I have wondered when or even whether to write this blog post. Certainly it was going to be difficult to do with the physical fatigue I experienced in the aftermath of getting Covid-19 in late September. That fatigue only lifted in the past few weeks, but still I weighed writing this post. These past months have seen families, friends and even nations having very difficult conversations, ones fraught with at times division and pain. Conversations that often had to be on social media rather than face to face due to the pandemic, which by the very nature of the method meant the possibility of further misunderstanding.
‘Friendly fire’. An expression used particularly in the military that refers to the fire from weapons coming from your own side, causing injury or death and at the least confusion in the heat of battle. There has been much of that in recent months, too much. Friends or families separating due to different political beliefs or views of the world, sometimes lobbing friendly fire at each other. Friendly fire can be even more painful than what comes from enemies. It is often unexpected and has lingering effects like a lack of forgiveness, resentment and bitterness.
For those of you who have read my blog over the last few years, you know that at times I wrote touching on politics, but it was fairly rare. Until June of last year, I even more rarely wrote anything on politics on Facebook or Twitter. But there were some things that happened in the United States political scene having to do with race and nationalism that stirred me to write. Those FB posts in particular prompted many comments, coming from different perspectives on the issue. I do not only have Christian believers on my Facebook, but it is open for all, so there were some very different perspectives!
My desire was to respond with kindness even when someone would write in a very negative way, even against me personally. I generally kept to that standard, though not always to my regret. But some of the comments came from friends and even colleagues, and became very clearly ‘friendly fire’. During the space of the last seven months, I have been publicly or privately called the following names: deceived, disappointing, evil, having an evil influence, blinded, hateful and even worse. What has made it more painful is that these things have been said to me by fellow Christians exclusively, and also primarily by people either presently or formerly in the mission I have served for almost 42 years.
Along with of course shocking me, it also made me ask what could cause such reaction. Often it seemed it was because I was directly or indirectly challenging their political beliefs or convictions with a different opinion. Or even that I was asking a question that could challenge them. ‘Friendly fire’. At times of course not so friendly. But when it is coming from people you have known sometimes for many years it is still surprising. In many of those cases, the person involved and I were able to have really good conversations or dialogue off public social media. Others I do hope for that in time.
What also complicated it was that in late September I got covid, and so would have little bursts of energy to post something followed by day after day of incredible fatigue. You might ask: why did you even write anything? Good question. It was because there were some things or issues that I felt I could not remain silent. I do not regret what I posted. Only at times not understanding how to manage a very vigorous conversation on my page ‘feed’ between incredibly diverse kinds of people and backgrounds. Such is social media, and at times life if we don’t live in our own bubbles.
So how do we survive ‘friendly fire’? How have I survived? The purpose of this post is not for me to play the victim in self-pity, or wallow in my own pain. It is to provide hopefully some constructive points on how to rise above the confusion and pain of friendly fire. I know social media is a very imperfect way to express our convictions or have dialogue. But especially in this past year of covid isolation and lockdowns, it has been one of our only ‘platforms’ to be able to engage in things we care about. It is not for everyone. I understand that fully. Only engage if you have to, if you can’t bear to be silent.
Here are a few simple points on how to ‘survive’ friendly fire. I’m sure you would have your own.
- Search your own heart. Are there people you need to forgive? Things you need to make right? In the heat of the battle, have you lobbed friendly fire at others that you need to ask forgiveness for? Recently on one of my daily walks (when it is not raining here, which is hard to find days like that!) I asked in prayer that if there were people I had offended that it would come to light, so I could make it right.
- Keep your heart soft by following through on those promptings. It is so important to keep a soft heart. Especially in times when friendly fire is going on. Too many relationships have been broken in these months of covid isolation and difficult issues in our nations. Too many stories of families divided in these days. Don’t let your heart get hard towards people, whether they have different political convictions from you or are on another side of an issue.
- Be careful not to become a ‘victim’ or wallow in self-pity. When friendly fire has hit you, and you are tempted to hold a grudge against someone, it is easy to begin to walk in the way of the victim. The victim does not have the grace to reach out generously or with kindness. Self-pity and moralistic self-righteousness may be outwardly attracting the desired sympathy, but inwardly it is ugly and only has a destructive and corrosive influence for our spiritual formation. For me forgiveness and being grateful really helps me to not fall into the victim trap.
- Continue to desire to respond in kindness and generosity to people. This doesn’t mean you can’t share your convictions firmly and at times passionately. I have done that and at times it has been too much or taken wrongly. But we need to make it our intention to love people, to be kind to them. There was someone on social media that had written to me very strongly, actually an extended family member I had only met a couple of times in my whole life. I was tempted to cut them off, but fortunately we were able to have a wonderful conversation privately. We did not convince each other of the issue, but really had a meeting of the hearts.
- Take a ‘pause’ or step back in your hearts, and in your words. This has really helped me at times, especially in the heat of the ‘battle’ or when friendly fire has hit me, or I have sent it and hit others. Make sure again that you really want to say that or write that, maybe put away your device for the night or the day. Check your heart again. Allow your heart to be soft again.
- Make sure the actions of a few don’t color your feelings about a whole group. As most of the friendly fire towards me was coming from certain types of Christian believers or groups, it was easy for me to be tempted to have sweeping feelings of resentments towards those groups. Again, go back to searching your heart and forgive where needed. Victims see groups of people instead of individuals that need to be loved and listened to more intently.
- Don’t give up engaging on issues you are passionate about. When you are wounded, or gun-shy, it can be easy to cancel that social media, go silent, give up in your heart in frustration or anger. Don’t do that. Stay engaged and keep speaking up. I am not going to be silent. But I want to keep learning how I am to speak up. My voice matters. So does yours. Don’t stop speaking.
These are just a few simple points that have helped me. You would have your own list how you have survived. I want to say again that I am not a victim, or living with a heart that is bitter or resentful. I have made mistakes, I have sinned. Where needed I have repented, and will continue to do so as I become aware of the need. But I am happy I’ve spoken up on things I care about. There are still people out there that I will need to have further conversation with in the right time, people I blocked on social media or they blocked me. Probably several I’m not even aware of! With my diverse social media friends, I blocked people at times for comments they made to some of my friends. But there is a time to make those things right.
It has been a crazy few months around the world. We all need to receive grace, and give grace to others.
Time to say no more friendly fire.