There we were, sister, stepmom and me, sitting at the table feeling apprehensive, knowing the impending discussion was one we had to have but not excited about any of it. You know “the conversation” with the incredibly hard subject, everyone wanting something different, emotions running high, a lot at stake, and there is no perfect, let alone great outcome in sight.
The time had finally arrived for us to start discussing what to do with dad’s house on the mountain at the lake. I had invested so much time in thinking about it, talking to husband, praying for answers and I still felt uneasy and heavy-hearted. I could feel my throat tightening, wondering if I would even be able to speak when it was my turn.
What I really wanted (want) was the impossible. Even after over two years there are still times when it is feels incredulous that dad is gone and I just want him back and if I can’t have him back then his house should somehow go on just the way it is forever, or at least until I am dead! Reality check or the psychiatric ward for me!
The truth is we are three very strong women who want what we want and have experienced conflict together on a few occasions. We were all dealing with grief, our heart’s desire, and the hard reality realizing that no one is going to get their way completely.
I knew I had been lifted up in prayer. Sister and I had the opportunity to pray together earlier in the day and we both had prayer warriors covering us. Yet, I still struggled with dread and carnal desire for my own way rather than doing the right thing. I yearned for wisdom, for God’s design for this situation rather than my own.
God was so faithful. He was there every step of the way. I could feel the Him take hold of my thoughts so that I was able to genuinely listen to these women whom I love and have compassion for their perspectives rather than spend the time thinking how every word impacted me or my desire. My tongue was held and the Spirit was not grieved.
What was the key to success of this impossible conversation? It was a business model. Sister had the where-with-all to suggest that we approach the hard topics as if in a business meeting. We spent the time working out the parameters or guiding principles, ground rules and objectives before we engaged in any of the impossible. We not only agreed upon them, but wrote them down and referred to them anytime things started heading down the wrong path.
Guiding Principles are those things that are agreed upon as understood for the sake of the conversation so that the discussion doesn’t go around in circles. For example, a couple of ours were that dad loved each of us and we loved him and that we each had a unique relationship with him that was significant. This completely deflates the dad loved me more or dad loved sister or stepmom more or that somehow one relationship was more special than another. It put us on level ground.
Ground Rules may seem obvious but they are important. They are things like actively listen and acknowledge rather than thinking about how this all affects me which disables our ability to continue listening, don’t interrupt, stay on point, etc. You may think this is common courtesy but as you know, in a heated discussion about hard topics common courtesy often jumps right out the window.
Objectives also seems straight forward but we brainstormed, listed and then prioritized and agreed that our final objective would be to set up our next conversation to continue moving forward. It keeps everyone on task which is huge and safer.
It was brilliant. We managed to get through all of our objectives, start some of the projects and end the conversation with a better understanding of each other.
I have sat through countless executive management and board meetings in my life but never really thought to bring the strategies of facilitating those meetings into my personal life. I cannot tell you what a difference it made. I am sad that I did not have that insight during the many “family meetings” that were so one-sided or the impossible conversations with husband that did not go so well.
I am not saying it was perfect. I still had moments of impatience and we had any number of moments that could have gone any way, but love prevailed. While the hard decision is still looming, we were able to voice our thoughts and emotions and deal with a lot of the business that needs to happen whether the house is sold next year or several years down the road.
The two things I took away from all of this are
- A complete, faith-filling affirmation that when we pray for the Spirit to guide and direct us according to His word, to hold our thoughts captive, to be quick to listen and slow to speak, to hold our tongues and to stay present with Jesus in the moment, God is faithful!
- A complete, faith-filling affirmation that laying our worries at the feet of Jesus and resting in Him is a way better choice than taking control and fretting about the impending disaster that often accompanies our taking control.
At the end of the day, what felt like the impossible conversation was successfully achieved. We were able to end in love and joy and, believe me, we definitely patted ourselves on the back and praised God for His strength. I know my dad was smiling.
(If you would like more information on tools we used, please sign up for my free newsletter where I will go into more detail on the model and using it for those challenging conversations in your personal life.)