Did Pope Francis Need To Apologize? (And What His Apology Can Teach Us)

Dr. Gregory K Popcak

 

Pope Francis made the news New Years Eve for his response to a woman he met in a line of well-wishers.  The over-eager woman grabbed the Holy Father’s arm forcefully and wouldn’t let go.  The viral video shows Pope Francis wincing—some suggest in pain from his sciatica—and then turning and slapping the woman’s hand twice before breaking free and storming off.

The next day, Pope Francis issued a simple, but humble apology.  He said, “”Love makes us patient. So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.”

We used this event as an opportunity to explore apologies on today’s show.  Many people think that apologizing for something means that they are accepting all the blame or admitting that they are a bad person.  For many, giving an apology means debasing themselves and so they are loathe to apologize for almost anything.

The theology of the body reminds us that building the Kingdom of God is primarily about healing the damage that sin does to our relationships with God and others.  Apologies are a big part of that process.  

But giving an apology doesn’t mean that you are accepting all the blame.  It doesn’t mean that it is all your fault.  And it doesn’t mean that you are saying that you are a bad person. Likewise, giving an apology isn’t a way of “evening the balance sheet” between people.

For the Christian, giving an apology has nothing to do with another person’s behavior or the context we’re in.  It simply means, “I have reflected on my behavior in the light of grace and my own expectations for myself.  Because of that, I believe that I should have handled that better and I am committed to handling similar situations better in the future.”

Some callers to the show today argued that Pope Francis didn’t need to apologize for his behavior because his response was a “human reaction” to being grabbed inappropriately.  Another person suggested that Pope Francis behavior was justified by every human being’s right to self-defense.

Both of these points are absolutely true.  It was a human reaction and we do have a right to self-defense.  But these points are also irrelevant.  Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean I was wrong.  It means, “I believe I could and should do better in similar situations in the future.”

By apologizing, the Holy Father didn’t say, “I’m a bad person.” Or “I’m a bad Pope.” Or even, “This was all my fault.”  (And in the last instance, it clearly wasn’t all his fault.”  By apologizing, the Pope Francis simply said, “I could and should have handled that better and I am committed to doing so in the future.” 

We would all do well to follow his example in this instance.  Let’s worry less about assigning blame, finding fault, or worrying about debasing ourselves.  Let’s focus more on taking responsibility for our actions, acknowledging that there are often better ways to handling situations than our first impulses dictate, and committing to using those healthier, godlier alternatives in the future.

Resolving Repetitive Arguments

Often we feel as though we’re just going in circles, having the same arguments over and over. So how do we break the cycle and start actually resolving problems or situations?

Studies show that happy couples tend to be more solution-focused in general, and focus on spending most of their energy addressing more solvable problems. They’re aware of larger issues in the relationship but they tend to hold off on addressing these until they’ve built up enough confidence/rapport by handling the little things well.  Other couples tend to have a more emotionally-based approach that puts every issue—big and small—on an equal footing.  They are less successful at solving anything, in part because their arguments are more emotional and many of the issues they choose to focus on can’t be easily addressed, especially when there isn’t good rapport.

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge.  But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently AND don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be  some degree of conflict. Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things.  By learning to be loving, ESPECIALLY in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

How can this be done?

Zoom Out–Repetitive arguments tend to be ones that are polarized. People stake out their positions too early in the discussion and then argue back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you’re having the same fight over and over, zoom out.  Step back from trying to solve the problem and instead, figure out how to EMPATHIZE with the other person’s position. Ask questions that allow you to have genuine sympathy for what they are trying to accomplish.You might ask, “Help me understand how things would be better for you if you got what you were asking for.” OR “What is it you’re hoping will change if we did things your way?”  You don’t have to agree with the other person, but keep asking questions until you truly understand their goal. People who feel truly understood are much more willing to negotiate in good faith.

