It was a hard conversation. A friend, colleague, associate, acquaintance, nemesis (it’s a complicated relationship) initiated a frank conversation with me. He offered feedback, albeit unsolicited, and I sat and listened. Doing so wasn’t my first choice. I would have rather run away, screamed or cut him down to size, as I had done at times with others. Instead of going with immediate gratification, this time I restrained myself; it wasn’t easy.
"My Internal Reactions"
With deep breaths and calling upon all the good listening and communications techniques I’d been taught over the years, I got through the ordeal without breaking any bones or relationships. I worked hard to separate the facts from the stories I told myself and keep connected to my emotions while struggling to balance between under and over expression.
Factually, we’d been in a relationship for several years, that was both personal and professional. This multi-faceted relationship included moments of affection and connection as well as moments of tension and conflict. Ours was a creative collaboration which had brought us to vulnerable places of anger and ecstasy. Our conversation that day was triggered by a specific situation, (he didn’t feel that I respected his opinion) but was the culmination of many small conflicts and situations that had finally come to a head.
My “stories,” as we call them, during and after the encounter could fill a novel. He was being arrogant. He didn’t appreciate or respect me. This was unfair. Was I as difficult to work with as he was making me out to be? Would we survive this conversation, and would we be able to create together again? I believed he was sincere while at the same time I was dismayed by his judgments and conclusions.
The encounter appeared to end cordially, with an acknowledgement of where there was mutual understanding and that differences still existed. There was also an intention set to continue the dialogue and relationship. For me the real challenge and discomfort came during the car ride home and the days that followed during which time I reflected, called a friend or two and of course, ate ice cream (my drug of choice is such situations). I struggled to see his point of view, without compromising my self-respect and beliefs.
You’re probably wondering what happened? Well at the risk of killing the cat by leaving your curiosity unsatisfied, I am leaving out the details to protect the innocent, as much as my ego wants to do otherwise. What really matters is what I learned.
Though I tried to dismiss it, thinking that I was being overly dramatic, the following scripture from Matthew 5 was one of the first things that came to my mind as I was driving away.
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Enemy or not, that experience taught me that these “enemies” (or self-righteous friends) get my attention in ways that my close friends with their kind words and smiles never will. I believe that the Savior instructs me to pray for my enemies because they are my best teachers. He invites me to appreciate the gifts they have to offer because there will be many more that challenge, hurt, or betray me in this life. If I can learn to see them as messengers (and resist the temptation to shoot them, even if they do deserve it) then I can learn, grow and love more fully.
So how do we get through moments and relationships like this one? Let me share six tips that help me to, if not love, at least profit from what my enemies have to say:
1... Listen, really listen, with the intention of hearing what they are saying.
2... Don’t take it personally; don’t make it about me, even when they can only express themselves in ways that make it about me. Avoid defensiveness by reminding myself of my innate goodness and identity; and theirs.
3... Seek clarification by reflecting back what I think I heard
4... Keeping the peace is not the goal. Attempting to avoid or prematurely resolve conflict or seeking not to hurt the other person’s feelings will not lead to a satisfactory or lasting outcome; don’t agree to things that I may later regret.
5... Exercise boundaries:
It’s okay to set time limits, adjourn or take a time out, with the understanding that the conversation will be taken up again.
It’s okay to set boundaries around inappropriate language or emotions; safety matters.
6... Take time to reflect. Allow myself time after the encounter to reflect, process with myself or other safe, objective people and finally, filter the information, eventually accepting and adopting that which is true and helpful, and rejecting that which isn’t.
So, how does loving and praying for my enemies help me achieve perfection?
In the case of the meeting with my frenemy, by listening to and reflecting upon what was said, I was given a more complete or whole perspective, which is more in keeping with the original Greek definition of perfection*. I must pray for my enemies, since they offer me what no one else can; the parts of the story that my friends can't or won't share with me; the scary chapter that I would rather skip. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that indeed my enemies are messengers sent from God?
If this is the case, then when praying for their welfare, I am the real beneficiary and, in the process, become more like Him.
* In Matt. 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means “complete.” Elder Russell M. Nelson, Perfection Pending, General Conference, October 1995.