The Secret to Difficult Conversation.

Kudos to the girl who called me out.

conversation

Essentially the Facebook message said, “I’m working on cleaning up some things in my life; can you meet with me sometime soon?”

I am often afforded the opportunity to have coffee or lunch with beautiful souls, so I thought little of it.

The sender and I travel in nearby friend circles and have attended the same church for years. Some time ago, when I was on staff at our church, she had entrusted me with a difficult road she was journeying, so I shot her some options for getting together, and we put it on the calendar.

We met at church during the second morning service, finding a quiet meeting room where we could close the door.


It soon became evident this conversation wasn’t at all what I expected.

Initially, I couldn’t figure out where she was going. It was like expecting to have a nice lunch downtown but instead being whisked on a flight to an unknown destination. I was listening….using context clues…….trying to get my bearings……and then I caught on.

This conversation was about me.

Am I seriously sitting here listening to this woman tell me she doesn’t like me? Is this real life?

My jaw tightened as I sat a little straighter, taller. My insides bristled.

She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t accusatory. She was almost charming as she related an interaction where I had been rude and exclusive. After having confided an intimate struggle to me in the past, she felt judged and snubbed by me in the more recent episode in question.

Father, You’ve got to help me here. Part of me wants to lash out; part of me wants to get up and leave. I don’t have to do this. But part of me wants to listen. Show me what’s true. Give me the courage to receive what I need to receive. Give me the wisdom and the strength to wade through the emotions to resolution.

I’m not usually one who can do multiple things at once, but I listened, talked, and prayed with a mental agility not my own.

She confessed anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness towards me. She told me unkind things she said about me to other people, and she told me who she said them to.

Oh my. 

She disclosed she had been invited to participate in Who’s Your Daddy?, the Bible study I wrote, with a group of other women and that she had quickly rebuffed the offer.

Well…okay then…..this is going swimmingly.

And then she got me.

difficult conversation

“Listen, I didn’t want to do this. I have allowed so much garbage to take up residence in my heart, and this is how God told me to be done with it. This was not my idea; I just want to be free.”

You see, I know that slavery. I have junk in my heart. Bitterness and unforgiveness and stale hurt, and I want to run madly towards liberation too.

I get it, sister.

She continued, “Because here’s the thing. I really want to join these ladies doing your study. It’s been a long, dusty path full of a lot of hurt for a good chunk of years. I want to start and finish this study. But I can’t do it until this is right.”

Holy moly. This is legit.

Yes. My self-talk vocabulary includes “Holy moly.” And there was more…

“I don’t need anything from you. I don’t need you to explain or apologize; I just need to ask for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for harboring bitter, angry feelings towards you and for speaking ill of you to others.”

This is one of the most beautiful conversations I’ve ever been a part of. I am rocked. 

I apologized for my rudeness and assured her of its inadvertence. I asked for her forgiveness and attempted to give context to the interaction that had gone afoul.

And I thanked her.

I thanked her because something Biblical had transpired. She was brave and gracious and wise and articulate. But most of all she was pure.

I applauded her.

She schooled me on the art and discipline of difficult conversation, and I hold her in high regard.

—————

Approximately 74% of people have a fear of public speaking. It’s long been feared more than death even. But I wonder if there isn’t a dark horse that rivals the fear of public speaking, especially among Christians. The fear of difficult conversation.

Though most of my professional life has required me to initiate difficult conversations on a regular basis, I hate them.

But they are vital to our health (mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical), and not one of us is excused from the responsibility to have them.


Are there difficult conversations you need to initiate?

  • Putting off a difficult conversation makes it harder 100% of the time.
  • The success of a difficult conversation depends wholly on your purity of heart and motive. There’s no faking this one.
  • Pray a lot. Before, during, and afterwards.
  • Go into the conversation without placing ANY expectations on the receiver or his/her response.
  • The success of the conversation is not determined by a favorable response. It is defined by you effectively communicating your message with purity and grace. You have no control over the other person; God can handle the other half of the equation.
  • If you are on the receiving end of a difficult conversation, be an open recipient. Allow God to show you truth and guide your response.
  • In any conflict, there is almost always wrong on both sides. Own your part and ask for forgiveness.

Epilogue

The lady in the story above…..she did complete the study. I had the chance to share a meal with her at its conclusion and hear her thoughts.

She and I have corresponded about this post. She’s been praying over it because we both want you to run madly after liberation too. She has challenged me, and I am taking some hard next steps in this area myself. When I informed her of that, she said, “Pursuing you into that conversation was one of the hardest acts of obedience yet in my life, humbling and yet incredibly freeing.”

She also went on to share, “My greatest struggle is what to do with those who will not meet with me. Hard to know which way to walk in that and break the chains of bondage – forever.”

That’s a reality. Not everyone will be receptive.

Romans 12:18 makes allowance for that. “If it is possible” suggests that it isn’t always possible. And “as far as it depends on you” recognizes that peace doesn’t only depend on you.

If we extend ourselves – in purity and grace with love and peace as the motive – and we are rejected, God’s pleasure and His freedom can still be ours. It just won’t look like relational resolution, unfortunately.

[Images: Paulo Valdivieso and  Neha Viswanathan]

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6 Comments

  1. Christy Moore
    Christy MooreReply
    May 28, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Wow! Two very BRAVE women !

    I have to be honest . I did laugh just a little in the beginning at the thought of the look on your face as this conversation was getting more involved!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      May 28, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      Ha! You’re funny! I always wonder what my face looks like in reactions…not just in this situation….but always. :-/

  2. Caren
    CarenReply
    May 28, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    I have one person who comes to mind. I have been crushed by this person but I will start praying for reconciliation because you are so right! My feelings toward her are very wrong if I want to be more like Jesus , I definitely need forgiveness and letting it go no matter the response will equal freedom, thank you for pointing this sin out, I needed it.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      May 28, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      Caren, what a difficult obedience this is. I know more hard words need to be spoken to me, and I have some I need to share, but more importantly I need a clean, pure heart. That is a diligent business. And you’re right. Garbage in our hearts towards others is sin. I love your commitment to transformation.

  3. Jeannie
    JeannieReply
    May 29, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    This is beautiful. I’ve done this several times in my lifetime, either myself or someone else. It’s truly a blessing to have honest and forthright people in my life. God takes us to interesting places in our lives, for sure

    • Cookie Cawthon
      May 29, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      Jeannie, it’s freeing and terrifying at once. I do find it’s the only way to keep your heart from collecting a bunch of unresolved hurts. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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