Build The Solution Together–Repetitive arguments are usually caused because each person feels like they are trying to build something that the other person keeps taking apart–like two children fighting over the same block to build THEIR tower! Build your solution together.  Once you have zoomed out enough to understand what each of you is really trying to accomplish. Ask, the other person, “What solution could you imagine that would allow you to get what you want but still be respectful to my concerns?”  This is powerful question because it is both deferential AND assertive. On the one hand, you are humbly asking their advice. On the other hand, you are insisting that they consider your concern in their solution.  This question sets up the right spirit of honesty and collaboration that allows two former competitors to start building together.

Work on Friending, Not Fighting–The most important thing in problem-solving is NOT solving the problem.  It is taking care of each other through the conflict so that you can feel like two friends working together on the problem instead of two enemies fighting over limited resources. Focus on “Friending” NOT fighting. Tell the other person you appreciate them hanging in there with you, offer to pray together so that you are both open to God’s will, do little things to take care of them during a conflict like offering to get them a drink, or take a break, acknowledging their strengths or the value of their opinions.  The more effective you are at taking care of the other person, the more likely you will be able to break through the tendency toward self-preservation that pervades repetitive arguments.

 

For more on how to resolve repetitive arguments, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

It Gets Better With Age

“My spouse and I bicker all the time! What do we do?” Of course it depends on the severity of the bickering between a couple to determine the answer to this question, but a new study from UC Berckley says, maybe just give it time.

Researchers evaluated conversations and exchanges between 87 middle to older aged couples who had been married for 15 to 37 years and tracked these couples over the course of 13 years. 

The results of this study showed that couples experienced an increase of positive behaviors such as affection and humor while the presence of defensiveness, criticism, and other negative behaviors decreased. The researchers also found a decrease in anxiety and depression stating, “Marriage has been good for their mental health.”

Overall, this study revealed that middle-aged and older couples experience increases in positive emotional behaviors, regardless of their satisfaction with their relationship. 

One researcher stated, “These results provide behavioral evidence that is consistent with research suggesting that, as we age, we become more focused on the positives in our lives.”

This study suggests that just because the honeymoon is over, doesn’t mean that there aren’t good times ahead. 

This is not to say that all difficulties can be solved with time. If you and your spouse are having difficulties and would like to discover practical and faith-filled answers, the Catholic Counselors at Pastoral Solutions Institute are here to help. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 740-266-6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Overcoming The Resentment Overload

We all know the feeling of resentment. It can grow slowly and then quickly feel overwhelming, or it can hit us all at once. No matter how resentment sneaks up on us, it can be extremely difficult to let go of.

We often feel guilty about resentment and, of course, resentment isn’t something we want to hold on to. But the Theology of the Body teaches that God designed our bodies to work for our good and the good of those around us. If we learn to listen to the ways God is speaking to us through our bodies, we can hear him guiding us on how best to take care of ourselves and other. All of our emotions–including feelings like resentment–are part of our body’s response to our environment. When united to God’s grace, our emotions can give us important information. But what could God possibly be saying to us through resentment?  Well, Theology of the Body tells us that healthy relationships are mutually self-donative. That is, a healthy relationship can only exist when both people are doing everything they can to take care of each other. Resentment is the feeling we get when we feel like we are giving more to the relationship than the other person is. Resentment is a warning light on the relationship dashboard that asks us to check if our relationship is really still mutually self-donative or, if somehow, we are allowing ourselves to be treated more like an object than a person. Understood properly, resentment shouldn’t lead us to pout or withdraw, it should lead us to do healthy things like express our needs, or ask for help, or clarify the other person’s intentions. If we deal with our resentment gracefully, it will help us make sure that each person in the relationship is giving as much as they can to protect the health of the relationship and doing as much as they can to look out for the wellbeing of each person in the relationship.

What can we do to truly be able to overcome resentment?

Name the Need–The first thing to do if you are feeling resentful is to identify and name the need that isn’t being met. Do you need help? Do you need a little TLC? Could you use help getting a break? Is there a problem between you and another person that needs to be resolved? Resentment tends to occur when a need sits on the shelf too long and it starts to spoil. Instead of beating up on yourself for feeling resentful, bring your resentment to God. Say, “Lord, help me to name the need that is feeding my resentment and help me to address it in a way that glorifies you and makes my relationships healthier.” Once you know what the need is, you can make a plan to meet it instead of letting it continue to spoil on the shelf, feeding that growing sense of resentment.

