Writer Penelope Wilcock explains how to communicate through a disagreement in a way that honours our faith and shows spiritual maturity.
There’s a Japanese word “ma”, meaning the space around things that allows you to appreciate them properly. So a vase of flowers should not just be plonked down amid clutter, but placed where the clarity around it elevates and honours its beauty.
Life flows more gracefully wherever things are simple and spacious, where there is room to breathe. Even in an argument. The words you speak can be offered as intentionally as a Japanese ikebana arrangement — simple, but considered.
Human beings bring their own individually unique perspectives to any situation, so it’s to be expected that often there is a clash. Perhaps my political convictions or spiritual path are at variance with yours. Perhaps your understanding of how to bring up children or keep house may be different from mine. And expressing our viewpoints leads to an argument — especially if I and you each feel strongly about keeping to our own path of conviction! How can we do this in a way that would please and honour Jesus?
There are lots of books and internet posts giving excellent advice about how to argue well — remembering to listen to the other person’s point of view, to use “I” not “You” statements, to speak respectfully without contempt or mockery; and to know when you are getting nowhere and should courteously stop. I endorse all this good advice, but I’d like to add just one more thought — the idea of a three-stage process: experience, reaction, response.
Inviting Jesus in means adding humility and grace and compassion to the reaction we had.
When we experience something that offends or upsets us, it is humanly inevitable to have a reaction. This may be anger or jealousy or indignation, some kind of deep human emotion that inclines us to take an antagonistic and even aggressive stance. But here’s the thing. Situations are always complex; there’s bound to be some underlying or motivating factor we don’t know. And truth is alive, not static. Truth is personal; we cannot know it all. We only ever see through the lens of our own understanding; it helps to be open enough to say: “I don’t know everything”. Things look different from someone else’s point of view.
Reaction can take off like a forest fire. But there is a moment when we can catch ourselves — allow a little ma, a breathing space — and make a choice about the response we will choose to bring from our reaction.
Reaction is just human. But our response is our own free choice, and the measure of our spiritual maturity.
Eternal life, the gift of Jesus, is always accessed through the doorway of the present moment. If, even under the pressure of powerful experience, we can manage to stay in the present moment (stay in eternal life) by holding awareness of the response we choose, not losing ourself into reaction, we have the power to change the reality of the future. Our reactions arise from what we experience, but our actions — our responses — are something we choose. That’s why we call it “taking responsibility”. We can make the choice to invite Jesus in — that means adding humility and grace and compassion to the reaction we had.
In the split second of space that comes after our experience and reaction, we have the chance to choose our response, to accept responsibility for what we say and do. Experience arises from circumstance. Reaction is just human. But our response is our own free choice, and the measure of our spiritual maturity.