“Hans, when I first met you I didn’t think you liked me.”
That’s what my friend David told me back in my seminary days. I’ve had some variation of that comment given to me at different times since I was in college. It doesn’t happen with a lot of frequency, but it happens enough to notice. It might be, “You looked at me and didn’t say anything,” “You walked right by me,” “You weren’t friendly,” or some similar statement.
Others who know me find those comments completely out of sorts—and are surprised others would feel that way (thanks guys, I owe you one). Still, I have gotten the comments enough that I’ve wondered the past few months if there is something to it, or a better way to respond. As I’ve tried to think through it recently, I’ve found that I have responded to such a criticism in three different ways—and with each one the Lord shaving one more rough spot off of my personality.
“I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY.”
This is the first (and likely worst) response given. It was my young married and seminary response. It seemed more real—more honest; and God loves honesty, right? Who could argue with that? Could it be the Scriptures just might recognize under-sharing has value (Answer: Yes [Prov. 10:19; 17:27]).
This response lacked some emotional intelligence. It assumed that, because other people were in charge of their emotions, it was their job to know how I was feeling and interpret it correctly. I was also of the persuasion of folks who felt that it wasn’t really important that I left any kind of impression—positive or negative—on people. (Word to young[er] pastors reading this: you always leave impressions on people.)
Funny thing. That response did not change people’s perception or their comments. What a surprise. The time was coming to find a new way to respond.
“HOW YOU FEEL IS NOT TRUE.”
This was my response the first years of my pastoring life, up until maybe the past six months when it, too, showed ineffectiveness. What drove this one was exactly what it says: it’s not true. I love my church, I love the people I come in contact with on a daily basis, and I want to serve them. That they don’t feel that way bothered me, and I wanted them to know that I don’t actually feel that way.
However, what I started to realize was that this response was ineffective, and a bit defensive. I would start listing the ways I have demonstrated love to people as well as the commitment I have to this church. (Here’s something true: you can’t fight someone’s perception of you with another perception.)
“Hans, I don’t feel like you care about me.”
“Let me tell you all the ways I care about you.”
“I still don’t feel like you care about me.”
“Let me share more information with you as to why that isn’t accurate.”
Have you ever been in a fight (Christians call them “Discussions”) with a spouse or loved one and felt right, while they have also felt right? It doesn’t go anywhere. That’s what this was like. It can end with a huff of emotion and an “I’m sorry you feel that way,” but I don’t want it to. There had to be a better answer, because a gap still existed.
“I’D LOVE TO KNOW HOW I COULD DO THIS BETTER.”
For all the “I’m sorry you felt that way”s and “That’s not true”s, I still found myself banging my head against a wall. I felt caught up on trying to live up to people’s expectations of me (which seemed unrealistic from my vantage point) while also living with what felt like open season on what people didn’t appreciate about me or the church I served.
As an aside: Who else lives in that world? If you are preceptive you hear the defensiveness in my own perceptions. (To be honest, there would often be days I would come home and say to Courtney, “Are we sure this is worth it? There are a billion other things we could do.”)
I haven’t fully arrived at this third response, but I’ve gotten better at it. It’s the response that says, “How I feel about you and how you think I feel aren’t the same, and it’s my fault. Please let me know how I could do this better.” I want to take ownership for my failures, and develop better skills so people know I love them and I no longer need to convince them that it is the case. Rather than be defensive, rather than just write someone off, I want to know how I can love them more fully—in a way that they receive.
It hasn’t been easy, but it has been better. It hasn’t been fun—and it has been humbling—but it has gone further in my relationships than other responses.
Moving forward, I want the Lord to keep whittling away at these things. I’d love to learn even better responses. If you’ve been through the same kind of progression, I’ve love to hear where God has brought you. In the mean time, pray I continue to grow in this.