Speak the Need–Sometimes, even when we have identified a need, we have a hard time feeling like it’s OK to meet it. We tell ourselves, “We shouldn’t have to ask for help.” Or, “I shouldn’t have to say anything about this.” Remember, the theology of the body tells us that the voice of God speaks to us through our bodies. If you are feeling resentful, God is asking you to find a healthy, godly way to meet an unmet need and make your relationships healthier and stronger. Trying to talk yourself out of meeting that need is like trying to ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit! Once you’ve identified the need that is feeding your resentment, it’s time to make a plan to meet it. Go to the people around you and say, “I really need your help with X.” Don’t worry if they aren’t receptive at first. Be confident in the need that God is asking you to address. Remember, healthy, godly relationships are mutually self-donative. Sometimes that means that we have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit to work for each other’s good. That’s not always fun, but it’s always good. Give the people in your life the opportunity to stretch themselves a little for you. Don’t let doubts about others rob them of the opportunity to learn to love you as much as you love them.

Get Help to Meet the Need–Sometimes, even when we have tried our best, getting our needs met can be…complicated. If you find that you can’t stop feeling resentful no matter what you do, or if you are struggling to actually identify your needs in the first place,  or articulate them in ways that the people in your life can actually hear and respond to, it’s time to get some new skills. Don’t give into the temptation of thinking that there is nothing you can do just because you can’t figure our what to do on your own. Remember, if God is calling your attention to a need, God has a plan for meeting it. Talk to a faithful professional counselor who can help you learn how to cooperate with God’s plan for meeting the unmet needs that are feeding your resentment.

To learn more about overcoming resentments check out God Help Me These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People and be sure to tune in to More2Life—Monday through Friday, 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130.

If you are looking for a faithful professional counselor, contact Pastoral Solutions Institute at 740-266-6461 or visit us at CatholicCounselors.com.

Healing From Old Hurts

Forgiveness is a common subject. We frequently hear “inspirational” quotes about forgiveness and letting go. But what does forgiveness and letting go really mean and what steps do we need to take to truly be able to heal from past hurts?

Forgive–Forgiving doesn’t mean pretending “everything’s OK” or acting as if more healing doesn’t need to take place. St Augustine said that forgiveness simply requires us to surrender our natural desire for revenge. To forgive someone just means that you are going to refuse to be defined by the injuries you have suffered at their hands, and that you are refusing to make things worse by hurting them for having hurt you. Forgiveness allows something other than our pain to come into existence. It allows the possibility for healing to occur. The first step in letting go of old hurts is choosing to forgive the other person by refusing to be defined by your pain and choosing to get on with letting God’s grace heal your heart and any other damage that might have been caused by the other person’s actions.

Focus on Healing Not Hurting–Sometimes, even after we’ve forgiven someone, it can be hard to heal. Sometimes, we can even fall a little in love with being the victim. Holding on to victimhood sounds bad, but it can feel good, because it makes us feel like we’re on the winning team of us against the world. But this is an illusion that separates us from God’s healing grace. You don’t have to deny the pain you feel from those old hurts. You just have to focus on taking the next step in healing those hurts. When those injuries come up, instead of nursing them, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do right now to heal myself or this relationship? What’s one small step I can take to regain what was taken from me or heal what was broken in me?”  Then do that thing. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to do, seek guidance from a faithful mentor, spiritual director or pastoral counselor. Either way, the key to letting go of old hurts isn’t found in pretending they don’t exist or in wallowing in them. It is found in making a plan to let God’s healing grace into your heart so that you can not only restore what lost, but so that you can rise up to new heights through God’s mercy and his healing love.

