The Lump in the Carpet

Many hate confrontation. They prefer to ignore the issue and let the anger pile up until one day, they can’t stand it anymore and there’s one BIG explosion and… well, I think you know how it goes.

Many opt for avoidance, or “peace at any price”; others engage in endless bitter wars over the same old thing. The issue never gets resolved as both parties haven’t learned the skills of reconciliation. Both “resolve” it by sweeping it under the carpet and ignoring it until the lump under the carpet becomes a festering and foul smelling hill, making them sick.

But there’s a third way, a skill that few have learned and that’s to confront with love. I encountered it a few times, and only with the best people — those who rose up through the ranks because of outstanding competence and character.

The first time was when I was working as a rookie reporter and made a mistake that was published in the newspaper and the editor, a rising star, asked to see me. I expected to be flamed, and I went into his office with some trepidation. To my surprise, he gently pointed out my transgression, forgave me on the spot and sent me back to my desk. There was judgement, but also grace at the same time.

Then I made a career transition. I had learned how to work as a journalist — getting the editor’s brief, interviewing the people and then submitting the report. In journalism, you work to communicate ideas in the best way possible and within the set deadline. You learn to work fast and work well.

In church, I was expected to work with people — a very different scenario. And of course, I made mistakes. But I was again, blessed with pastors who were aware that I was learning a new profession — they confronted me with the issue, then either advised me or stepped in to remedy the situation. I received both truth and grace.

It gets a lot messier when the issues are not work issues, but people issues. I knew I had to learn how to confront in love, and enlisted the help of my colleague, a trained counsellor, who coached me.

First, I have to discern if it’s my issue or their issue. If it’s my issue — i.e. an old wound that suddenly got triggered — it’s quite straightforward. I bring it to the Lord for healing, and He does heal. If healing doesn’t happen immediately, I will enlist the help of a friend to discern what is hindering the process. I know it’s healed when I meet the person and there’s no distance between us.

If it’s their issue and it’s hindering our friendship, I will ask the Lord to prepare the time, the place and our hearts. If the wound is still festering and anger is going to spew out, then I need to work on forgiveness before arranging the meeting, else I would be inflicting more wounds on the relationship instead of healing it.

I would bring up my complaint and tell my friend what happened and what I felt about it; then I listen; then I give my feedback about what I heard from her; she clarifies; and then we go back and forth until we have a good mutual understanding and come up with some solutions for next time. I think I have learned that skill fairly well.

But having learned it, God has now given me a new challenge: learning to address repeated rude behavior. If it happens once, I take it as an aberration. If it’s more than once, I know it’s a habit and has to be addressed. Usually, calling it out there and then is very effective; if we leave it too late, the party is likely to have forgotten the whole thing. So, we need to be fast in processing the incident — which usually catches us by surprise — our thoughts and feelings, and calling out the behavior.

What usually inhibits us from doing so is fear of losing the friendship. But I have realised that if we don’t call this out, we’re going to lose the friendship anyway. As we start sweeping it under the carpet, we’re going to trip over the lump, or it will smell in time and make us sick. Ultimately, if we wish to stay well, we have no choice but to follow Jesus’ instruction that if someone offends us, we need to point it out just between the two of us. That’s the only way to go.