once, we have heard it a hundred times. “We are leaving our organization to start our own thing. We just can’t work well together with our leadership.”

In all working relationships there are times of disagreement, times of disappointment or frustration. It happens between equals, between leaders and their support team, between friends.

My husband recently shared something his buddy said.  This friend had spent many years watching people come and go in Haiti. He believes one of the biggest problems in smaller organizations is that most organizations lack a committed and loyal “number two”. He further stated that he had seen over and over how great working relationships break down and the person in the number two role chooses to move on to start something alone when their interpersonal relationships with leaders and/or co-laborers get challenging.

Paul says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts,” and none of the parts are the same but they compliment each other.

I am not leading an organization, but I am part of the body. I am in my place and one of my roles is to compliment the people I work with each day. It’s not all that glamorous, and it is not always fun, but it is a role that needs playing.

I’m learning as I age that not every hill is a hill to die on. When my life is over it would devastate me to hear the people I worked with say, “She always had to win. She did not compromise.”  When disagreements come and compromise seems improbable, I have an opportunity to ask myself, “Do I want to win, or do I want to be part of a body doing my part.” “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be the church?”  This is not to say we should not share or shape the culture of our organizations by speaking up when we feel God’s prompting to do so, but it is to say that there are ways to differ in opinion in a gracious, humble, and respectful manner.

Perhaps there are those of us doing work abroad that are not necessarily called to “start our own thing” or to act in the head leadership role. Maybe, like my husband’s friend said, what is most needed are loyal and faithful “number twos” that can recognize how easily the devil comes to destroy relationships, plant doubt, and stir discontent among us. It could be time to try harder to play well with others.

What about you? Are relationships in your work abroad causing more stress than the work itself?  Are you called to a number two position? Do you play well with others?

 Tara Livesay – works in Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti

Blog: Livesayhaiti.com    Twitter: @TroyLivesay