The woman who sat before me said, “Six family members died the between April and December 2020, the last of these was my husband. None from COVID-19. It’s been a tough year.”
Devastating losses. How does a person walk through such losses? She is reacting in anger toward others around her. That made sense knowing what she had been through.
Another woman has been undergoing very difficult treatments for chronic illnesses for years. Knowing her time might be running out has her on a crusade to reveal truth to others. She can come across as if, “You have to see this as I see it, now!”
These two precious women are in a church struggling with conflict. Clearly, the conflict is not only the presenting issue but the context into which it landed. There is more going on than meets the eye. Hidden pain is a powerful energizer of conflict. I have the privilege of walking into the middle of these hurting, conflicted lives and guiding them to a new future together.
Clients came to assist them with a divorce. The first meeting they agreed about everything, but between that and the second meeting the husband began to fall apart. Plummeting into fears, he sent a barrage of emails and texts and made some poor choices. The second meeting began with the wife in tears, panicking because of how her husband was behaving. He came ready to unpack the secret they had not shared the first time. Pain. Hidden pain tormenting their lives and hearts. I helped them set boundaries. I communicated peace. The work we did spoke volumes. The wife wrote me, “You brought calm. After that meeting, I slept peacefully for the first time in months.”
This is my world. I walk into places of conflict and pain and Jesus walks in with me.
I listen. It is amazing what can happen when people feel heard.
I am a calm presence. No matter what tension they bring, my presence is the thermostat in the room.
As people need to work through their anger to actually share, I can wait. One couple hotly discussed a current issue. I asked a few questions and waited for them to practice communicating. Later they both wrote, thanking me for my patience.
One woman, the petitioner for her divorce, struggled with the emotion she felt about asking for a divorce. She never wanted to be perceived as mean. Basically, after 20 years, she had stood up and decided she was worth more than the abuse coming at her. I wrote, “You’ve not been the mean person. You’ve not been mean once. You have sought to stand. This is good but hard work.”
She replied, “Thank you so much. Those words fail to express the vast expanse of what I want to say, but for now, ‘thank you.'”
Isn’t this true — when we need to stand up for our own health and safety, or the health and safety of another, it is unnerving. It feels all wrong since we have lived patterning ourselves not to stand but to give in to the demands upon us. Standing up is scary. But it is an act of courage and bravery.
This woman was acting out that bravery. She wrote,
“You are absolutely right. It’s unnerving and scary and feels so out of my comfort zone – even when that perceived ‘comfort’ is actually a demeaning and dangerous place. I’m trying with all my heart not to ‘Why did I do this for 20 years?’ and to instead say, ‘What can I do with my next 20 years?!’ Thank you for your support, your logic, your understanding and your prayers. They all lift me up.”
The question of regret is so difficult, “Why did I do this for 20 years?” It is better to reframe it with someone safe by asking, “What can I learn about myself, my motivations, my heart, by the fact that I stayed in this relationship for those 20 years?”
I got to see this woman find her voice and her strength through mediation. She stood her ground, through very challenging conversations. And emerged out the other side with hope reverberating through her being.
Hope is what people seem to most need.
But hope can wither in a person’s heart and life. When encountering much grief, anger, and pain, hope can be lost. Especially in the middle of conflict, people often lose any hope for the future. All they can see or experience is the mountainous conflict before them.
This is where I have seen the fruit of not having a dog in their fight, and being able to truly be a neutral presence. As I listen and ask questions, possibilities emerge they had missed. It is as if God walks into the room with me and plants and then waters a tiny seed of hope in their hearts as we speak. Once watered, the seed sprouts and begins to grow, even in that session. They leave with something within them, which hadn’t existed before.
Perhaps this is something all of us have the privilege of doing — resurrecting hope. Everyday we have the opportunity to lay down our strong opinions, (and you know I have some), and take up the opportunity to listen to another living soul, a person with a mom, dad, and perhaps a family, but who bears hurts and lost dreams. To offer your listening ear, just to listen in order to understand, that alone, can plant hope into the soul of the one speaking.
In contrast, what we tend to do is react to the pain others express. We take up our placard with our own opinion starkly written upon it, and raise it against another. We shout instead of listening.
In our world of opposite opinions, of sharp divides, of deep pain, we all need people willing to listen, willing to take the middle road, willing to ask questions, willing to be a difference maker, willing to be a tool in the hand of God to resurrect hope in the hearts of others.