Cultivate Joy–Cultivating joy in the face of old hurts doesn’t mean putting on a happy face and denying your problems. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is the quality we achieve by doing everything we can to cooperate with God’s grace to live a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life.  Living more meaningfully means doing whatever we can to use our gifts, talents, and abilities to make a positive difference in our lives and the world around us. Living more intimately means doing whatever we can to make our relationships healthier and deeper. Living more virtuously means asking how we can use whatever life throws at us as our opportunity to become stronger, healthier, godlier people. The more we respond to our pain by throwing ourselves into cultivating meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, the more we cooperate with God’s desire to give us joy in place of the hurt.

For more on how to heal from past hurts check out The Life God Wants You To Have and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN SiriusXM channel 130.

“He Ain’t Heavy…”: The Death of My Same-Sex Attracted Brother

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

“I don’t believe in hell.  If there is a hell, it can’t be any worse than my life here.”  These were the most striking words from my 55-year-old-same-sex-attracted brother Mark in the last two-plus weeks of his life.  He died February 27, 2017, from throat cancer.  I wanted to remember him here and witness to the abyss of God’s mercy.

It started in May 2016 with a diagnosis, then treatment in August, and two hospitalizations in January 2017 which included a heart attack and a lack of response to treatment.  When my wife and I saw him on February 10th, he was exploring hospice.  This began the whirlwind of two and a half weeks of reconnecting and parting with my brother.

Hell: A Homeless Heart

Mark remembered many more ugly and painful memories from childhood than I did that shook the foundations of my world.  He felt profoundly unloved and was bullied at home and in school.  He was assaulted as an adult for his sexual orientation.  He struggled with bouts of deep depression and would want to die.  He disconnected from our family for decades; he had a “Homeless Heart” (from a song on his iPod).

He had a way of remembering things that kept his wounds open.  In his hell, he did not know that Jesus experienced deep excruciating pain when he said, “I am grieved unto death,” or “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  I share some of Mark’s pain here, because he disliked when people minimized it with clichés, and because I think it made his life more remarkable.

Responding to Hell

Early in our conversations, when he talked about hell, I responded, “I believe there is a hell, but I don’t think you’re going there.  God doesn’t send anyone to hell (see CCC 1033)!  God is love, and he can’t do anything but love you. Because of your free will, he will honor your rejection.  He understands if you are angry at him, that you have been hurt.  But God does not send people to hell—they must request it.”  I continued, “When you die, you will step into love—the love you have never known and always longed for.” He nodded in thoughtful approval, a light in the darkness.

Ugly Into Beautiful

Ironically, I think because Mark had seen so much ugliness in his life, he had a strong sense of and attraction to beauty.  A rehabber at heart, he could make the ugliest houses beautiful!  God is a “rehabber” too, bringing good out of evil.  So Mark had unknowingly lived out a deep Catholic spirituality, making the world more beautiful.

Making Death Beautiful

Death is ugly.  But it was also awe-inspiring to stand at the boundary between life and death with Mark.  We talked about his life, about the end, about his regrets.  I was able to put my hand on his heart, to hold his hand, and cradle his head.  And even when he could not talk, I challenged him to forgive himself and others.  I read him a note of apology from my mom.  He would respond with groans and would calm down when I told him to be at peace.

The Hour of Mercy

On the Friday before Mark died the hospice doctor thought he could go that afternoon or within 48 hours.  So I asked St. Faustina to intercede and let Mark die during the hour of Mercy as a sign to me.  Friday turned into Monday, waiting at the foot of the cross.  I left for a lunch break at 2 PM.  Just before 3 PM, the nurse called me back, saying Mark was on his last breaths.  When I arrived, he had just breathed his last—exactly at 3 PM he had stepped into love.  I sobbed at his side.  He was gone, and I couldn’t believe the time.  I urged him to go toward God’s love.  It had been an absolute whirlwind, an agony in the garden, with deep joy, too.

But God was not finished.  Songs have come into my life at particular times to capture the moment and bring a message of love.  After perusing Mark’s iPod that day, I hit play and heard Queen Latifah’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!  I felt God was showering his mercy on Mark from above, and Queen Latifah from below.  I had surrounded him in mercy because (I can’t resist)—“He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

Not Really the End

We dressed him for cremation in a flannel shirt, cargo pants, and an old pair of work boots.  After all, he was a rehabber.  Now that he has stepped into love, I believe he has a new job from his place in purgatory and heaven, this time rehabbing hearts, making the ugly beautiful.  I sense his presence and blessing and often call on him to help with a hurting client.  Please join me in letting his new-found love “spill over” into our lives (Benedict XVI) to heal broken hearts—please pray for him and to him.

Family Food or Family Feud—Surviving or Thriving During The Holidays

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The holidays are wonderful, however, as some of us may have experienced during Thanksgiving, they can also be very stressful. Spending time with extended family can often lead to arguments or strained relationships. While we all made it through Thanksgiving, chances are, you’re preparing for Christmas, New Year, and the entire holiday season where you may be spending more time with your extended family. So how do you recover from the family conflicts that may have occurred over Thanksgiving, and what do you need to do to prepare to see them again in the coming weeks?

Theology of the Body reminds us that families are School of Love, but too often they feel like battle grounds especially when it comes to disagreements about politics, religion, sexuality, and all the other issues that families feel passionately about. When we get into these discussions with family members, we can forget that the most important thing isn’t winning the argument, but rather, loving the person. The question we need to be asking ourselves isn’t “What can I say to convince my idiot cousin to repent of his idiotic ways?” But rather, “How do I need to respond to my cousin (or other family member) in a way that makes him feel genuinely heard and cared for even if he knows I don’t agree with him?” People aren’t projects. The more we can remember that, the more we can be effective witnesses to the people we love, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for managing conflict with extended family:

Will I Be Able To Follow This Up Tomorrow? –When you’re tempted to argue with your extended family ask yourself, “Will I be able to follow up on this tomorrow?”  In other words,  Having a fight with a relative you only see two or three times a year is not going to do anything except prove to that relative that you are a jerk. Evangelization is all about relationship; that you know a person, understand them, and truly care–not from a distance, but in a personal way–about their lives. If there isn’t any reasonable way for you to build a discipleship relationship with this relative that can allow you to lead them, over time, to a deeper relationship with the truth, the best thing you can do is plant a seed by showing them how God’s grace allows you to remain unruffled, calm, and confident in the face of those big differences that divide your family.  If you can manage to stop yourself from acting like the foaming-at-the-mouth religious lunatic they already think you are, they might just start to respect you, which gives you a better chance to represent the faith effectively in the future.

Redirect the Traffic–Even if you decide that you do have a strong enough relationship with this relative to enter into a real conversation about a contentious issue, avoid a head-on collision by redirecting the traffic. Rather than getting drawn into a “battle royale” at the family table, say, “Listen, this isn’t really the time to hash all this out, but if you’re genuinely interested in discussing this with me, I’d really love to discuss this with you over lunch sometime (or dinner at my house, or some other shared activity). Let’s table this for now and make a plan to really talk this out.” This approach allows you to weed out those relatives who just want to play the “Let’s fight” game while still allowing you the opportunity to disciple people who are genuinely interested in an authentic dialog. Plus, you’ll gain tons of credit from the rest of your family by showing them that you have the grace–literally and figuratively–to prevent THIS family get-together from turning into a ten-car pile-up.

People Aren’t Projects–If someone does take you up on your offer to get together for a follow-up conversation, remember “people aren’t projects,” they are people who deserve to be understood and loved. Before you say anything about what you believe–especially before you say anything about what you believe about their opinions, their life, or their choices, make sure you understand them so well, that even they agree that you get them. Don’t focus on lecturing. Focus on asking question, “Tell me more about why you think that way? Help me understand why that is so important to you? How does all this affect you?” Show the other person that you are more interested in loving them than in changing them. Ironically, they will be much more open to hearing what you say–and even changing their mind or ways–when they feel genuinely understood. That said, don’t think of this approach as some kind-of sneaky technique. Think of it as an opportunity to get to know someones’ heart and to let God’s grace flow from your heart to theirs.

