Channeling our inner Paul
Several years ago, I sought counsel from Frank Poole, a counselor for things spiritual as well as temporal. In my conversations with Frank, we talked about communicating with others and what should be said and what shouldn't. Sometimes, I would tell Frank what I wanted to say to someone, and he would reply, "And what good would that do?"
As I began to ponder what I should and shouldn't say, I realized that unless my words would do good, I didn't need to say them. My new mantra became "channeling my inner Frank" to stop myself from saying something that won't build up but will be unproductive or even tear down.
I know that many of us will not have the benefit of working with someone such as Frank, who helps us work on being the best that we can be when we communicate with others, but we do have guidance from Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.
Last Sunday I was struck by the Epistle reading. In his letter, Paul gives guidance for communicating within a Christian community. Paul's advice has three main points.
First, he tells the members of the early church "do not let the sun go down on your anger." This of course brought to mind the old adage about marriage, "Don't go to bed angry." Okay, so something or someone has made you mad during the day. For your sake and the sake of the other, let go of your anger and forgive this person. Now of course, it probably won't take just your waking hours of one day to do this, but the message here is to forgive others.
Paul also counsels that the words need to be for "building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear." As a teacher, I know that I can offer the same criticism either constructively or destructively. If I frame my criticism constructively -- that is with solutions or options for improvement -- a student is more likely to take the changes under consideration than if I just tell her that a paper is bad. Constructive criticism allows room for growth and understanding; destructive criticism brings about death and misunderstanding.
Lastly Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be "tenderhearted" with one another or sympathetic. In another translation, the word compassionate is used instead. While being compassionate is closely related to being tenderhearted since it also means to be sympathetic, compassion takes sympathy one step farther and means to "help take away the suffering." Here, we need to think about what we can do to help ease each other's suffering whether it stems from circumstances that we control or that are beyond our control.
Which now leads me to life at St. Mary's.
We are working (and this working is an ongoing process) on how to interact with each other using new norms for communication. Old habits die hard, but they will die if we prayerfully practice new ways of being in a Christian community. Practicing these new ways of communicating will help us grow as individuals as well as members of a community and will help St. Mary's grow both spiritually and temporally.
As we live our lives at St. Mary's, let us "channel our inner Paul" when we communicate with each other. Let us be forgiving, constructive, and compassionate.