69% percent of all conflicts are unsolvable.
So says Dr. John Gottman, professor at University of Washington who has done herculean work on marriages and all that makes them healthfully hum or self-destruct.
I am intrigued by this figure.
Partly because it should be perversely comforting to married people, many of whom foolishly presume that they are the solitary couple on the planet who continues to fight about the same things, year after year, with no apparent progress.
Be of good cheer, sort of, because most your conflicts aren’t necessary solvable!
Knowing that alerts us that there must be something else to consider when we are giving and taking offense, at impasses, or stuck sideways with one another.
A Cultural Dirty Word
The something else which is cast as the unlikely leading role in the resolutions of our conflicts is submission.
A terrible word. Maligned, hated, feared, and jeered at word.
But I cannot think of a relationship, configuration, or conglomeration of human hearts, whether a business or a soccer team, that wouldn’t prosper from employing this beautiful concept with the terribly unappealing book cover.
Jesus, woefully behind our times, corroborates the research by his exampled insistence that humility, submission, and cross-carrying was the way to joy, peace, and life. In lips and life, he demonstrates submission’s liberation and power.
Last month in Advent, we corporately experienced stunning and terrifying flashbacks of this demonstration.
“Never Authors of our Best Hope”
Because Jesus entered what theologians have called his “estate of humiliation,” the long, cold-showered, and shivering existence he chose as the eventual healing of world dangerously allergic to God.
He stepped into the midst of a people with extended middle fingers to the divine. He became one of us since clearly, as Wendell Berry has noted, we are “never authors of our own best hope.”
So our Hope-Author submitted himself to the terrors and rigors of this life to end a cosmic conflict so that peace could pollinate lives in every vandalized place until they flower with the flourishing we keep hankering after but endlessly misdiagnose how to get.
The Lord of Hosts who gives orders to the morning, became a fragile, cooing newborn, easily ordered around.
Yahweh, whom no one could see and live, came to us as an approachable, fuzzy shouldered, soft-skinned son of refugees, immigrating to Egypt, so a mad-man, like Herod, justifying the harsh elimination of any threat to his political office and power wouldn’t bathe the streets of Bethlehem in Jesus’ infant blood.
The Terrors of Childhood
To remember the infanticide surrounding our Savior’s first few years, the wailing of Hebrew mothers, the sudden escape in the night to Egypt after receiving warnings in dreams, jolts us with hair-standing-up on forearms attention into re-seeing the extent of Christ’s submission to our condition in all it’s terror.
Poet Mary Karr’s banner over her inaugural years as a living creature could easily apply to God-in-flesh, Jesus Christ, when she laments, “Childhood was terrifying for me.”
In ways we may forget, she has vivid flashbacks:
“A kid has no control. You’re three feet tall, flat broke, unemployed, and illiterate. Terror snaps you awake. You pay keen attention. People can just pick you up and move you and put you down.”
The Almighty, in determined pursuit to convince haters of his re-orienting affection, his slate-shattering forgiveness, and his death-destroying promise of life as it was intended, made himself “three feet tall, flat broke, unemployed, and illiterate,” someone that others could “just pick up and move and then put down.”
On Being a Slug
CS Lewis grasping some of the enormity of this movement on God’s part to reveal himself in the person of Jesus Christ, said, “if you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or crab.”
Christ did this, because he knew something that fools don’t know and the arrogant don’t suspect. He knew something we find hard to envision when we hear the word submission and immediately suggest a careful casuistry where the rules of “giving up one’s rights for another” don’t apply.
“That doesn’t mean you should be a door mat!” It’s an insistence that seems self-evident to us.
When protests like that are our first response to the notion of submission, it reveals far more than the mere assertiveness advocacy we presume to be advancing. And it betrays how little we have understood God’s ignoble entrance to our world by means of a teenage pregnancy.
But Jesus knew that we have a swindling inner master who needs to be dethroned.
Committed Masters of Our Own Way
Most our protests about what submission can’t mean are proofs of the mastery that our need for our own way has in our lives. A nasty, scheming mastery that promises more than an aspiring president and delivers just as much disappointment.
The dominant and the sensitive alike, though presenting in vastly different ways, are committed masters of their own way--devoted practitioners of the self-sovereign orthodoxy of our times.
