Relational Silence That Sabotages or Restores

As a counsellor and a champion for peacemaking, I find there are two noteworthy kinds of silence that occur within conflict. One is very dynamic, but the other is very destructive.

We have all engaged in both types. But we are not all yet characterised for the application of the dynamic type.

Destructive silence leads to frustration, anger and despair.

Dynamic silence leads to hope, healing and restoration.

The destructive silence is that which occurs when conflict cannot be resolved, and either the conflict is swept under the carpet, or it produces passive aggressiveness in one or both people. This latter form of the destructive silence is particularly problematic, because one or both get involved in manipulating the other, and it is not unusual for a pattern of abuse or toxic relationship to form. The former kind, whilst it is understandable, and incredibly common to the family experience of so many, ensures that poorly negotiated conflict negates the opportunity that well negotiated conflict presents.

If we insist nothing gets resolved, then we insist that at least one person stays frustrated, and that can never be good, and it certainly isn’t demonstrative of love.

One person’s insisted-upon silence,

(their silence of control)

is never an action of love.

Many people do need time

to reflect and recover,

however, they ideally reinitiate

without their partner thinking

they’ve been abandoned.

Some people, indeed some couples, have no frame of reference around dealing with conflict in the safe way. Their families of origin gave them little to work on and were perhaps either violent or denying when conflict around the home got hot.

But if relationships have any hope there must be a commitment to work through conflict – to believe that conflict is an opportunity. But conflict can only be an opportunity if wise and loving minds apply mutual submission by each getting the log out of their own eye. And, as a husband in an egalitarian marriage, counselling marriage partners to apply egalitarian principles, I ask the husband to lead by example. I guess I do this because I acknowledge that, in many cases, wives are already doing it better. (I do concede this is not always the case.)

If the destructive silence turns bitter, one or both engaged in it don’t look like they’re hurt by the conflict, but it can simmer for hours, days, weeks, forever. It is children in the home that particularly notice it.

When nothing gets resolved,

nobody has any peace.

A silence that fails to resolve conflict,

only serves to infuriate all parties.

But I want a focus on the dynamic kind of silence.

The form of relational silence I want to focus on is that cherished moment when one or both cease to argue, where they both sit in the awkward silence and ponder what could be from what is.

It takes one to initiate

what both need: silence.

For those who believe in God, those who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, there may be faith enough to trust that more said is not necessarily better said. There must come a time when hostilities cease; a time when the spirit of a soul surrenders its strong desire (the desire that has become a demand) for its own way. If one is content to sit in silence oftentimes the other is content, also.

Desires taken too far become demands,

and when demands aren’t met,

the person judges the other person,

and then punishes them.

In these moments, a wise couple or good friends or co-workers or parents with their children, may sense the opportunity to look inward, to enquire why their desires have become demands, and to also become curious about what the other person’s realistic desires are.

The only hope two have

of winning in conflict

is if both win.

If one wins, both lose.

That’s certainly the way

that negotiators see it.

This dynamic variety of silence has the power of God about it. There is a much bigger chance that true resolution and reconciliation can take place from the safer ground of the ceasefire.

There is a time for silence,

but silence should never be weaponised.

**This article does not include situations of abuse. Peacemaking does not apply in situations of abuse.

My Irregular Relationship With Compassion Fatigue

I must say, that what still comes very much without warning, I still find hard to deal with, but I know in being honest I can trust my method.

I have an irregular relationship with compassion fatigue, in that I feel I am sucked dry of empathy at times to the point where I have nothing left. Times like this I’m irrational in what I say, I complain, and I can’t quite seem to find space and outlet for recovery. It is generally the night’s sleep that brings me out of it.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that a fellow pastor shared with me how hazardous pastoral work is that I realised the gauntlet we pastors run. We work with sinners. We are sinners. We are in an environment to provide care, but the truth is we ourselves are not always taken care of; we are not always paragons of health. People come to church expecting to get their care, and when our lives are full to the brim with these relationships our tanks easily run dry.

Workers whose primary function

it is to provide care,

need a developed understanding

for how compassion fatigue

works in them.

Whenever I experience compassion fatigue it always feels like spiritual attack, because the spirituality I can normally rely on seems absent. It is as if God’s Presence has been drawn away. I know God is close, but only because I know, because I cannot feel Him. This feeling of spiritual attack comes in the mode of chaos, much like the sensory overload people with autism experience. Every sound is amplified, bumps in the road are particularly annoying, my thinking is dull, I don’t feel empathetically like I normally do, and my hope goes out the window. Everything feels like a test. Yet God is with me to the extent of wisdom; counselling me to guard my heart, be patient, and seek release into peace.

Whenever I experience compassion fatigue it’s as if my spiritual engine is sputtering and stalling, because although there are still little glimpses of care and love, intermingled with them are moments where I cannot muster any hope, or any motive of care.

I’ve learned to trust my method, because this kind of experience has been normal for me since I approached burnout in 2005. This irregular relationship I have with compassion fatigue is God’s warning to me, to heed the time to withdraw, to recover and replenish spiritual stores.

Self-care requires self-awareness, honesty and courage,

because to drive ahead nonchalantly is self-destruction.

Even as I reengage cognitively, allowing my mind to focus without the presence of emotional stimuli, I am able to gain confidence that I am ‘normal’ once again. I need to let my heart rest; to stop feeling. And to reduce the noise.

It is very disconcerting to feel the bottom fall out of our spirituality, just as it is scary for loved ones to see us disempowered. What feels like freefall is arrested, but only with rest and in faith that what works, works, and that we just need to do it.

I would be the first person to say that I am weak, and that the gospel encourages me, that, in being weak, I am strong in the Lord Jesus, but only when I surrender my denial and my resentment of the problem to Him.

Compassion fatigue comes through

being drained of empathy.

What I’ve found

is I’ve had to find

what works in restoring my soul.

This irregular relationship with compassion fatigue thankfully only occurs in a kind of monthly cycle. God can quickly show me how much I rely on encouragement, and how easily affected I am being discouraged. Although God knows we need it, encouragement ought to be a nice by-product of ministry, and should never be what we do ministry for. And we do need to find ways of dealing with the inevitable discouragements that come. But ultimately compassion fatigue comes through being drained of empathy.