We cannot please everyone. We know this. But sometimes it’s even our job to piss someone off, gently, but piss them off nonetheless, stand up for what’s right. We expect, anticipate fallout. It’s good. It means that a hard situation is being wrestled over, but at least it’s out in the open.
We can handle this, we feel in control of this. But it’s the completely unexpected, the unknown, the X factor that has us all flummoxed. Years ago I was standing at the door on Christmas Eve, shaking hands as people walked out. I served a small church in upstate New York. It was the kind of church where all the kids “came home” on Christmas and there was not a seat to be found.
I was burnt out, I was tired, and I forgot to recruit someone to do the lights for the candlelight/Silent Night portion of the service. I asked a session member, he was also the plant committee chair, he had also been a member since his youth. He should know how to do this, I would not need to micromanage.
I was wrong.
The lights didn’t go down all the way, and something just didn’t “feel right”. It was not my fault, it wasn’t even this guy’s fault. But on the way out the door the daughter a parishioner who I see a few times a year walked out without saying hello. “Where’s [insert name here]”. At that time she storms back in and exclaims that was the worst Christmas Eve Service she’d ever been part of!
It didn’t matter what it was or how it was or why it was. All that I heard was negative feedback. All I heard was someone was upset. All I heard is that I’d ruined Christmas. As if I had all that power. Or someone had given me that authority.
The truth is, I let her ruin my Christmas. I spent all Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day filled with anxiety.
Anxiety continues to get the best of us. Over the last few weeks I have seen a reasonable group of people tear apart decision after decision many people have made (including themselves as a body). There is no going back, but we do it because we hope we can find the mistake. We pray we can pinpoint the person and the thing that created the angst.
Truth is, that’s rarely the case.
Even if we could go back and anticipate everyone’s reaction and what everyone wanted and what everyone was thinking it probably wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.
On that Christmas my sermon could have been better, the lights could have worked great, and every single thing would have gone perfectly. That woman still would have had the worst Christmas. Because the anxiety she was feeling was not about any of it.
But it’s going to come out somewhere, and it happened to be me.
My mistake was letting it affect me. Yet, how could I not? It’s just who I am. What I didn’t do (what I constantly strive not to do) is continue the cycle and push the anxiety on other people.
I did nothing wrong and going back and changing anything wouldn’t change the outcome but this situation/circumstance/life is hard and we don’t like hard. Surely it’s someone’s fault. Surely someone is to blame.
As leaders we find ourselves in this position a lot, we are even taught that it’s the measure of us doing ministry right. I’m still learning not to harbor the anger I get from receiving so many people’s anxiety. I am still learning not to be disappointed in myself or someone else for not being appropriate with their anxiety. For it is a dangerous weapon.
Anxiety (and fear and the like) is a silent killer of relationships and it should be handled with thick rubber gloves. I look forward to the day that the CDC finds a vaccine for it, eradicates it, and sticks it in their vault next to Polio and Small Pox.
Until then, breathe, sometimes things are just difficult and we don’t need to go around blaming everyone else for that feeling. It doesn’t have to be your fault, but it’s not necessarily mine either, sometimes life’s just a little difficult.