Thursday, January 4, 2018
What Do You Dread?
This will be a wee bit different from my normal articles because of a recent incident of which I’m aware. A problem developed because someone lacked discernment, let alone compassion, and since this blog is about teaching discernment in theological matters, there is nothing wrong with giving a lesson in general discernment.
What are things you can dread: Things which bring danger? Things which bring bad news? Things that can cause hardship? And much more, of course.
How about when it comes to correspondence from friends and relatives? AHH, here’s where things can get sticky for people who have no compassion or discernment.
My father was a very, very abusive man — both physically and emotionally. I was raised with corporal punishment being either a fist or a belt. My mother suffered a lot, as you can imagine, before they divorced; my father got my brother and me, and Mom kept the three girls. For my brother and me things never got better. Even as I grew older my father was never lacking cruel words. As I grew to adulthood and joined the Army, my father (who died in 1996) tended to give me more respect over the years, so we kept in communication through the mail. However, we would sometimes have disagreements over various issues (such as my trying to teach him why he needed to leave Mormonism). No matter whether the topic was theology, history, sociology, etc, no one could ever know more than he, and that led him to always belittling me as being stupid. Once when discussing the issue of women suffering sexual harassment, he claimed that women either liked it or deserved it (yada yada), and when I tried to counter his argument he told me I knew nothing about women, especially because I was so stupid to have stayed married to the same woman for half my life (he was married three times and had many live-in relationships, let alone general promiscuity). I ended up dreading mail from him because I knew every letter would be full of nasty attacks and criticism and charges of ignorance, etc. This is a case where the dread would have been solved if there were never any more correspondence—What was dreaded was the evil, the wickedness, the cruelty.
What about another type of correspondence which can be dreaded? I know of a couple who are estranged from their grown children due to outside influence. They love getting letters and photos from them, but, even so, these are “dreaded” because they open the wounds of how the relationship dissolved and how much they have missed in the lives of their children and grandchildren. In this case cutting correspondence with the couple would only bring on more grief; they’d much rather have the correspondence and suffer the open wound of the loss than to not have any correspondence.
Well, one year this couple did not get an annual Christmas letter from their one child’s family, and when they noted that to them a few months later, it led to receiving one the following year. However, before the missing letter and the current letter, somehow that child had been alerted to something one of the couple had written which could lead someone to think the letters were “dreaded,” and decided if that was the case then they just wouldn’t send the annual letter. Here is where discernment and compassion should have come to play. Since the children knew how much their parents were grieving the estrangement, and how much hurt was involved, they should have understood the reason for “dreading” such correspondence was due to wounds being opened at the same time of receiving joyous news. They should have been able to discern that the dread felt was not dreading the letter, but dreading the emotions which would be raised as they remember the hurts and grief of the past years.
We actually know several couples with similar family separation issues who all have the same dread of learning what they are missing, but strongly desiring whatever communication they get.
So the discernment lesson is: don’t assume the reason someone dreads something, rather find out why the dread exists. Making the wrong assumption can only make things worse.