How I Plan to Win a Fight

A few weeks ago I went to the Dallas area to stay with a friend, get away from the kids for awhile, watch the Superbowl, and try to relax.  The trip went really well until the last day when we got into what seemed to be a small tiff.

He came home from work and took me to lunch.  He was having a bad day and seemed distracted, so we didn’t talk much.  When we got back to his place I took my shoes off and began to relax a bit before leaving for the airport. He had to get back to work but wanted me to move my car out of his garage before he left.  “Why?” I said.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to get the garage door closed when you leave.”

“What?  I can close a garage door.”

“But you need a remote to close it when you’re leaving.”

“No, I can hit the button from the inside and walk out while it’s closing.”

(Him, getting ramped up because I’m not listening)  “But you’ll trip the sensor and the garage won’t close.”

(Me, getting ramped up but not stopping to ask why) “I know about the sensor, I close our garage door that way all the time at home.  If nothing else I can just come back in the house, close it, then leave through the front door.”

My friend, “Fine.  Bye.”  Walks out the door

Me, thinking “Wow, we’re not going to see each other for another year and that’s how you want to leave it?  Ok, jerk.  Have a nice life.”

Now, I’m a Christian man, meaning that I think things like this should be handled the way Jesus wants me to handle them, which means I should’ve just moved the stupid car.  I got really convicted about the whole thing and sent him a text saying that I was sorry and should have moved the car.  No response.  I left a similar note on the kitchen table next to the key to his house.  Still haven’t heard anything.

I know, it all sounds really stupid.  When I got home and told my wife about it she looked at me like all wives look at you when you’ve done something stupid.  “Why didn’t you just move your car?  Wouldn’t that have been easier?” Me (like a dog who just got caught drinking out of the toilet) “Yeah…”

But this fight’s not over – there’s still some fighting left to do.

First, I’ll need to call my friend and let him vent about what happened.  I’ll have to fight against my need to always be right, and my need to never lose – at anything.  I’ll have to ask him questions that give him the freedom to tell me how he feels.  What I’ll probably find out is that what pissed him off had little to do with the garage door, and more to do with him feeling disrespected and un-listened to.  Most fights have little to do with the issue at hand, and more to do with old wounds and unresolved anger.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some really sad stuff they’re carrying around day-to-day.  I’ll need to make sure he’s in a good place before I move to the next step, which might take awhile, so I’ll have to fight my tendency to “fix” things quickly.

The next step will be to explain to him why I got so ramped up.  To do this, I’ll have to fight the fears I have of being vulnerable, of sharing my weaknesses with other people.  Here’s what I’m scared of sharing.

I spent most of my life being treated like a fuck-up, mainly because I was the guy who fucked things up alot.  So, I grew up feeling like a fuck-up.  It’s not a good feeling, so around my college years I decided to no longer be a fuck-up, and every time someone treated me like a fuck-up I’d get really mad.  Really. Mad.  I’ve managed to transcend the image in my later years, just a bit at least, but I still get really mad when treated like an incompetent.  So, when someone communicates to me, for example, that I can’t do something simple like close a garage door, I get really ramped up.  It’s not their fault, they’ve just unwittingly traipsed into a very old wound that I haven’t quite managed to redeem yet.

I’ll have to share all of that with my friend, and I’m scared to death to do it.  What if he doesn’t listen?  What if I can never get him to the point where it’s time to talk about my side of things?  What if I can’t control all of this?  I’ve laid out this nice little plan about how things should go but who knows how he’ll respond.  Who knows where this will land?

It’s hard for me to articulate how important my relationship with him is.  I’ve known him most of my life and can’t imagine life without him.  What will ultimately win this fight for me is my commitment to our relationship.  When I deem the relationship more important than my pride, or prevailing over someone so I can feel “right,” I win.  Every. Time.

But it’s also important for me to tell my side of the story, for him to understand what happened with me.  For me to have a voice.  He could have easily trusted me to close the garage door but he didn’t, and that hurt my feelings.

That’s right.  I said it.  It hurt my feelings.  Regardless of why I got my feelings hurt, I got my feelings hurt.  I wish I didn’t.  I wish I was more mature than that.  But let’s be honest – we hate to talk about getting our feelings hurt, it makes us feel childish, not-so-mature.  Weak.  Unfortunately it happens all the time in adulthood.  That’s why we get angry.  Anger, most of the time, especially in interpersonal conflict, is a symptom of hurt feelings.  How many times did you get angry in 2015?  That’s how many times you got your feelings hurt – hate to break it to you.  But telling someone that they hurt you will get their attention much faster than if you say, “hey dickhead, I’m an adult, you need to trust me to close the stupid garage door.”

He might say something akin to “I hurt your feelings?  What are you a three year old?”  At that point I’d recite what I’ve stated above.  If that doesn’t go anywhere I can remind him of multiple episodes of where his anger was driven by his hurt.  Like I said, I’ve known him for a really long time.

But it doesn’t matter how he responds.  I call it a win if I 1) let him vent and 2) get to a place where I can tell my side of the story.  If all of that happens and he’s still mad at me, I’ll remember that there are deeper things at play here.  I have some intimate knowledge of the unresolved hurts that he walks with day-to-day.  If he’s not willing to let this go, or forgive me, it will be because there are things at play that are darker and deeper than a garage door.  If our future encounter doesn’t go the way I plan it to go, I’ll have compassion, and I’ll forgive.  That’s where being a Christian comes in really handy by the way.  I believe God has forgiven me for all infractions – past, present, and future, regardless of whether or not I deserve forgiveness.  For me to un-forgive someone, regardless of whether or not they deserve it, is the deepest act of unbelief, according Jesus’ teachings (click here for a verse that illustrates this perfectly).

It’s tempting to live in the extremes – either cutting the other person off and walking away, or apologizing for everything.  Both are easy but neither is an investment in the relationship.

So yes, I’ll try and get him to vent, and I’ll try to tell my side of the story.  If things don’t go my way, I’ll remember what he’s dealing with and forgive.  More than likely, I’ll be closer to him and more committed to him than I was before. That’s what happens when you put this kind of risk and work into a relationship.

Either way, I’ll win.  That’s what conflict is all about


A Revisionist’s Take on David, Goliath, Kids, and Marriage

There’s a story in the Old Testament that isn’t translated correctly in our English bibles.  When I read it “right” for the first time, it changed everything about the way I think about God, and the way I think about the way God thinks about me – and ultimately the way I engage the difficult things of my life.

Our bibles tell a story of an underestimated, highly skilled underdog defeating a giant.  If you’ll let me, I’d like to tell you a different story.  The following interpretation is taken directly from a collection of Hebrew manuscripts commonly used in the creation of our modern bibles.

The armies of the Philistines and the Israelites face each other but won’t engage.  King Saul, who’s described as the most qualified soldier in the army, shudders in his tent, afraid to face the giant who has walked onto the field with a challenge. “Send someone out to fight me.  If your man wins we’ll be your slaves, If I win you’ll be ours.”

The author of this story has alot to say about the giant.  He’s really big, covered from head to toe in about 120 pounds of armor, carries a spear that most of us couldn’t heft, much less throw, and is so important/experienced in battle that he has someone to go before him to protect him with a shield.  He’s large, strong, experienced, and impenetrable.

David shows up and is so small and young that he’s ripped to shreds for even showing up on the scene.  He somehow weasles his way into Saul’s tent and claims that he can kill Goliath.  In a very sick moment, Saul places his armor on David. David removes the armor and engages the giant.

Goliath says, “Am I a dog that you come at me with a stick (later manuscripts have “sticks” but it seems the original (older) writing is “stick”)?”  David reaches down and grabs 5 sling stones and a stick, probably thinking something akin to “I have no idea how this is going to go down.  If five rocks don’t work, maybe I can beat him with a stick.  Let’s do this.”

As Goliath moves in for the easy kill, David lets fly with a baseball sized rock travelling about 90 mph and hits Goliath in the….

This is where the story gets really interesting in my opinion.  The Hebrew word for “forehead” and the Hebrew word for “shinguard” or “greave” is the same.   Long ago, interpreters had to figure out which one it would be.  “Greave” never appears in the Old Testament in the singular form, but “Forehead” does, many times.  So, interpreters went with precedence and gave us the story we now have – David issued a shot with pinpoint accuracy.

But let’s go with “greave,” ie, Goliath was hit in the leg.  If he was hit in the forehead with a rock that big travelling that fast, he would have been thrown backwards.  The author goes out of his way to tell us that Goliath fell forward.   If you’re hit in the leg with a baseball sized rock travelling 90 miles an hour, you’ll at least lose your balance.  If you lose your balance wearing 120 pounds of armor, you’re going down – doesn’t matter how big and strong you are.

Either way, Goliath’s now face down in the sand and has to get up, which is a little tricky when you’re bearing so much weight.  His enemy is an almost naked boy running at speed.  Goliath has dropped his sword and is now struggling to get up – take a guess who’ll get to the weapon first.  What this story really tells us is that David’s not that good with a slingshot, and that Goliath’s trust in his armor actually decided the battle.

The most difficult thing about our English translation of this story is that the biblical authors, whether you agree with them or not, didn’t write stories about people entering the battlefield and deciding the outcome with their great skill.  The Bible, over and over again, ad-nauseum, gives us stories of losers, ill-equipped and outnumbered, winning because God is on their side. You might be an atheist, or someone not interested in the Bible, and that’s fine, but when interpreting this particular ancient text, we have to understand that our white, Western, kick-ass-and-take-names, Evangelical interpretation doesn’t fit in this ancient Hebrew Bible.

David didn’t win the battle because of his skill, but because of his willingness to simply walk onto the field and face a giant – he believed that there was something that would fight for him – but nothing would happen until David engaged.

A very powerful truth when we apply this to our lives.

Here’s an example of how this story has changed my life.  Over the past 7 years, I’ve adopted 3 kids who were all abandoned, spent too much time in institutionalized care, and who now deal with a significant amount of PTSD.  Parenting them is the hardest thing I’ve ever done – my own personal “Goliath.”  I’m ill-equipped for this, naked, and armed with little more than a few rocks and maybe a stick.  But I also believe that God is on my side, unconditionally and without reservation.  Even when I’m acting like a jackass, He’ll help me here – taking care of the things I can’t handle.

But if I disengage, bad things will happen.  As weak as I am, my presence is required here.  We all have battles to fight, giants to face, most of them we can’t handle – that’s a fact regardless of what you believe.  The only thing we have in our power, the only thing we can control is whether or not we stay on the field.

I’ll close with something that might sound really cheesy, but I need to write it – not for you, but for me.

Sohpia, Amara, and Hannah – my life is yours.  I gladly left my career for you and would do the same over and again (thanx mommy for making that possible by the way).  I’m sorry for the hurt and fear that you carry inside, and for the ways I’ve added to it in my weaker moments.  I know that you’ll lash out at me so many times, and that I’ll be paying someone else’s bill for years to come.  As ill-equipped as I am, the only thing I can promise you is that I won’t disengage. I’ll face your giants, and mine, until God throws them to the ground.

Elaine, same goes for you.  I’ll be a jackass of a husband at times, playing the victim, feeling cheated, sorry for myself, betrayed, etc.  But this is my pledge to you and to the rest of the interweb that I’ll never leave the field.  There are so many beautiful things about you and about our life together that I don’t want to miss.  But when I’m blind to that, when I feel like marriage is some giant, insurmountable thing,  I’ll simply stay put until my eyes are open again.

I love you guys so much.  God help me.