It was the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday in October. I sat at a picnic table at a park 45 minutes from home, accompanied only by my favorite sushi roll, Starbucks drink, Bible and journal. It was my birthday and one of my best friends offered to keep the kids for the afternoon. With some time to myself, I decided I was going to celebrate big and embrace all the things I loved. Going for a run, sushi, soaking up the scriptures, expressing myself through writing and an expensive cup of coffee were firsts on the list. Enjoying the beauty of a sunny Fall day and the hard-for-me-to-come-by solitude was a close second and third.
As I sat there, reflecting on another year passed, a definitive thought emerged: This is the year of the &.
As I curiously pressed into that thought, I started to see the “&” with more clarity. It’s about going for a run & having the Saturday morning mimosas and pancakes afterwards. It’s about loving the bold parts of my personality & embracing the fact that boldness will probably be misunderstood. It’s about empathizing and deeply connecting with others & radically following Jesus without compromise. It’s about finding the balance between good disciplines & sweeping freedom. It’s about holding fast to my convictions & leaving space for others to have theirs. It’s about both accepting the limitations of my humanity & plugging into the Source of supernatural perfection.
As the weeks after unfolded, I could see how desperately we need a “year of the &” on a broader scale. Our nation just traversed the most polarizing election and campaigning period in recent history. Social media is set aflame with those on the hard left and the hard right slinging hatred for the other side. We are in the middle of a pandemic where fear, chaos and sickness is swirling and we are left asking ourselves when this will all end. Blame, accusation, shame and disrespect are commonplace with disconnection and loneliness as the results. Good-hearted Americans are seated at the middle of it all, stress-eating Little Debbies, wondering what’s next down the pipeline for this shit show that is 2020.
This unprecedented year has ripped us apart and we need an “&” to pull us together.
There are real issues that need solved. Issues that will require those on both sides of the aisle to show up to the table carrying their portion, their perspectives and offering their solutions. We can only do that when we know our differences in opinions won’t be used to demonize us and label us as morally less superior. We need to be able to have hard conversations while holding fast to respect and honor for one another. We need to talk through the real issues while maintaining our sense of dignity and assuring those who disagree that they get to keep theirs as well. While we can’t control how we are treated or how others respond to us, we have complete control over our own actions, reactions and responses. What will we bring into the atmosphere? Will we add to the hate and division by “making our point” and “standing our ground?” Or will we extend an “&” and approach life with curiosity, seeking to be a part of the solution, knowing we ALL have a valid role to play?
When I consider what’s become of this nation politically and socially, it seems like one big identity crisis. We have forgotten that we are born with inherent value, so we scratch and claw to get something that was already bestowed on us. We trash others who don’t look like us, act like us or think like us because their inconsistency threatens our sense of self. We base our self-worth on what we do, how we think, what we look like and—in-turn—judge others as worthy or not based on that criteria. We live in fear that we are defined by what others think of us, so we people-please rather than live authentically and true to ourselves.
What if we really believed that every human being was made in the image of God? What if we really believed that God’s desire is for every person to experience Him as a Loving Father, truly present and involved in our lives? What if we really believed that each person is loved for who they are and nothing that they do or don’t do can take away from the fact that they were created to be loved, period?
Spoiler alert: It’s all true.
God didn’t want robots, he wanted sons and daughters. And when we operate in our true identity as His son or daughter our self-respect and honor for others will make a way for the “&.” God wants to unify His family and divide them from the ways of the world—ways like hatred, slander, gossip, judgement and disconnection. It’s not our job to convict others—it’s our job to keep our own hearts pure from the darkness that encroaches when we slip into judgement rather than love.
How do we do that? Here are a few things I’ve learned this year that have helped me bring an “&” into a truly divisive time.
Listen to understand, not to respond. When in doubt, ask more questions.
In any situation, there’s your perspective, my perspective and the truth. We rarely get to the truth, because we are so hellbent on making others see our perspective. What if we were as intent on understanding others as we were in not being misunderstood? What if we approached conversations with true curiosity rather than already having our minds made up? It would be so much easier to get to the superior truth rather than settling for our own inferior and often divisive perspectives if we approached conversations with the goal of listening well.
Share your heart, regardless of how you think it will be interpreted.
It is not our job to manage other people’s opinions of us, it’s our job to authentically share our hearts. That is the only way to have true connection and meaningful relationships. We manipulate others when we withhold our true thoughts and feelings out of self-protection. Not only that, we shortchange ourselves of the joy of being truly known and experiencing a depth of love only enjoyed by those brave enough to be authentic.
Embrace awkward conversations and fight for those you love.
Have you ever left a conversation feeling icky? Any number of things could bring that feeling on… Maybe you felt misunderstood. Maybe you used a poor choice of words to communicate your thoughts and you’re worried you hurt someone unintentionally. Maybe someone else said something with a passive aggressive undertone and you let it slide. Regardless of the specific situation, we have all had those conversations that plant a seed for disconnection in relationships. And we have all experienced the gulf that separates us when those little disconnections go unresolved. The sad thing is, so many times, that disconnection could have been avoided if we were brave enough to have an awkward conversation in the moment. It could be as simple as saying “I saw your face when I said blah, blah, blah… did you think I meant this? I wanted to clear it up because I care about how I make you feel.” Or “What did you mean when you said this? It felt passive aggressive to me. I know you well enough to know that probably wasn’t what you meant, but it did hurt my feelings and I value our relationship enough to want to talk through it.” Is that too cringey for you? It’s either that, or the perpetual feeling of isolation and disconnection in relationships. For me, I’ll embrace the cringe and choose to be awkward.
Understand that there are different perspectives and different ways of looking at things. Resist the urge to define others by their outlook in life.
Jesus says it better than me. “Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” Matthew 7:1,2. We all have our reasons why we think of things a certain way. We all have different experiences that have shaped our perspective. None of us are qualified to know the intent of another’s heart, and if we don’t want our intent questioned or judged, we’d be wise to not do the same to others.
Recognize your triggers and don’t let them speak for you.
Triggers. They’re unfortunate, but we all have them. Too often, we let our triggers do the talking. Abi Stumvoll is a brilliant life consultant, author, speaker and podcaster who says “Emotions are like kids. You can’t stuff them in the trunk, but you also can’t let them drive the car.” When we are baited into an emotional response, we need to listen to what our emotions are telling us. We don’t—however—have to respond based on those emotions. Another important thing to mention is that many times, our triggers tell us a story that is so far from the truth. That’s why we need to be willing to be vulnerable, honest and have awkward—but real—conversations. If not, we are just going through life triggered by others’ triggers and nothing gets resolved. That’s how disconnection and division happens.
Has the year 2020 felt divisive for you and your circles? Do you think we need a year of the &? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.