The idea of last week’s column (8/12/16) in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette popped into my mind while I was recently riding the subway in New York City. I call it: “Being God-aware, self-aware and other-aware is worth the effort” …
Of the hundreds of conversations I have had with pastors, I never have seen pastors lose their position because of poor Hebrew or Greek skills. I’ve seen bad preaching weaken pastoral ministry, but I’ve seldom seen it destroy it. When I have seen pastors who are forced out, almost always it is because of conflict in a relationship.
I spend my days trying to help pastors and church leaders get upstream of conflict and, as church conflict specialist Ken Sande says, “build relationships in their family and church that will restore the joy of ministry and provide a compelling witness to the transforming power of Jesus and his Gospel.”
One of the first Bible verses I memorized remains a favorite, especially as I consult with pastors and church leaders. “Get wisdom. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you.” (Proverbs 4:7) Ken Sande calls this deeply needed insight “Relational Wisdom.” In essence it is being God-aware, self-aware and other-aware. Relational wisdom, then, is at the heart of loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself, or better yet, loving your neighbor as God has loved you.
I once had a conversation with a friend during his surgical residency about the difference between hard skills (technical expertise) and soft skills (relational abilities). One day the surgeon training my friend was marking a patient before the surgery began. However, the marker wasn’t working to his liking. Suddenly the teaching surgeon cursed, threw the marker across the room and said “Who gave me this piece of junk?”
My friend said everybody froze, but that day he saw how soft skills can both magnify or diminish the value of hard skills. That moment illustrates how in so many areas of life good relationship skills outplay expertise.
Jesus was clear about relationships. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Now of course, what makes relationships so challenging is the constant fueling of both positive and painful emotions. Unless you live in the state of total denial, every day you experience painful and positive feelings all at the same time. Emotionally healthy people accept that, and they grow from it.
On a trip this summer to New York City, my wife and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, walking from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back. The bright blue sky showcased high fluffy clouds. I felt excited, relaxed, and peaceful. After our walk, we hopped on the subway at city hall and headed 4 miles north to our hotel near Central Park. Even though there is no soliciting allowed on the subway, when the train pulled away from the city hall stop a young fellow in his early 20s stood and started talking about his own “dear mother” who had just died from cancer, leaving him sad and penniless. Then he said that he himself has been diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his wrist. He lifted his arm showing a bulging growth.
As the train approached its next stop he walked through the car shaking a few coins in a large Starbucks cup, saying to anyone who caught his gaze, “God bless you, friends.” “Anything you can give will help.” “I do not do drugs.” When the train stopped the young fellow exited the car and quickly entered the adjoining car.
I felt conflicted, sad, and annoyed. Feelings can change quickly. I started thinking about how fast my feelings can change, not only in my relationships toward others, but also in my relationship with God and with myself. With the subway rumbling along two questions always lodged in my psyche popped into my mind: “What do I know?” and “What am I going to do?”
Of course it is one thing to be aware of God, ourselves and others. It is quite another to be fully engaged. When I am engaged with God I remember to view life in the light of God’s character and promises, trusting and imitating God in ways I hope please him.
When I am self-aware I manage to honestly work to distinguish my own emotions, including my strengths and weaknesses. I try to discipline myself to manage my thoughts, emotions and actions in ways that fill my heart with peace and advance good for my fellow humans in the world.
That often propels me to work to understand and empathize with the experiences, emotions and interests of others. Compassion rises within me, and once again I feel hope to serve others, encouraging, cooperating and resolving differences in mutually helpful ways.