For more tips on dealing with conflict and keeping peaceful relationships, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts! and make sure to tune in to More2Life—Monday through Friday on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139.

Find out more about our tele-counseling and spiritual direction services at CatholicCounselors.com

“I Can’t Believe You Said That!” When Words Hurt

shutterstock_332011016When things get heated, our “fight or flight” response kicks in, but sometimes our reaction is to take the “fight” response a bit too literally. When someone speaks rudely to us, or yells at us, we yell back and attempt to “out argue” the other person. While this may be our instinct reaction, it’s not the most effective way to deal with these situations.

Theology of the Body reminds us of the power of words by pointing us back to Genesis and how God created the world. Specifically, God spoke the world into being. Words have creative power, and God shares that power with us in the hopes that we will use it to build each other up and be co-creators with Him as we work to cooperate with His grace and encourage each other to be the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were created to be. But we can also use those words to destroy each other and we often do.

Here are three More2Life Hacks on how to respond when words hurt:

1. Be Confident And Be Clear–No one ever deserves to be spoken to disrespectfully or hurtfully. Even if the other person accuses you of doing something that they found hurtful or offensive, no matter what you may or may not have said or done, you don’t deserve to be spoken to cruelly or disrespectfully. Be clear about this and be confident in your right to insist that, while you are willing to listen to anything the other person wants to say, you cannot listen to anything that is said in a cruel or hurtful manner. Being clear about this doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits the other person and your ability to address whatever the problem might allegedly be.  If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, it deserves to be discussed respectfully and effectively. Be confident and clear about the need to insist that “respect is the price of admission” to any conversation a person may want to have with you.

2. Use Do-Over’s–If you feel attacked in a conversation, resist the temptation to just lash out or shut the conversation down completely. Instead, assume that, given the chance, the other person will be able to say what they are trying to say respectfully. Give them that chance by asking for a do-over. Say something like, “I’m feeling really attacked right now. I want to hear what you’re trying to say, but I need you to be less aggressive about it. Tell me again what you’re trying to say.” Often, when we hold up a mirror like this, the other person will appreciate the opportunity to see how they are coming across and adjust their behavior. Do-overs allow you to reset the conversation and move forward in a more respectful and productive way.

3. Don’t Feed the Troll–If someone is saying cruel or disrespectful things to you, don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to talk them out of it. Don’t argue back. Any attempt to argue someone out of their unkind view of you will inevitably backfire as the conversation will begin going in circles with new accusations being hurled and as the previous defenses are overcome. The best thing to do in this situation? Don’t feed the troll. As before, stop the conversation and give the person as chance to do a do-over. If that fails, simply say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. If there’s something you’d like to talk through when you’re feeling a little less angry I’m happy to hear whatever you have to say, but I can’t talk about this with you this way.” Then be done. If you have to say anything, simply repeat that formula, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. I’d love to talk to you when you’re in a different place, but I can’t do it like this.” Trolls don’t like to eat broken records. If that’s all you serve them, they’ll look for other places to feed.

For more information on how to effectively respond when words hurt, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, SiriusXM 139.

Ash Wednesday: When Mercy Rains Down

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

It’s raining here, today. Hard.

When I first woke up this morning and my eyes blinked open, I heard the rain pounding on my roof and the winds slapping against my window. My first thought was, “So gloomy.  What perfect Lenten weather.”

My second thought was, “With how hard it’s raining, those ashes won’t stay on my forehead very long.  What a shame.”

But my groggy, gloomy, lenten mood was immediately punctuated by yet another thought that could only have been the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear. “No.  How perfect.   We bring our shame to God and cover ourselves in ashes.  And immediately the winds of grace and the rains of mercy wash the stain away.”

Today’s rain isn’t depressing.  It isn’t gloomy.  God isn’t weeping tears of sadness.  He is crying tears of joy that wash away our sins and celebrate his children coming home.