The dominant do it by tyrannizing others with their thoughtless insistence on things being done according to their vision which is, by definition, always wisest and best. They bully, shame, and bull-doze.
The sensitive do their own tyrannizing by controlling relationships and meeting rooms with their hurt feelings. C. S. Lewis once remarked “how I loathe sensitive people, tyrannizing others with their emotions. They are social pests!”
But the greatest freedoms and flourishing come paradoxically through submission.
“What freedom corresponds with submission?” ponders Richard Foster. “It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.”
When Others Are Too Stupid to Cooperate With Our Plans
If you think of it, you’ll realize that 87% (I made this percentage up!) of the displeasure you experience in your life is because you have a distinct idea of how things should go for you.
BUT the universe, God, the woman driving in front of you, your boss, spouse and kids are all uniformly too stupid to cooperate with your plans.
You have dreams and intentions, and no one else seems interested in complying.
So you’re dissatisfied when the board doesn’t take the position you thought they should, or angry when your wife doesn’t go along with what you knew was best. And before anything is done, you’re anxious in anticipating whether or not your plans will materialize.
But what if you believed as Jesus did (because of what Jesus did) that God “was working out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will?” What if you realized your wishes might be over-promising you? What if you figured that the plans and schedules of others are at least as important, and likely more so, than your own? What if you started to suspect that perhaps you could still be content, even if you didn’t get your way?
Jesus depicted all this in alluring fashion. And more. Showing us the path of joy.
The Joy of Alignment and Necessity of Self-Distrust
There is joy, he illustrated, in aligning your heart with another’s wishes, especially when that someone is the God for whom we’ve been fashioned. This is part of the replenishing rest that Jesus promised when we “take up his yoke.”
It’s not easy. It’s not always fun. But submission to Christ and others, when practiced with prayerful humility and burden-bearing love, is always a freeing experience.
I don’t have to have my way!
I don’t have to have my way!
I don’t have to have my way!
Repeat that a few times. Then see if you can believe it.
By re-entering the situations where there’s conflict, distress, hurt, or tumult in your life and asking if there is an opportunity for you, for Jesus’ sake, to submit to someone else, to give up your demands, to experience the freedom of regarding their concerns as more valuable than yours.
To do this, we’ll have to distrust ourselves far more deeply than usual, with questions like, “how can I be so adamant that what I want is necessary? Or best? Have I ever discovered I was wrong to have been so insistent and demanding? Or surprised and even happy to learn that I was mistaken?
We’ll also have to trust Christ’s intelligence and concern far more than we’d ordinarily be comfortable with.
But most crucial for being able to yield, give up, or submit in the myriad situations which demand that someone does, is the requirement to become a reckless heretic.
Becoming A Reckless Heretic
A heretic, that is to the central tenet of American orthodoxy which drives our politics, sexuality, abortion rights, marriages, economics and a host of other issues.
The poisonous conviction of “I am my own” must be vigorously resisted. And happily, Christians know this is not only an anti-social, unloving, and poisonous doctrine. It is disastrously so.
We belong to Jesus. And own nothing about ourselves.
Clothing ourselves regularly with this parka of truth takes the edge off of all the matters where we’re sure we must win or get our way.
Christ, we come to realize, can spend us, employ us, sideline us, put us in the game, heal us, leave us to limp along for a while, or promote us-- all depending on what he concludes is ultimately best.
What imagination and an ardent confidence in his sterling goodness is required to believe that could possibly be the case when we aren’t getting what we want! But it’s a critical aspect of our faith.
It helps me to consider that Jesus is spending our lives, no matter how they appear, even when in conflict, for mending purposes which might be hidden from us at present.
Knowing this also prevents me from nonsensical self-formulations about mastering my own fate and controlling my destiny. I’m glad destiny controlling is a job description that Jesus has happily snagged for himself.
Belonging to Christ is fertilizer for a harvest growth of ability to lay down the terrible burden of having to get our own way. Knowing we are his is Miracle-Gro for fragrantly flowering relationships where we’re far more concerned to broker our Master’s sympathetic affection and regard for others than we are to insist on getting our own way.
We aren’t, after all, still duped into believing the vicious, plaguing lie that we are our own and so, must look after ourselves. Our world might conclude there is no one else to look after them. But to such a conclusion, we are and must forever remain, happy heretics.
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com