Interpersonal Communication: Reactions
Regardless of what capacity you entertain in your ministry, somewhere within the context of the whole Church body, you’ve communicated personally with another person. More specifically, you can probably think of a time when you’ve received information or feedback, or where some sort of event occurred that required you to give a reaction. The way we react is neither explicitly poor nor explicitly good, it depends entirely on the context of the situation. Sometimes our reactions can have both an internal component and a different external component, and it’s important we pay attention to that. Perhaps you can remember a time where you’ve reacted to something in one way to conceal how you authentically felt another way, within. The way we react is part of the way we self-regulate our emotions. Reactions are powerful and not only involve our emotions, but also affect those to whom we are reacting. Emerging from our head, our heart, and our intuition, our reactions also have to do with our psychology and our personality. All of this to say, they can make or break an interaction with someone and merit some consideration.
I’d like to tell you a story about a recent time I went through that taught me about regulating negative reactions, and on a deeper level, showed me the things I was missing out on in my ministry because of the way I reacted—or lack thereof.
Speaking candidly, I like to think of myself as a decently self-aware communicator. I’m extroverted, I enjoy working with others, and I pay attention to things happening beneath the surface. However, it wasn’t until recently talking with a friend that I realized something. My friend and I had been discussing the importance of relationship and got on to the topic of awkward moments we’ve had in our respective fields of work. I told her about interactions with people that left me feeling internally… off, uncomfortable, or as though something rubbed me the wrong way. As I reflected on these interactions, I became aware of a trend in my behaviour wherein during those times I felt off, I would sit in the emotion, I’d feel it, I’d ponder it, but not steer the matter nor my feelings toward where they should be. In that moment, I realized I had only been giving half of a reaction.
The word ‘react’ is defined as “to act in response to something; respond in a particular way” (Oxford University Press). To ‘react’ can be considered a compound of both to respond and to act but when we lean in, we can understand the latter part of the word as an invitation, a call to take action; thus, there are two aspects of a reaction: reacting and acting.
You see, I was only reacting without acting in my situations. While working in a ministry context, I was neglecting to turn things toward Jesus. We’re never supposed to just stay where we are by solely reacting, that is, conveying some sort of immediate internal or external emotion. You don’t dwell in that ‘off’ feeling. You take action in a way that demonstrates the nature of Jesus. Ask God about the circumstance, about what you’re feeling, and about the things you have permission to do about it. When we regulate our reaction this way with God, we become aware of the intersection of our human nature and the supernatural Spirit of God that lives inside of us. Romans 8 tells us that the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is by this same Holy Spirit that we can both look to and look more like Jesus when we act.
The Gospels show us tons of ways Jesus reacted and acted to those around him. We see his nature and his behaviour, which often seems counter-cultural to behaviour in the 21st century. Yet, may we take note of these ways. May we take note of Jesus. May we evermore demonstrate him in our reactions and our relationships.