This Lent, celebrate the fact that we are not defined by our sinfulness, but by the depth of his love and mercy.  For more ways to connect how much God wants to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

Alternative Facts? 3 Ways to Solve Conflict When You Can’t Even Agree on What Happened

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

This past weekend saw  a lot of discussion about “alternative facts.” Whatever you think of the crowd-size kerfuffle between the Trump Admin and the press, the phrase, “alternative facts” points to a problem I often encounter in counseling; namely, how can you help two people solve a problem when they can’t even agree on what really happened?  Is the other person lying?  Are they stupid?  Exactly what is wrong with them anyway that they see things in such a radically different way than you do?

Interestingly, there is a huge body of research showing that people regularly perceive “alternative facts” when witnessing the same event. For instance, this article from Scientific American relates the very common problem with the unreliability of eye-witness testimony in court and how, even when people are not intending to commit perjury, witnesses can have very different and even contradicting memories of the very same experience.

So what can we do when we see things so differently from our spouse, kids, or co-workers that we can’t even agree on what happened, who started it,  who said what, and/or who did what to whom much less what to do about it?  Here are three tips Lisa and I discussed on More2Life Radio that can help you overcome the complications “alternative facts” can cause in your disputes with the people you care about.

 

  1.  Don’t Expect to Agree On History–It can be frustrating, even scary when you and someone you care about can’t even agree on what happened.  Be not afraid.  Even the closest friends, families,  and couples rarely agree on who said and did what.  Even in these times, you CAN both agree that you didn’t like the way things happened and you CAN come to an agreement on how to handle things differently the next time something like this comes up.  Don’t get caught up in arguments about history.  Listen to each other’s version of events respectfully, but then say, “Well, obviously we see things really differently and that’s ok, but what can we do to handle this better the next time it comes up?”  Focusing on solutions instead of history allows you to respect your differences while remaining hopeful that your future can be more agreeable than your past or present. 
  2.  Disagreeing isn’t Lying--Too often when parents and kids or even couples express different versions of the same events they can accuse each other of lying. Of course, if the other person regularly hides things from you, tells half-truths or makes things up, then seek professional help immediately, but if they are generally a truthful, transparent person and that’s why it is so upsetting that they seem to have such different views about what happened, don’t accuse them of lying.  It isn’t a lie to see things differently.  Again, as with our first tip, focus on what you can agree on, namely, the fact that neither of you like the way things played out and that both of you want to handle the situation better the next time.  Instead of putting the other person on trial and trying to prove that your version of events should be entered into the official permanent record, concentrate on establishing some ground rules and expectations to handle the next time better 
  3. Listen Emotionally MORE Than Factually--Even when you’re trying to identify solutions for the next time something like this happens, sometimes it can be really tempting to get hung up on the fact that the other person sees things SO radically differently.  It can be especially hard when they seem to be drawing unkind conclusions about you and your motivations.  Try not to get caught up in defending yourself from these unkind “alternative facts.”  Instead, listen to the emotions behind the accusations.  For instance, you can say, “I certainly didn’t mean to come off that way, and that was the furthest thing from my mind, but I understand that you felt X (attacked, hurt, disrespected, humiliated, etc.) and I’m really sorry that’s how it seemed.  What can I do NEXT TIME to make sure I don’t come off that way to you?”  By using this formula, you don’t have to agree with the other person’s perceptions, but you can still manage to be sensitive to them and do a better job of managing their perceptions in the future.

Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that each person is unique and unrepeatable.  While that sounds great on paper, practically speaking, it means that we all see things very differently.  Yes, there is such a thing as objective truth, but it can be hard to get there sometimes because our different experiences and different perspectives cause us to emphasize different aspect of an experience to the point where two people can go through the same thing and describe almost two completely different events.  Despite this, TOB reminds us of the importance of working through or getting past those differences to create a “community of love” where, despite your differences you can still work for each others good and create connection.

If you’d like more information on how you can stop “alternative facts” from creating conflict on your relationships, check out When Divorce Is NOT An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.