I’m a real tidy person. My wife would tell you that’s true. I don’t like messes. I clean up after myself. I am even willing to clean up after others. I sincerely don’t mind. Actually, any mess at home is so much easier to clean up than the relational messes I clean up at work. But frankly, that’s what counselors do. Typically, people bring a relational mess into my office and I work with them to clean it up. The cleanup is only the beginning. We also have to figure out better strategies for preventing similar messes in the future. Please understand, my clients aren’t uniquely messy. All humans are patently messy…especially when it comes to relationships. Instant mess: Just add humans.
Relational messes occur when people want different things or see things in different ways. I work hard at helping people figure out mutually acceptable solutions to their messy conflicts. Most times I can facilitate a win-win plan and both parties are able to move forward. Unfortunately, sometimes the dialogue locks up and nobody budges. The mess putrefies as no perspective or solution is acceptable to one or both parties. The untidy conversation sits and spins like a puppy in a puddle as the contestants hash and rehash their points. In the worst case scenarios, in spite of their counselor’s ingenious homework assignments, they will show up for next week’s appointment complaining about the same mess.
So, how do you break the deadlock of the messy and seemingly unresolvable conflicts of life? Here are a couple of ideas to begin the clean-up. These few thoughts will test your claim to loving tidiness. Are you really as mess intolerant as Tim? Will you really do whatever it takes to straighten up the messes of life? Let’s see:
- Demand your rights. Just to be fair I thought I would start with the one that never works. This method is so ineffective you may wonder why it is so popular. Throughout our lives we have heard that standing up for our rights is always a good idea. Don’t let anybody walk on you. Vigilantly defend your boundaries at all costs. If you want to live a lonely life, tenaciously follow that principle. Really. Your only companionship will be the loving presence of your assumed rights. On the upside, you will have fewer relational messes to manage. But if you want relationships, messy as they are, keep reading.
- Radically die to self. On the other hand, this one actually works and I didn’t learn it in grad school. Sometimes I’m surprised that real life, bona fide Christians find this clean-up approach so unacceptable. I usually get puzzled and terrified looks when I say to a couple in counseling, “Okay folks, somebody’s gotta die. Who’s it gonna be?” In this life, most foolish squabbles and indignations can usually be cleaned up by a willing and deliberate death to self. And I didn’t originate the concept. Jesus did. “Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, He [Jesus] said, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:34-37). Most dumb interpersonal messes can be set right by an intentional death to my puny rights and sensitivities. Try it. The more you do it the easier it gets. It’s like apologizing. The first time feels like your voice box is gonna explode. After that…it’s not so bad.
You probably already know this but I’ll say it anyway: I’m not talking about abusive or illegal or immoral or heretical situations. Really, I get it. You need to take a stand on certain things. I’m talking about the typical garden variety relational tensions and standoffs that happen in everyday life. If these messes are left untended, they will turn into a big smelly cesspool that eventually destroys your peace and costs you relationships with loved ones. Try the radical death solution. Get good at it. Turns out the walking dead enjoy life more than you thought.