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You People, Emotional Triggers and The Fear of Confrontation

freedom

I was happily preparing for my cooking class last Wednesday night when my husband began sharing with me a conversation he had with our pastor. Among the things discussed, he touched on the fact that I had said something offensive last Sunday in front of the entire congregation.

It wasn’t anything I had prepared to share instead; it was one of those things God spontaneously pressed me to communicate. It was something compelling, that happened at church, some months prior, and I felt led and safe enough to stand up without permission and share.

The topic of what I shared wasn’t the issue. My unfamiliarity with trigger words for my primarily black church family, however, evidently took the emphasis off the miracle that I was sharing. I later learned that my words stung my brothers and sisters in Christ, unbeknownst to me.

The miracle that I was referring to was likely impossible to occur in the days of segregation. My joy over the lack of discrimination and the unity that I feel led me to (inappropriately) emphasize my point. What I meant was: “Look what Our God has done! Look how far we have all come! This is nothing short of a miracle!”

In emphasizing the power of the Holy Spirit in my church family and God’s sovereign choice to accomplish what previously seemed impossible in that community of believers, I referred to my church family as “You people.”

words matter

To me, I meant, ‘You people’ who, and certainly whose ancestors, have suffered great injustices in the United States. You sacred people who have withstood great trials and come through with dignity and ‘you people’ whom I love more than any other body of Christ, as evident by my presence here week after week, and courage to stand up and share. My love of this body of believers is so apparent to me; it never crossed my mind that anything coming out of my mouth would wound a single soul there.

My husband lovingly communicated the message of my error from the understanding heart of my pastor. My husband gently shared, “He doesn’t want you to change, or apologize, but some people were upset by you saying, “you people,” and he wants to talk with you about it on Sunday.”

Now to share with you some areas of irrational reactions that stem from somewhere deep inside my soul, and my need to continue to heal in specific areas, so that I can handle such things more maturely, is why I am going to be candid with my reaction to the news that I hurt someone unintentionally.

Despite the softness that encircled the truth that I was suddenly aware of, it felt like a needle pricking a full water balloon, as I burst into tears. There is a particular pain I get in my chest, when I feel deep regret for something I have said or done, unintentionally that has hurt another person. (This tenderness was accessed and exploited to intentionally hurt me in my emotionally abusive former marriage.)

My first thought was that I couldn’t ever return to that church. I had inadvertently hurt my family, in church nonetheless; ‘they won’t ever want me there again,’ I listened to the devil.

I am inviting you into a sacred space in my soul where you can see how I might react to the trigger of wounding another person. We all have triggers. My reaction was raw and irrational, but I am dissecting it so that rather than attempt to micromanage everything I say or do, I might learn to grow where I am planted and not flee discomfort. I believe there are others who know what it feels like to need to escape a situation rather than address it.

Instead of running away from my church family I needed to face the issue head-on. With the love and support of my husband, the grace of God and my desire to mature, my response came from a calmer place. A few days later, after some time with God and of course the all-important ‘big girl panties’ I mustered up the courage to go back to church and hear first-hand from my pastor, why calling my church family “you people” was so offensive. Truthfully, he couldn’t say why, but it was something I needed to know not to repeat. He let me know that when I said it, many people in the room went from hearing the miracle God had done to feeling the effects of the emotional trigger, I had just unknowingly shot their way.

I deeply regret what happened, yet I am thankful for the learning edge that I received as a result.

Romans 8:28 (KJV)
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Learning Points:

  • Words can be like sharp knives driving deeply into flesh and leaving lifelong scars. The idea that I, as an inspiring communicator had offended people with my words, albeit unintentionally, was utterly devastating to me.
  • Loved ones have accused me of being too sensitive and not being able to handle criticism. Clearly, these are accurate statements. However, it is much more receivable when it comes from a loving place of, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but I need to share with you how this sounded to some people.”

I am increasingly aware of my weakness. My instinct is to flee, to hide and start over, rather than face the lesson that my pastor needed to communicate to me. My pastor knows my heart, more than almost anyone, I was confident he knew I meant no harm. I also knew as an adult I needed to show up so he could relay a message to me. I wanted to run the other way, as to not have to face my mistake.

I listened to the Word of God (on audible) and let The Holy Spirit bring up what I had hidden in my heart. God reminded me that what I said stemmed from His pressing me to share a miracle, unannounced in the middle of our service. I did not feel shame or guilt for what I said. I was clear in my heart that ‘you people coming’ out of my mouth in that context was a remarkably enduring comment. I was reminded that though satan wanted to use this for evil, God would use it for good.

I thought about the lessons I had learned over the years on my yoga mat.

When things get painful and uncomfortable, don’t release the pose but breathe into the discomfort until you can bear it better. It makes you stronger, more flexible and healthier.

In the future, we will explore confrontation and emotional triggers. I hope what I have shared has resonated with you. I suppose watching me admit, address and uncomfortably confront my fears and regrets, will inspire you to grow in a similar space in your life.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • I love this Charlotte! Thank you for your vulnerability to give us permission to not only recognize our own shortcomings but a roadmap in how to receive feedback in a loving way.

  • Thank you for sharing this Charlotte. I so appreciate your honesty and transparency. I relate so well to so many of your writings. I recently went through something where my reaction was a tearful meltdown…something so deep within me was shattered to the point of grief, wracking sobs that lasted for hours. I feel I am so strong in the Lord, yet there is a place inside of me that is so tender…even raw, so much so that when triggered, I want to run and hide. Quit.
    Thankfully I know to turn to Jesus, but it can take me a while to really settle down enough to hear His voice calming my soul. Your words are so beautifully descriptive and I know how you were feeling in that moment. I love how you faced it head on, with both courage and humility.
    When things get painful and uncomfortable, I need to breathe into the discomfort until I can bear it better. I needed this lesson. These very words. My deepest pain comes through those I love the most. I am too sensitive and I even become nervous that I’ll say or do something that will trigger something hurtful from them and in response go into that dark place of grief.
    I’m going to write down your words and keep them with me as I travel and spend time with my family this Thanksgiving. I want to be strong in Christ and to finally be able to move forward to a place where that sensitivity and fear is a thing of the past. We are always learning and growing and I thank you again for allowing God to use your life to encourage others.
    💞

    • Charlotte Ramsey Chaney says:

      thank you so much for sharing. It helps me keep moving forward in my calling It is nice to know we are not alone.

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