Wed., Aug. 29, 2012–Our Board of Deacons spent a lovely evening together last night around the dinner table and then on sofa and chairs in the living room. We try to “retreat”–or “advance,” as I like to think of it–at least once a year, usually in the summer. It gives us a chance to be together in a non-“meeting” setting and to take a little more time to go deeper into a topic or concern that we never seem to have time for during our regular meetings.
We had agreed that last night we would talk about “difficult conversations”–how to be clear about our boundaries of what we could and couldn’t do, what to do when emotions might be high, how to deal with difficult issues, like death, or family dynamics. Sitting around the living room, we could speak and listen to one another with a softness and openness that a more formal setting would have made more difficult.
In some ways, we modeled a difficult conversation, for as we shared how we had each been at a loss or felt uncomfortable in conversations, we held each other in the Light and Love of God, listened, and gently asked questions or suggested alternative ways to steer the conversation. We agreed that the questions we asked were more important than any answers we might give. For example, while hearing and acknowledging someone’s complaints or pain, at a certain point it might be helpful to open the possibility of looking at something that’s going right, at some gift or strength they have, at some reason for hope. Acknowledge the pain AND lift up the possibility. When we focus on or give attention to the positive and the hopeful, it actually gives life and energy to that, instead of simply getting sucked into the negative energy of what is not going well.
If we anticipate a difficult conversation, it’s important to take the time ahead of time to ground ourselves in the truth of who we are–beloved of God, with strengths and worth that will be untouched by whatever the other may say, held in the depth and density and expanse of Love. It’s also important to remember that the other is beloved of God, worthy of compassion and dignity and respect. If we find ourselves unexpectedly in the midst of a difficult conversation, remembering to breathe deeply and allowing silence may help us through. We agreed that “I don’t know what I think about that,” or “I don’t know what to say about that right now” are much better responses than just babbling on without thinking.
When at all possible, our conversations should include some affirmation of the other, some gift or benefit that we find in them, as all too often conversations can degenerate into fault-finding and criticism. We agreed that we would like to intentionally create an atmosphere of benefit-finding, rather than fault-finding, in our church, in the words used in Positive Psychology.
While at times difficult, our conversation drew us closer together – “in the Spirit’s tether,” as the hymn says. It was another experience of the Word made flesh among us.