The benefit of making decisions slowly

Some situations are mine to own and respond to! What if I am the lead dog? What if the decisions needed rest at my feet? If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

1. Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

1. Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

2. How can I contribute?

1. Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

3. What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The STEP BACK is an important boundaries tool. But the STEP UP is all about character. What happens when we realize that we’ve messed up? Well folks, there are appropriate responses for that too.

Stay tuned!

More and more curious

Carrying on from yesterday...if you need to get caught up, there is a link at the bottom of the email (for those of you who read via email).  If you're reading directly on the web, check out the post from September 4, 2018.

After the story was told to me, I had some curious questions of my own.  I asked my adult child about the reaction of the other party and I was pleasantly surprised to hear this:

“Well, it was interesting.  Here’s what happened.  When I didn’t get sucked into a discussion about my personality, it allowed me to stay on point with the real purpose of the conversation - which was to provide feedback to this person.  My boss had asked me to handle the problem of this person’s under performance.  The whole conversation started with me having to do the hard thing of explaining why this person’s service contract with us was on the verge of cancellation.  Instead of getting sidetracked with a conversation about me, I was able to return to the original point of discussion:  her need to improve her performance.  Which, by the way, could be done with or without me having a personality at all, either good or bad.”

No one likes negative job feedback.  Right?  But consider the alternative.  What if the vendor had been able to distract the conversation.  In the moment, she could have avoided hearing about her work issues BUT she would have forfeited her opportunity to respond to the feedback and improve her performance.  Which, by the way, she actually was able to accomplish and resulted in her keeping the contract.

Using the “strong back” “soft front” language of Brene’ Brown, the capacity to not chase after the approval of others in that moment enabled my child to provide a kindness to another.  At my ripe old age, I am not sure I would have had the wisdom to do the same.  Tomorrow, I will share what I learned when I asked my adulting child how this decision was made because I believe it holds some practical wisdom for those of us who are trying to rise above our defensive and resentful postures to a more hopeful and courageous way of living.

Good help is hard to find

If the two brothers gave us plenty to think about in the Old Testament as it relates to resentment, in the New Testament we find two sisters who also know all about getting whipped up with bitter indignation.

Anyone would be understandably nervous to host Jesus and his disciples for dinner.  Martha offered hospitality to Jesus and his crew and then immediately began to fret over the preparations.  Pre-party anxiety is real.  I suspect that Martha, in her heart of hearts, loves to throw dinner parties.  Otherwise, she wouldn’t have extended the invitation.  I have a friend who is the Queen of Hospitality.  She has taught me that as effortless as her parties seem, even she, the best of the best at throwing a good party, gets nervous as the party draws near.  Martha’s tension is not so much a reflection of her lack of capability as it is a sign that she really cares about making a wonderful dinner for her guests.  For those who read this story as if Martha is somehow an envious unspiritual person, I think that’s too harsh and misses the point.
However, Jesus does offer Martha some feedback.  Martha gets aggravated with her sister Mary, who sits at Jesus’ feet instead of chopping celery for the potato salad.  So Martha says this:

She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

Martha has basically lost her perspective.  Much like Cain, who blamed Abel, Martha blames Jesus for Mary’s attentiveness to Jesus and his teaching rather than pulling kitchen duty.  

Jesus responds,

 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:39-41

I do not think that Jesus is diminishing the role of Martha as a hostess.  But what he is saying, I believe, is that not everyone has that particular gift.  If Martha could stay in her own lane - hospitality, and let Mary stay in hers - learning from Jesus, then all will be well.  But resentment confuses and confounds us.  It gets us believing that life is unfair, when in fact, it is often just different.  On a recent family vacation, my sister-in-law and I were talking about the difference between parenting from a perspective of equality versus fairness.  We landed on fairness as the higher value.  But if our children want us to treat everyone equally, then it is possible that they might feel resentful if we babysit for one grandchild more often than another.  At this stage of life we see the wisdom of using discernment as a guide because this takes into account what our collective families’ actual needs are rather than just cookie cutter responses to life with our children in a vain attempt to keep everything equal.  Fortunately, our children are gracious human beings and they understand. How can you stay in your lane and find more joy in the spiritual discipline of treating everyone fairly?

God questions Cain's Anger

Then the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  


Genesis 4:6-7

God challenges Cain’s anger.  He invites Cain to consider his part in the story.  Cain has a part and his own decisions have led to God’s rejection of his offering.  

How hard it is for us to consider our part in a problem!!!  

