Tuesday, July 5, 2016

No Sounding Boards

Some years ago, following a committee meeting at church, I made a sarcastic comment to a friend about what had been discussed. I don’t remember what I said, or what had been discussed in the meeting. What I do recall is that I found myself summoned to a meeting at church, a few days later. I show up at this meeting, not even thinking about the earlier conversation. But when I got there, the door closed and the conversation began, “Someone told me that you’re upset.”

So much for my idea that this meeting had something to do with a project I working on at the time. For the next hour or so, we discussed this thing that I didn’t want to discuss at all. A simple offhand comment had turned into a position that I was expected to defend and my attempts to dismiss the whole thing did nothing to bring the conversation to a close. All from me just thinking aloud.

I learned something from that. Venting is not allowed. Never say something that you aren’t willing to defend. I was looking for someone to bounce and idea off of, someone who would either agree with me or tell me I was thinking wrongly. That is not what I found.

There are times when it is helpful to hear your own thoughts spoken out loud. When dealing with people, it isn’t always easy to know what to do. We often point to Matthew 18 for handling church problems. It is here that Jesus says, “if they brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault.” That’s great instruction, but what if you don’t know if you want to bring the thing up. Maybe you aren’t sure that it is a “trespass” or you’re trying to find the right words to say. Maybe it’s something that’s not worth making an issue of and you’re trying to sort through it in your own head.

It seems like there ought to be people that you can discuss things with to find the right answer. But what my experience has shown me is that a comment meant to feel out other people’s ideas on a topic will be taken as a statement of fact. A statement made in a moment of frustration is taken as a sign of being angry. So, if you can’t figure it out yourself, you’re kind of stuck.

The irony is that it wasn’t long before that incident that I was lectured for “bottling things up inside.” So, which is worse, to keep it all inside or to deal with people who get upset with they discover that I’m trying to figure out whether I agree with what they are doing or not?