By Amber Kinloch
Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. Families are planning gatherings all around the country—hopefully, joyful ones. The reality, though, is that many are mentally cladding themselves in iron cloaks and adopting a survivor’s mentality in anticipation of dinner with their family members.
If you’re in this boat, please, know you have my sympathy. I’ve been blessed with a good family, but even so, we’ve had our moments of anger, misunderstanding, and conflict. I know what it is to feel the blood coursing hot through my veins and to be tempted to slam the door on a relationship. Yet I’m grateful, because those bitter moments have served as a valuable source of instruction for me. Here are a few things I’ve learned.
#1: Identify What’s Really Going On
When I get into a conflict with someone, I’ve found that underlying my anger, there tends to be a great deal of fear. Fear of being wrong and seen as incapable or foolish. Fear of being taken advantage of or hurt.
So, I double down behind a barrier of self-righteous anger. I assume the worst of the other person. I forget about their good qualities. My view turns black and white—I’m right, they’re wrong.
Other problems can be a critical spirit, resentment over a past wrong, an imaginary need to be better than everyone else, or a fear of being disliked.
Find out and acknowledge whatever the root cause of your problem is—that’s the first step to dealing with it.
#2: Focus on What’s in Your Control
You can’t change another person, but you can change yourself. Moods, your dislike of another person, etc., may be beyond your power to control, and that’s okay. What is in your control is your attitude as manifested in your thoughts, words, and actions.
That is a tremendously powerful thing. We get hung up on how much a certain person annoys us and forget that it’s our choice as to how we respond. We don’t have to let them affect us, not at our core.
The key is staying rooted in God—in a word, humility. At the end of the day, does it matter if a certain person other than God likes or approves of you? Does it?
#3: Look for the Good
When someone’s aggravating us, we lose our sense of perspective. We blow things out of proportion and assume the worst. Humor (even if it’s just an internal wry remark to yourself) is a great antidote to this. It lightens tense situations and diverts the focus away from whatever is irritating us.
Similarly, it’s our choice as to whether we choose to look for the good or not. Look for the sparks of beauty around you. Take time to admire the flowers and candles on the table, or the beautiful pumpkin pie gossipy Aunt Louise baked. Step outside briefly to take in the sunset or to gaze up at the moon and stars. Appreciate what the present moment offers instead of just looking to survive it.
More than that, keep a sharp eye out for the good in others. Look out for opportunities to offer compliments and words of thanks and encouragement. Seek to serve them by listening, doing the dishes, or entertaining the children begging for everyone’s attention. Avoid complaints and negativity. Excuse others’ faults. These are all small, potent ways to practice charity and humility.
Why We Exercise Mercy (Even When Others Don’t)
It is not easy getting on with other people. We can partake in anger, resentment, and unforgiveness, or we can answer Christ’s call to be different, to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).
We show mercy because we are in need of mercy (Matthew 5:7). We owe an immense debt, one we could never repay on our own. Jesus has paid it for us at the price of His own Blood. But we must respond in kind. We must be like Him, praying for those who have hurt us and treating them with charity. If not, we close the door upon mercy and waste God’s sacrifice.
It’s a tall order. There will be hours and days we’ll shrink back and not respond. When that happens, it’s time to stop and look at the Cross, to recall the price we’ve been bought at and the response demanded. God has given everything for us without our deserving a bit of it. What’s our excuse for holding back?
Regarding those who continually wrong you, perhaps in serious ways, entrust those persons to God. By the power of His grace, He brings forth good from evil. Our only concern is to become holy and to help others become holy. God will attend to the rest.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.