I love sports.
I mean, I really love sports.
Despite growing up in a home that wasn’t always functional, sports was always a big deal. Even today, my kids will find me watching a game and ask, “Who are we cheering for...and do we really care?” My wife, well, she grew up in a house where sports were far less important. In fact, until we were married she had never been to a professional sporting event. So it was a big surprise to her that in my home (now OUR home), there are sports on tv all day every day. Needless to say, this did not go over very well. When we were first married, we had this tiny little apartment and my wife jokes that the thing that saved our marriage that first year, was the second TV that my parents got us!
Of course, getting an additional TV primarily for watching sports didn't really solve our issues. We’ve been married nearly 25 years now and there are still things we are working out. The truth of the matter is that everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE), has a set of habits; various preferences for how we want things to be, how we spend free time when we have it, what foods we like, and those we simply cannot stand. The list goes on.
So what happens when you take two people with different ways of doing things and handling challenges and stick them together in the same living space? FOREVER?
Frankly, when you say it like that, it sounds like a reality show. It simply isn’t easy. We each want things to go our way, and to be how we think they should be. Sometimes, we even agree! And in those moments where two people want different things you have to decide:
Is this really that important?
If not, why am I fighting so hard?
If it truly is important, is this the best way to communicate why I think that to be true?
Often this actually requires stepping back, cooling off, and taking stock of my own thoughts and feelings. That is hard to do. Our kids will tell you that there have been times when one of us has gone for a walk around the block to try and ease the tension. Sometimes, one block turns into two. But the point is that in the initial moment, escalation comes easy. So making space to gain a clearer perspective without all the emotions takes effort and a pretty big dose of humility. Because humility is what allows us to admit when we are wrong AND not lord it over the other person when we are right. I will fully admit that sometimes while I am making my circuit around the block I play out the whole conversation that I want to have. Thankfully, most of the time I am able to eliminate many of the things that I start out wanting to say. I eliminate them because they would only escalate the problem. James was right when he wrote that the tongue easily sets things on fire. Our words can easily add fuel to the blaze that our egos have already started. Humility and its ability to hold the tongue is like pouring water on that fire. It helps dim the flames. The heat may take longer to go away but the potential for damage is greatly reduced.
While I have been talking about this in the context of my marriage, the same things are true for any circumstances where you are living with others. I actually think this is part of why Paul so often uses family as a description for the church. Here you have a diverse group of people from various backgrounds with different life experiences trying to live life together. This really does sound like the description of a reality tv show. If two people who love each other and are committed to each other struggle to live harmoniously how can we ever expect harmony to increase as the number of people involved (with their views, opinions, and preferences) also increases? Paul knew this to be true and had experienced the resulting challenges multiple times. That’s why it is fascinating that in the midst of a passage that someone labeled in my Bible “The Mark of a True Christian” he drops this bomb:
“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” (Romans 12:16)
Am I too proud? Ouch! I am proud and I do think I know it all. That is the actual problem. We see this play out far too often today. It isn’t a new problem but we have a whole lot of outlets for it that we didn’t use to have. Social media is actually a pretty amazing thing. But it is also far too easy to escalate disagreements. We can stoke the fires with inflammatory statements from the “safety” of our own homes. It is easier to unfollow or block someone rather than try to figure out a solution or at least a way forward through areas of disagreement.
But there is another way.
We can choose to step back, take a breath, and ask: Is this really important? How can I say what I think I need to say in a way that displays humility, recognizing that I might be the one who is wrong? I think if we can learn to do this more often, (because it does take practice), we will begin to discover new depths in the relationships around us. We may even choose to invest more. It simply starts with allowing our own heart to change first. Then we may discover harmony was simply waiting for us to say “I don’t know it all.”