This week a childhood acquaintance lost a close friend because she publicly expressed her anger at injustice. Hearing this reinforces my fears. I fear going more public with my writing because I know someone will inevitably disagree with me. And some folks are very disagreeable in how they disagree.
Like most people, I gravitate toward folks who think the same way I do. Sadly, I’d rather have a complaining session with someone who agrees with me than with someone who may challenge me to think or question my reasoning. And questioning someone’s reasoning in a reasonable manner does not mean we are disobeying Paul’s injunction to be of the same mind (Philippians 4:2).
If being of the same mind doesn’t mean we have to become cookie-cutter Christians, then we will (and do) have disagreements. We could use help. In Philippians 4:3, the Apostle Paul asked someone to help Euodia and Syntyche. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women [be of the same mind].
Perhaps this companion was an elder or family member—who knows—but nonetheless, this person was someone Paul felt could help them be Christlike. If I were Euodia or Syntyche, Christlikeness would not be my goal. My goal would be to get this companion to see my side and declare me to be right. And then to get him or her to convince everyone else!
Note that the companion was asked. He did not choose of his own accord to “get involved in another man’s quarrel” (Proverbs 26:17) or “stir up conflict” (Proverbs 16:28). When anyone uses extreme persuasion, manipulation, triangulating and projection as methods to try to convince another they are right and that we should be of “the same mind,” this is unhealthy and not what Paul’s intended.
On the other hand, the companion was also not asked to simply pacify, appease or keep the ladies from getting upset. Peter Scazzero says that “when, out of fear, we avoid conflict and appease people, we are false peacemakers.” His or her job was to help each one understand the other, respect and value the other, not necessarily to make them agree on every point. In other words, to be Christlike (Philippians 2:5).
We have lost the art of purposeful debate, of gentle questioning, of lively discussion. We take everything so personally. We think that if someone voted for a different candidate or they practice a different mode of baptism or want women to have a more prominent role in the church that we cannot be friends or that they are against us.
I still loved my father even though we disagreed. I can still sit down and have coffee with a friend who voted differently than I did. I accept that my sons are making choices I would not make. Where I fall short is that I don’t take it a step further and truly listen to them—to dig deeper and ask them why they feel that way or how they justify their decision. I have a hard time concealing my judgment or disapproval in my facial expressions.
I need to practice what I have learned to do in a debriefing or mentoring setting. When a friend shares they are questioning their faith or no longer believe God is good, I don’t recoil in horror. I listen, nod, and validate their feelings. I acknowledge how they landed at this point and only as they ask for guidance, gently point them in search of something else. And I know my limits—when it is time to “call in the big guns,” as my husband says—and refer them to professional counselors and peacemakers.
This assumes a certain level of emotional health. According to Peter Scazzero, an effective companion must “have their own beliefs, convictions, directions, goals, and values apart from the pressures around them. They can choose before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others. Intensity of feelings, high stress or the anxiety of others around them does not overwhelm their capacity to think intelligently. I may not agree with you or you with me. Yet I can remain in relationship with you. I don’t have to detach from you, reject you, avoid you, or criticize you to validate myself. I can be myself apart from you.” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)
So what does this look like? How do we help others be “of the same mind”?
- We listen to all sides without bias.
- We do not assign judgment.
- We remind them what Jesus was like—the traits we can imitate, not the parts of Jesus that only he could fulfill such as rightly seeing into a person’s heart, judging motive, and displaying pure righteous anger.
- We encourage them to talk (using “I” statements) and listen to each other (repeat back what they hear).
- We protect them from harmful manipulation and badgering.
- We allow them to fail, flounder or reach a different conclusion.
- We let them go, if necessary.
- We are gentle (see next post).
- We are emotionally healthy. We can differentiate. We have appropriate boundaries.
How are you being called to help others work it out?
Lord God, when I am asked to help another work it out, give me wisdom. This is truly a hard task and I may not be up to it. Help me to step aside if I am not ready and grow me in Christlikeness first before I attempt to help others.
Suggested Reading: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero