You've all heard it on the radio: "This is a test. This is only a test. For the next 60 seconds, this station will be conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System...." BEEEEEP! That beep could signal flash-flooding, a tornado, or maybe an alien invasion. But you know that it's only a test, so you stay cool, calm, and collected. No freaking out. No screaming. No elevated heart rate. You just continue with your business.
Life seems to throw us lots of tests, but it doesn't often warn us ahead of time! I was watching a church-league softball game one summer afternoon when one of the young men on the field began to grow visibly irritated with the progress of the game. His keen-eyed coach called a time-out, and the team trotted to the dugout. The coach's wife, sitting next to me on the sidelines, blew out a long breath and commented, "Good. Kyle's on top of things."
"On top of what?" Had I missed something?
"Jake's loosing his temper. He's super competitive and gets really hot when the team makes a lot of stupid mistakes. Kyle called everybody off the field to pray for Jake."
What looked like a softball field might as well have been a Roman colosseum as far as Jake was concerned. While other players were doodling around having fun, he was slaying lions. For Jake, Saturday afternoon softball was a test, an opportunity to confront personal sin, to grow in grace, to engage in some edgy sanctification.
A dear friend once told me that I was passive-aggressive. When she explained the meaning of the term, I had to agree. I hate conflict, whether it's with others, with my circumstances, or with myself. I tend to respond to conflict by running, or by denying the conflict altogether, or by turning into Dragon Lady and trying to destroy whatever I feel is causing discomfort. Cool and collected on the outside, seething on the inside...blech.
Over the past 45 years, life has certainly provided lots of tests to see how I handle conflict. Sadly, I usually don't recognize the test until after I've created a messy disaster or nearly eaten someone alive. Then it's, "Oh, that was a test. I see it now! Man, I really handled that badly..." Grimace.
A few nights ago, I think for the first time ever, I faced a difficult and uncomfortable conflict with the crystal-clear awareness that "This is a test." AMAZING how much difference it made having that mindset on the front end of the conflict, before I'd had an opportunity to create a battlefield strewn with carnage!
Here's a brief synopsis of the situation: I am part of a group of about ten writers who work together on a weekly newspaper column, and the job of switchboard operator/central contact for the group has somehow fallen to me. Now, out of this group of writers, there is only one person who makes my job a burden. This is someone I genuinely love and respect. He has a very strong personality, which my "passive" side sometimes has difficulty relating with constructively. He isn't uncomfortable insisting on his own agenda or admitting his unwillingness to compromise, and his critical comments about some of the other writers have truly grieved me. Well, this writer called again one evening this week to restate his disapproval with the group's direction for the series of articles and to pressure me to just over-ride everyone else's input, insisting we conform to his preferences. (As if I had so much power!)
It had been a long, exhausting day for me, and he had called just as I was walking in the door from a late night at church. I was too tired - physically and emotionally - to deal with this nagging source of conflict. When I heard the voice on the other end of the line, I stiffened and hoped, "Maybe, maybe, this won't be another problem call." Then the complaining and pressuring and NOT LISTENING began. About five minutes into this unpleasant "conversation", I seriously considered just hanging up the phone.
But then something truly amazing happened - it was as if a lightbulb suddenly came on inside my head. "This is a test," I thought. "This is only a test!" Suddenly, the conflict was no longer about Mr. X's immovable opinions or strong personality. It was about me not running from conflict and not throwing daggers - it was about me engaging calmly, rationally, persistently, for a full 30 minutes, until Mr. X wearied of his heated discourse and we reached some kind of an understanding.
For many of you - those of you accustomed to handling conflict rationally - the above scenario may seem insignificant. But for me, it was HUGE. When I finally hung up the phone, shaking but oddly elated, I felt as if I'd just finished my first marathon. "You handled that very well," Steve commented from across the room. (And he should know - he has personally experienced my typical ungodly handling of conflict, numerous times.)
"That was weird," I replied. "I was strangely confident, the whole time on the phone, that this was some kind of a test....like I was in training, exercising for something yet to come." What does God have in store for me down the road? I wondered. What is He getting me ready for?
James 1:2-4 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." In this journey of life, God is constantly stretching us, growing us, training us - conforming us more and more to Christ, in whom we are made perfect and complete, lacking nothing. He often does that through trials, but, amazingly, in the midst of trials, He gifts us with joy. I went to bed that night exhausted, nerves frazzled, but feeling indescribable joy. It was as if I had faced lions in the colosseum - and, by the grace of God, walked out victorious.
How about you, Dear Readers? Are you fighting any lions?
3 weeks ago