A friend of mine, Ann, is a counselor. One of her longtime clients came in a couple weeks back. The woman went to use the restroom and came into the office fuming. “You have a towel in your bathroom!” she declared, vehemently.
Ann was surprised and said, “Well, yes, there are paper towels there for those who would prefer using them.”
For context: there has always been a regularly changed out towel in that bathroom, so, the client had seen it there for nearly a decade.
“I cannot believe you have a towel in there!” The client declared again.
“How about you sit down and we will talk about what you are feeling,” Ann offered.
But instead the woman, so angry and fearful of the possible spread of COVID, said, “You can burn my file! I’m not returning!” And she stormed out.
Ann was shocked and hurt. This longtime client and friend was gone.
The story struck me as bizarre and rooted in the scary narratives spread about COVID.
Most people use such a towel after washing their hands— to dry them. There could be germs on the towel, certainly. Germs are everywhere. But since most people in a client bathroom of that nature are not sneezing into the towel or wiping the snot from their noses on it, it is fairly safe. It is highly unlikely a virus would be sitting there. Viruses are not living organisms. They don’t jump. They can do nothing outside of a living host. So the presence of a towel is not going to cause harm to this woman. And, if concerned, she could use the paper alternative.
This woman was safe but did not believe she was.
Her belief uprooted years of faithful, loving counsel. She tossed it all, over a towel. It seemed like such a strong reaction.
I don’t view myself as reactive. I think of myself as joyful, easy to speak with, open handed. But, this week I discovered otherwise.
After my wife, Karen, had returned from a shopping trip with our youngest daughter, Gabri, aged 28, she shared how upset Gabri had been about how we had voted in the recent election. Gabri had heard it from her sister Grace who had asked me that morning when we had connected. Grace and I had had a great, open, communicative conversation about the contrasts in our political persuasions.
But Gabri expressed to her mom that she felt could not speak to me yet, because of how intense or reactive I could be. This hit me was if I’d been permanently rejected. Weird, for actually, boundaries are good and important. If Gabri felt this way, then, this says she is aware of her need to wait to speak with me. It was positive that she still planned to speak.
That night, I felt unjustly treated. “Well, you can get pretty intense at times,” Karen offered.
“Me?” I was so surprised. “When am I intense?” Had you been there, you would have sensed the intensity in my voice right then.
“You are aware how you come across, aren’t you?” Karen gently asked.
A scene flashed before my eyes of my business partner and I having a discussion and him saying to me, “Brian, let’s slow this way down.” This was in response to the intensity he felt coming from me.
“Of course I’m not,” I blurted. “Who is ever truly aware at how others perceive them? All of us have blinders. Even you are probably not aware of how you come across at times,” I shared, selfishly wanting to turn the tables, and make this about her. This comment hurt her, for we were talking about intensity and overreactions, but in the application to her, I was thinking of other kinds of emotions. Just so you know, Karen is a very self-aware person and generally very peaceful and calm.
I had dug a hole and pulled us both into it. It took about 6 hours of conversation to find our way back out. I was so wrong to turn the tables. That misery loves company is unfortunately true. And I roped her into my stuff.
When I journaled this situation out I quickly saw my own selfishness. I realized I wanted to be liked and loved, and was misinterpreting Gabri’s boundaries. This was a chance to die to my own ego, my pride, my false identity. I felt the Lord whisper, “Welcome to crucifixion.” A friend reminded me of the Amy Carmichael quote, “See in this a chance to die.”
Since then, Gabri has set up a time for us to talk. So, I will listen, ask open-handed questions, and not be reactive. I promise.
We are living in a good season to practice NOT reacting.
There are many points of disagreement abounding in the USA and around the world. So, in this highly charged state of affairs, it is important to demonstrate peace and walk in peace.
As a mediator, I’ve witnessed how when I bring peace into the room, the peace will overwhelm the other more reactive emotions present. Crazy how this post is about me being overreactive in certain situations, but empowering peace in others!
In my position as a mediator, I need to abide in peace myself in order for this to happen. I have been in many situations when conflicted couple finds immense peace because I am holding to it myself, asking questions, and not entering their emotions. In the end, peace wins the day.
Jesus said, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, give I to you” (John 14:27). Let’s receive it and be peacemakers in this world.
James wrote, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). What a promise — a harvest of righteousness, all the good God could want through a life. Righteousness relates to “right action” and a “right heart,” relating then to both our character and our actions.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Let’s enact this blessed connection to God.