Let’s be honest, relational wisdom is most needed when it is most difficult to express. In this post I want to give you a tool to help you cultivate relational wisdom – the awareness and ability to respond constructively in divisive contexts. Realize, this means you will “off” or “upset” when this tool is needed.
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To get started, read these four passages from the book of James in succession. I have added an introductory question to each to direct your thoughts as you read each passage.
- Is it normal for me to need to grow in relational wisdom? “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5
- What are the key traits of the relational wisdom I want to develop? “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17-18
- Why is it hard for me to be marked by these qualities? “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:1-2
- What is the key to getting back to James 3 from James 4? “But [God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” James 4:6
Here is what you should have learned so far. (1) It is normal for us to need to grow in relational wisdom. Few of us do this naturally, especially when situations are tense or complicated. (2) Relational wisdom requires maintaining key virtues in moments when it is easy to justify our compromises. (3) We are tempted to be relationally foolish when good things become too important to us. (4) If we are going to return to relational wisdom we will have to humble ourselves.
The intent of this exercise is to create greater self-awareness about how you need to grow. Too often we merely bring generic-regret to God. We are genuinely, but non-specifically, sorry. This is enough to secure forgiveness, but usually does not facilitate change well.
Our goal should be to allow the grace of God to grant us the courage to make an honest and thorough assessment of how we need to change in order to become more Christ-like; for our joy and to be a blessing to those around us. That is the intent of these reflections over the qualities of relational wisdom described in James 3.
You can use the description and questions after each of the eight qualities below to rate how you interacted on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being significant relational folly, 10 being significant relational wisdom) or as a journaling prompt to assess the interaction more narratively than numerically.
Before you start, pause and pray James 1:5, that God would grow you in relational wisdom each time you do this.
1. Pure: How much emotional or verbal pollution did you create during this conflict? In you? In the other person? In others observing or affected by the conflict? What form did that pollution take?
- Pause after each reflection and embrace God’s grace that is available when we humbly admit these things with a degree of specificity that tempts us to retreat into shame, and continue with the next reflection when you regained the ability to rest in God’s grace.
2. Peaceable: How many “war time strategies” did you utilize in this conflict (e.g., defensiveness, aggression, criticism, self-justification, score keeping, over-sensitivity, vilification, exaggeration, withdrawal, etc.)? Resist the urge to get lost in the other person’s war time strategies. (Pause)
3. Gentle: When and how did you use more emotional force or relational leverage than was necessary? How did you contribute to the interaction becoming less gentle? Consider both your verbal and non-verbal communication. (Pause)
4. Open to Reason: Did you want the other person’s position to be plausible? Were you open to there being competing good values or good ideas that exist in tension or did your idea being good mean theirs must be bad if they did not quickly comply? Could you fairly represent – in tone and content – what the other person wanted in a way that they would agree with? (Pause)
5. Full of Mercy: When the other person was being relationally foolish, did you want to see them restored to wisdom or did you seize on this as an opportunity to dismiss them? Did you respond to their emotional folly like you would want someone to respond to your own? (Pause)
6. Impartial: Did your own narrative of what did and should happen overshadow your ability to engage with the other person’s narrative about what they believed did or should happen? Were you so committed to your perspective that it limited your capacity to consider theirs? When would the other person have felt like their words or actions could no longer mean what they wanted them to mean, but only what fit your narrative? (Pause)
7. Sincere: A primary opposite of sincerity is hypocrisy. When did you begin holding the other person to a standard of excellence in performance or awareness that you are incapable of meeting? How did the scales of justice become imbalanced (your good actions counting for more good points than their comparable good actions and your bad actions counting for less bad points than their comparable bad actions)? (Pause)
8. Harvest of Righteousness: In spite of the short comings in both people in this conflict, how did God show himself faithful to produce redemptive outcomes? How can seeing this faithfulness in light of our resistance to relational wisdom cultivate a greater motivation and commitment to relational wisdom in the future? Conversely, what “harvest of folly” do you need to acknowledge, repent of, and make amends for as a result of this conflict? (Pause)
These kinds of reflections are always uncomfortable. Hence, the frequent pauses to reorient ourselves to God’s grace so that our shame and defensiveness do not derail this needed exercise.
Summary Reflection: In this particular conflict, which of these 8 areas did you express the most relational folly? Relational wisdom? How is that typical or unique from your general strengths and weaknesses in conflict? If you could not be honest to one more person, other than your repentance to the person in this conflict, who would it need to be in order to have the greatest positive impact on your growth in relational wisdom (James 5:16)?
If you want to grow more in this area, I would recommend David Powlison’s book Good & Angry (chapter 12 of Powlison’s book prompted this post) or my “Overcoming Anger” seminar (upcoming live presentation of this material can be found at bradhambrick.com/events).
Both of these resources will help protect you from making this exercise a mere checklist of good qualities to pursue in order to avoid guilt (legalism) and provide a larger context for pursuing these as the qualities of the Savior you adore (worship-based change).
If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Anger” post which address other facets of this subject.