Pursuing Holiness in the Minutiae

14 05 2010

Just a few posts ago, I wrote about how the prophets are incredibly sensitive to the presence of evil and a period of time in which I felt the same. I’ve been praying about returning to that intimacy, but today I remember why it’s so hard: It’s the little things.

I’ve been doing a kind of spiritual cleansing – taking a week to pray through and repent of evil / sin in my life. It feels incredibly good – in the evening, after an hour of prayer and making some necessary phone calls or emails, I am surrounded by peace. But at those times, I’m intentional: I sit down, I pray for the right attitude, and I’m ready to face it all.

But it’s the slap in the face that is so hard to deal with. It’s the sudden and unexpected.

Situation: there’s been a person that’s hard to deal with. He has a good heart and means well, but we’ve been working together on something and he doesn’t always “get” what we’re supposed to do. He’s got ideas – often great ones, but often beyond the scope of our project (too time-intensive or unnecessary, for example). So, sometimes he gets shot down (usually by the boss, sometimes I try to warn him that it won’t fly). Anyway, I wanted to work on our relationship, so that the “shooting down of ideas” was in no way a reflection of who he is as a person. In other words, spend some time with him to develop a friendship to make our work relationship better.  I thought it was working.

Until today he sent me an angry email, criticizing me and trying to “push my buttons”. Everything about the email was designed to get a response out of me. Even his word choices were purely accusatory and character-oriented (Any basic communications class / conflict discussion will tell you never to attack someone’s character, but to focus on the actions and how you feel. For example, “I felt disappointed when you forgot to call me.” instead of “You’re so irresponsible!”)

Okay, so here’s the real point: I got angry. The button-pushing worked. I hit “reply” and started to (1) justify myself and (2) return with my own accusations. Well, I quickly knew that I shouldn’t write a response while angry, so I stopped. But then I was just reading and re-reading the email. And getting more angry. The sort of thoughts going through my head:

You have no right to say these things!

And I was trying to be nice to you!

I don’t have to work with you. I can be done with this. That’s it. I’m done! I’m going to email back saying I won’t work with you any more. Then see how you like it – I won’t be your buffer. I don’t have to take this!

Well, you get the point. And I’m sure we’ve all been there. I was really starting to get worked up (this all lasted about 2 minutes…)

Then I heard the smallest prompting from the Spirit. Just last night, I made promises about seeking to be holy, pursuing unity and compassion and grace and forgiveness. The memory of those promises tugged at my soul. The Spirit was telling me to stop. To let go of the anger and pray about how to build up this relationship – even apologize for the things the person criticized if needed.

But I didn’t want to. And here is the crux of all of our choices – in that moment, I knew what God wanted and I knew what I felt. And they didn’t line up. And because I knew that so clearly, I also knew I had a choice to make – the knowledge of the difference between God’s will and mine at that moment made me eminently more responsible than if I’d sent an angry email in the first few moments. Because once you know something, you can’t “un-know” it. At that moment, I knew I was wrong with certainty and clarity. Any action I take after that is nothing but clear, direct rebellion.

Still, even as that all became clear, I hesitated. Then I remembered – I loudly commanded the enemy to be silent, and put myself at the mercy of God. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but had no strength to choose the right in that moment. So I told God that he’d better take over.

He did. And now I’ve written this post. And in a moment, I will pray about how to respond – whether to send out an apology, an explanation, to send nothing, or to make a direct call / arrange a time to get together and talk about it. Ultimately, done with the right spirit, any of these could be the right action. Conversely, with the wrong spirit, any of them could just make it worse. That’s why it comes down to guidance. And in the perspective of the prophets, it’s about “Sensitivity to Evil” and “The Importance of Trivialities”.

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A Cultural Frustration

27 04 2010

I’ve debated whether I’m better off writing a post every day, even if it’s hard, or waiting until I have something to say and the time to write it well. Considering my track record on this blog, I’d say that latter isn’t working too well. So, a random reflection for the day.

Cultural frustration moment: I have a vet I go to regularly. He’s a nice guy. Both him and his assistant speak English pretty well and seem to know what they’re doing. The other day, I even tried an experiment – I called for an appointment! He must have saved my number, because he answered with “Hello!” It was quite cheery. I happily made a grooming appointment.

So, later I stopped by with some friends to drop off Selah. I’ve taken her in before and they do a god job. So it should be simple. I told him I wanted her shaved everywhere, leaving about 1 cm of hair. He was clear on it. The assistant showed me another dog as a sample, and I joked, “No, I don’t want a naked dog. Just 1 cm.” He clearly got it also.

Then the vet saw that one of my friends was Korean. And, while her English is good, it’s no better than the vet’s. But suddenly, he wouldn’t speak to me. He asked her what I wanted. And she proceeded to answer! They spoke about line cuts and all sorts of other things in Korean for at least 10 minutes. My friend has never had a dog (and presumably doesn’t know anything about grooming) and she never asked me what I wanted. I even walked out of the room to see my other friend. Honestly, I was very upset.

Finally, after they agreed on something that did NOT involve shaving, I said, “No, just shave her to 1 cm.” As I said that, the assistant joked, “No naked dog, right?” He got it and I appreciated his easing the situation.

So, what happened here?

First, as far as the vet’s concerned, he probably assumed a friend of mine spoke better English than he did. I get that, although that’s just a sign of how much he under-estimates himself. Also, I get that he probably wanted her to play the role of translator, not realizing she would just answer him herself.

Second, I don’t really know this friend very well, so I can’t guess at what she was thinking. She seems to have mis-understood my directions about “1 cm”, because I think she was convincing him I didn’t want Selah shaved. Perhaps she thought “no naked dog” meant no shaving, just a trim.

Most important: Why was I so angry?

A lot of it is perspective. Now I have it; then, I didn’t. That’s a big part of living in another culture – recognizing that your perspectives are different. And honestly, they will always be different. So even if you don’t “get” what others are thinking, the key is to understand what they think, learn to predict how they’ll react, and be patient with it. After all, you’re the foreigner with crazy ideas / strange reactions.

But for myself – How was I feeling that made me angry? I think it was mostly feeling de-valued / de-humanized. They spoke as if I wasn’t in the room, or as if my opinion didn’t matter. It was like I vanished. It was terribly rude.

But finally, a lot of it is about control. It’s my dog, my appointment, and my money is paying for the haircut. So I want my say in it. I was mostly upset with the vet for asking my friend instead of me; it takes away my authority as the client in the situation.

However, I recognized my anger and tried to hold my tongue. I know the feelings still seeped through – I don’t hide them that well. But, I also made an effort and let go of the anger within 20 minutes. As Ephesians says, “Be angry, but do not sin. And do not let the anger stay for long.” It’s nice to know that God understands our emotions welling up. We’re allowed to feel angry.

Anyway, the cut turned out perfect. And Selah act light and free!