When relationships problems stare us in the face, we sometimes freeze, retreat, and do nothing. Today’s episode suggests another approach for when we just don’t know what to do.
The four years I spent in college were some of the happiest and most transformative years of my life. It was there that I was exposed to the physical sciences, social sciences, the arts, literature, and my first and greatest love, history. I learned to love learning in college, and though it’s been 4 decades since I graduated, I still reference things today that I learned back then. Just recently, in fact, I was reminded of a very important life lesson I learned as an undergrad.
It wasn’t from a professor or fellow student that I learned this truth, so critical to emotional intelligence and relational development. It didn’t come from a book or research project, or symposium I attended. This fundamental relationship principle was taught to me by a man 30 years my senior, my friend Leon. Leon, one of two janitors I worked with in my summer work-study job as a janitor in the fine arts building on campus.
Before I tell you what Leon taught me, I need to first tell you first about him.
Leon and his custodian partner, Frank worked from 4am to 12:30pm, Monday through Friday. They got to pick those hours because the two of them were good friends and they loved to fish. Every day after work during fishing season Leon and Frank quickly ate a sandwich for lunch, and then headed off to their favorite fishing hole.
The closest I ever get to fishing is to dip a fish stick in tartar sauce. So I had no interest in starting work at 4am. Instead, I slept in and started at 6am.
I loved my summer-janitor job. It would be a delight for any introvert like me. The fine arts building was brand new, and being summer, was not heavily used. Leon himself was a large stoop-shouldered man, an inch or so taller than my 6’2” frame. If you’re familiar with the character of Lenny in the John Steinbeck play, Of Mice and Men, My friend Leon would be a perfect Lenny in the play.
One day I arrived at work at 6am, let myself in the locked fine arts building, and went looking for Leon and Frank in this huge empty cavernous building. I normally met them in the same location each day where they would tell me what I needed to work on that day. On this particular occasion, they were no were to be found. I kept calling their names, which echoed throughout the large empty halls and spaces of the building. I finally found them buffing floors in one of the rehearsal rooms. They couldn’t hear me because the loud sound of the buffer drowned out everything else
They gave me my assignment for the day, and then I asked, “If this happens again, where I come to work and can’t find you, what should I do?”
Leon looked puzzled, then thought for a moment, glanced over at Frank, then smiled and said, “Well just do something. Even if it’s wrong, just do something.” He then chuckled, turned away, and went back to work.
I never forgot that lesson, “Just do something, even if it’s wrong.”
One other memory I have of Leon and and Frank is how they ended the work week. Every Friday, before they left work to go fishing, one of them would say to me, “I’ll see you in church on Sunday…. if you sit by the window.”
My memories of Leon came back to me last week in a Skype call I had with a missionary.
[Story of a missionary who told me about the conflict between his wife and himself with another woman team member. Felt they had to leave. No one stepped in. No one “did something.”]
People are sometimes reluctant to listen because they fear they not knowing what to do if they hear something difficult or uncomfortable. They find it hard to think of what to do. Because they don’t know what to do, they do nothing.
Church leader and staff member being frozen at what they were facing and so because they didn’t know what to do they did nothing. The Bible speaks to the issue of "do somthing."
Philippians 4: 2-3 “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the good news…”
“True partner” is also translated “true companion,” or “Loyal yokefellow.” Whoever it is is a man, some scholars feel a man by the name of Synzygos. Paul tells him to help, to enter into this relational tension between two two women, to do something. But he isn’t specific about what he should do. “Do something, even if its wrong.”
I have two “just do something - even if its wrong” stories. One turned out well, the other, not so much. I’ll tell you which is which at the end.
1. [Audio version only] 2. Read from Page 56 of THEM when Elda says she’s so unhappy and Janet just says, “Hey Mom, would you like to go for an ice cream?” Janet didn’t know what to do, but she just did something.
Elda is a 93-year-old widow with dementia who lives in an assisted living memory care facility. On a recent visit, Elda told Janet, “I don’t know why I am still alive. All the people I knew are dead. There’s no reason for me to live.”
Janet just listened, paused and then said, “You know, Mom, I need you. You’re my mother and I still need you, no matter how old you are.”
Elda listened, then asked for the fourth time in ten minutes, “Where am I living now?” After Janet answered for the fourth time in ten minutes, she said, “Say, Mom, why don’t we get in the car and go get an ice cream cone?”
“Okay,” Elda said with a smile. “Now where is my jacket?” With that, Elda’s depression lifted, and off they went for an ice cream cone and a pleasant afternoon together. What a beautiful thing Janet did for her mother. She set aside her own frustration at having to continually repeat herself, and the ongoing grief of seeing her mother descend the spiral staircase of dementia. Janet thought of what could she do to make things a little better for her mother (page 56 of THEM)
The process of “Just do something” didn’t achieve a positive outcome in my meeting with Chuck. But it did with Janet and her mom. The point isn’t the result; it isn’t about the outcome. It is about the process of “just do something - even if it’s wrong” that matters.
When a relationship is in trouble, and we take the risk to enter into that trouble with Godly wisdom and discernment, it creates a growth opportunity for us. It becomes an opportunity to reflect the image of God well. It creates an opportunity to bring about reconciliation and healing between people. It’s an opportunity dropped in our lap to develop our relational muscles, regardless of the outcome. Even If whatever we do doesn’t work, it still counts for something. By trying to heal a relationship and bring out the best in others, we will bring out the best in our self.
There is real freedom in our relationships if we develop the skill of “Do something - even if it’s wrong.”
Before I close, here’s the he main take-away from today’s episode, our show in a sentence
When faced with a relational difficulty, and you don’t know what to do, just do SOMETHING that tries to make a positive difference.
Here’s a way you can respond to today’s show
What relational disconnection do you see between people that you would like to see healed, but you don’t know what to do about it? Enter in to that disconnection, resolved that you will not retreat and that will do something to try and make things right. Ask the Lord for wisdom as to what that “something” should be, and also for the strength and power to do that “something,” whatever that might be.
That “something” may even be silence, or what looks like passive inaction. If the silence and inactivity are intentional and done for a reason, it can be the very“something” God wants you to do. But if the silence is a reaction and retreat because of fear of making a mistake, well that’s not what I’m talking about.
Relationship Quote of the Week
Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” ~ Shannon L. Adler
I’m glad you listened in to today’s episode. Remember in the days ahead what you were made for. You were made for life-giving, fulling relationships. But when they’re less than that, and you don’t know what to do, just do something, asking God for help. We’re here together to learn how. See you next week. Good bye for now.