But God also introduces a further problem.  He tells Cain that if Cain fails to manage his life, then forces bigger than Cain and his self-will may take away his freedom to choose.  The scripture calls this sin.  

Managing our emotions, our actions and even our thought life are key skills essential for a reasonably happy and healthy life.  Cain’s story serves as a cautionary tale and example of what happens when we get sloppy with our thoughts, feelings and actions.

Impulsivity and reactivity can have devastating consequences.  Until someone invents a time machine, we would do well to heed God’s word to Cain.  Some bells cannot be unrung.

Resentment by definition is all about us FEELING like someone is treating us unfairly.  But God is turning the tables on Cain and suggesting that all of this was within his responsibility and freedom to choose a different path.

How can this apply to you?

"Why are you angry?"

Yesterday I asked (without answering) a question:  why did God accept Abel’s offering but not Cain’s?

In the book of Hebrews, Paul shares his perspective:  

By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.

~ Hebrews 11:4 The Message

Again, the acceptance had NOTHING to do with the kind of offering given, but instead with the motivation of the heart of the giver.  Cain was confused about God’s rejection but was unwilling to humbly ask for feedback from God.

What if Cain had gotten curious?  What if he had asked a follow up question?  If he had done that, God surely would have told him that his issue was heart-related, not simply an aversion to carrots and potatoes.

At that moment, Cain could have considered God’s perspective.  At a minimum, he would have had no reason to kill Abel.  It was NOT a competition. 

Now that we’ve cleared up the issue with God’s approval and disapproval, tomorrow we will look at God’s response and advice to Cain in spite of Cain’s reluctance to hear another viewpoint.

Is there any chance that some of your own resentment/s is/are more a misunderstanding of the situation than an actual slight?  Are there new ways of seeing that might keep you from doing harm to yourself or others as a result of your skewed perspective?

Murderous Resentment

Cain and Abel are biblical examples of resentment gone wild.  As a reminder, because I myself cannot keep the two brothers straight, Abel brought an offering to God as did Cain.  But they received different responses from God as it related to each offering.  

God was pleased with Abel’s offering; he was not pleased with Cain’s.  

Cain was not at all curious about why his offering was rejected.  Was it because God is at heart a carnivore, more pleased with Abel’s meaty offering than he was with Cain’s garden goodies?  Unlikely.  

Instead of talking to God about the situation, which would have made sense seeing as how it was God who rejected the offering, Cain lashed out and murdered his brother Abel.  

Cain’s bitter resentment resulted in him killing his brother, who by all accounts had done nothing wrong and in fact, had done a lovely thing - given an acceptable offering to God.  

This is one of many problems with resentment.  It is often mis-directed.  Abel got caught in the cross-fire of Cain’s bitter indignation with God.

Are there any resentments that you are struggling with that have gotten misdirected?  Anyone you are picking on?  Are you blaming someone else for a problem that is really between you and another?

Resentment and Curiosity

How would a person who has the skills to deal with strong emotions (a resiliency builder) approach resentment?  Here is one suggested way to approach it:

1.  Notice it.  Pay attention to your bitter indignation!
2. Get curious about it.  Although we may often FEEL as if we have been treated unfairly, it does not make it necessarily true.  People who learn how to wrestle with their feelings in a healthy manner do not assume that a feeling is a fact.  Curiosity teaches us to acknowledge that “feelings” are the body giving us a summarized experience of how we are reacting to an event.  Our “emotions” are the brain’s attempt to predict how we feel based on past experience.  If we have a history of unfair treatment, our brain is more likely to “feel” bitter indignation.  Sometimes that is experience talking and it is telling us the truth - so pay attention.   But it can also be true that we are merely projecting past experiences inaccurately into a current situation.  Are you REALLY being treated unfairly?  Is there more information that would lead to a different conclusion?
3. If our curiosity guides us away from this belief that our experience is unfair, then we can thank resentment for showing up but we do not need to keep ruminating on the feeling.  We can trash talk it; give it more information; find other emotions that are more appropriate to the current situation and give them the attention they deserve.
4. What if the situation is unfair?  We do not need to brood!  We can whip out our conflict resolution skills; we can speak into the situation and seek change; we can choose to stop participating in the unfair practice; we have options people!!

Although this is just the shortest of suggestions, the bottom line is this:  resentment can be a great wake up call but it is not a super reliable decision-maker.  Today, notice if your mind and body might be pre-wired to jump to resentment.  Or, perhaps you have been ignoring your feeling of resentment in order to avoid conflict.  Tomorrow I will give you a personal example of how I almost got carried away by a resentment that ended up being totally unnecessary.