Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:25-27
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32
We all are master storytellers. Without even realizing it, we craft tales about the world around us and the part we play in it. We weave together narratives about the other person and their intentions. Whenever someone brings up a difficult subject, we go into storytelling mode to protect ourselves or to justify the reasons why we can disregard what they are saying. These stories influence our relationships in ways we can hardly imagine. Many of us define ourselves by our stories. They allow us to remain the victim, the hero or the casual bystander.
Very rarely, if ever, do we take the time and possess the courage to look at our story. We don’t want to consider for a moment that our stories might be elaborate tales with very little truth found within. Our stories keep us from connection. Our stories prohibit trust. Often, our stories fail to show compassion. Our tendency, when it comes to conflict, is often to avoid. We attempt to keep the peace by covering up or over compensating. Living in our own stories allows us to do just that. Sometimes the pool we are swimming in is the pool of our own story and we are drowning.
We are not alone in our attempts to tread water. Those around us are often just trying to keep their heads above water. We all need a life preserver to hold onto and drag us out of the current of our own story. This begins with acknowledging there is a bigger story than our own- God’s story. Realizing our need for grace should fuel the compassion we extend to others. Unless we provide a safe place for people to process and grow, our relationships will remain stuck.
Trust is the linchpin to true connection. The erosion of trust leads to the erosion of safety. When someone refuses to listen or participate in a crucial conversation, it reveals they don’t feel safe with their surroundings. The foundation of trust crumbles as emotions and hostility reign. Emotions run raw when we are feeling isolated and disconnected from others.
In his book The Power of The Other, author and psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud states that every relationship resides in one of four corners of connection. The first corner is simply a lack of connection where one is disconnected from everyone. Making your home in this corner leads to feelings of loneliness and depression. People choose this corner because they are afraid of getting burned yet again. If one ventures our from this place, they often head to the second corner, which is a bad connection. They reason that a bad connection is better than no connection at all. Finding yourself in this place is to know anxiety. Your identity is wrapped up in how you perform and measure up to others. When things don’t go right, you feel judged and condemned.
If the individual doesn’t retreat back to the first corner as a result, they will reside in the third corner or better known as pseudo connection. This place is infamous for being the land of comfort, escapism and addiction. People set up shop in an effort to mask all their pain even if it only provides temporary relief. The last corner is where we all desire to call home. It is the land of real connection where you are loved and accepted just as you are. It doesn’t mean that conflict doesn’t exist but when you reside here you are able to hear and confront difficult things knowing you are safe. In our relationships, we must move to the fourth corner and be the type of person who shows compassion and grace.
Knowing we have received grace, we are able to extend a hand to others. Judgement and condemnation are nowhere to be found. Together, you are able to engage in crucial conversations because everyone knows their soul and heart are safe with you. Compassion is a relationship between equals. It is only when we recognize our shared humanity that we are able to move in to relationships with others. This allows each individual to own their own story and engage with others authentically. Our common purpose frames the context for our caring.
- There are four corners of connection: (1) no connection (2) bad connection (3) pseudo connection (4) real connection. In the relationships that hold the most influence on your life, what corner are you residing in and how is your current connection level influencing your growth?
God, help me to confront the false stories I tell myself. Open my eyes to how I enable these narratives to dictate my actions and words as well as the depth of my relationships. May I pursue true connection with others and provide a compassionate environment for individuals to feel safe enough to reveal their true self. My desire is to honor You in my relationships. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.