I have a long history of being afraid to speak out. In fact, I have been so afraid that at times I’ve lost my “voice,” or my ability to speak up for myself and others.
I began losing my “voice” in my 4th grade classroom on a typical school day when I heard the town whistle. This whistle was also used to sound a tornado warning the night before in my small western Oklahoma town. I immediately believed that my whole elementary school was in danger. I gathered my courage for a few precious seconds, stood up and yelled, “It’s the tornado warning!”
False alarm. It was the noon whistle. (For those of you don’t know, the town “whistle” is used for tornado warnings, tornado “all clears,” and to let the town workers know it is time for lunch.) The bullies in my class jeered. “It’s the noon whistle, dummy! She thinks it’s a tornado! Funniest thing I ever heard! How stupid!” I was so embarrassed! And my friends didn’t speak up for me, so I believed they thought I was stupid, too. I was teased for the rest of the school year. Thankfully it was already late spring and the end of the school year was near.
Right then and there, I decided that I was not going to be embarrassed, seen as stupid, or make a fool out of myself ever again. Even if I could speak up or stand up for something or someone, I kept my mouth shut out of fear. What if it were another false alarm?
My fear of speaking out was more intense in times of conflict. Witnessing church conflict as a pastor’s kid sometimes made me want to run from church, and sometimes Christianity altogether. Conflict resolution can be painful, and people have a tendency to avoid pain at all costs. (I should know.) Rather than deal with the issues, people will lash out and make someone else a target. I just resolved to conform even more and to become a “pleaser” in order to protect myself and my family.
I couldn’t wait until I no longer had to go to church or deal with these people.
So, you can probably imagine that when God called me into ministry I balked. Yet, here I am. And I have found that many pastors have issues dealing with conflict. We desire to lead people to God, to help people, to equip people…. And then we can end up in some really conflicted, and dare I say nasty, places.
Through my experiences of being embarrassed and losing my voice, being a preacher’s kid, and witnessing church conflict, God called me to teach the church how to address conflict and to empower people, especially my clergy sisters, to find their voices again and speak out against injustice. It’s quite a journey.
So, dear readers, what are some of your experiences in conflict? Are you afraid? Or are you bold? Avoider, or engager? I look forward to your comments.