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  • Writer's pictureJayma Anne Montgomery

When Nice Becomes Unkind

Updated: Mar 29

I haven't blogged in over five months. This wasn't intentional, but a natural byproduct of needing to, once again, examine my motives, do some internal work, and get my house in order. I have had tons to say, but not on this particular medium. I have been writing regularly even though I also took the winter quarter off from my creative writing program.

By carefully digging through the rubble of the quiet chaos that has been my life for several years now (I say quiet, because I rarely shout about anything, even my distress), I am beginning to see converging themes and lessons emerge out of seemingly unrelated things. The storms will always find us, no matter where we hide or how we fortify our houses. But the storm itself is neither a force for good or for evil. It's an element of chaos that devastates the reliable order of life that we humans rely on so heavily to give us purpose. How we weather the tornados, hurricanes, and blizzards, whether sudden or expected, is what matters in the end. Rather than evacuate, I am learning to shelter in place and rebuild my life with the things that are still standing.

Man! It feels so good to wax philosophically poetic right now!!!

Allow me to unpack the parallels I am seeing between two such tempests right now. Fasten those seatbelts, folks.

My lovely little Anglican church is flawed. I knew this walking into the double glass doors that glowed warm and welcoming three years ago but now its clearly on display. Due to a series of complex and slowly unveiled set of circumstances, our dear pastor was placed on administrative leave by our bishops, which then became disciplinary a few months later. Things ultimately concluded with a highly emotional resignation from his post after 17 faithful years of service to our church and a string of broken hearts.

The response to this has been all over the map--anger, disbelief, anguish, confusion, finger-pointing--you name it. Divisions were solidified and opposing factions organized faster than you can sing the Sunday morning Doxology.

Meanwhile, more than a decade of simmering tensions between my parents, my husband, and I boiled over. Deep wounds that had gone unaddressed began to eat away at my husband and me, causing us to protect ourselves by any means necessary from their unknown, repeated nudging of these tender places. We started speaking up about things we didn't agree with, didn't like, and would no longer tolerate in the relationship. My husband was so unflinchingly honest at one point, that it caused my parents to retreat to a deafening silence, lash out weeks later, and then retreat again.

Here comes the point of convergence. Politeness and niceties can be very harmful in relationships that are meant to be deeper and in situations that are not conducive to emotionally charged confrontations. Social graces that are intended to maintain pleasant interactions between strangers and acquaintances certainly are necessary. In difficult situations with colleagues, neighbors you only know in passing, and distant family, keeping things on a surface level makes sense. Biting your tongue during a backyard barbeque, a dinner party, or a public event can often be helpful. It might not be the right time or place to address that issue.

But when it comes to the local family GOD to which we belong and our closest family members, is politeness and surface pleasantries what we are truly called to?

I wonder what would have become of my pastor if longstanding members of our church had not approached him with their concerns. No one foresaw this outcome and no one, including those who brought those concerns, desired it. It's easy to draw a straight line from the moment things were made public to the point that our Pastor resigned and conclude that those individuals were on a witchhunt to force him out of the church.

However, when the results of the pastoral (non)investigation conducted by bishops unacquainted with the day-to-day happenings of our congregation and who clearly love our pastor, concluded that there was significant pastoral impairment at play, that argument really doesn't hold up. Perhaps maintaining a polite relationship with our leader, where we ignore or pretend away legitimate trends in his behavior isn't so much a posture of love as it is a posture of ease. We might have convinced ourselves that because he is an otherwise great person and the church is growing that it would be wrong or selfish to rock the boat. Fast forward 15-20 years later and we wind up with a huge scandal involving moral failure or financial indiscretion. We look around at each other wondering, how did we get here? We got there because we chose to value comfort and ease over holding our pastor accountable for the small errors and misjudgments that have been accumulating over the years.

My husband pointing out to my parents the lack of closeness in their relationship (through no fault of his) was received as mean-spirited and nasty. Me pointing out insensitive comments and refusing to tolerate politically motivated and/or erroneous rants caused them to believe I hated them. "Some things you don't just say, " we have been told. "We feel dishonored and disrespected," was another emphatic comment. I can't help but ask in response to both statements, "why is that?"

Love does not always feel good. Allowing someone I care about to wrongly assume that there aren't issues between us for the sake of appearances is dishonest. Allowing my loved ones to behave badly and repeatedly hurt people without drawing their attention to it isn't kind.  Niceness gets us into trouble. It can cause us to stay silent when someone is violating our boundaries. It can teach us to misrepresent our true feelings to one another. It can foster ingenuine relationships between people that ultimately dissolve or unravel over time because they cannot uphold anything of substantial weight. Misplaced "niceness" is what caused my parents to believe that there was no residual conflict between them and my husband, meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, my husband was imploding from all of the pretense.

Love sometimes requires that we step on each other's toes, especially if it will prevent that person from blindly walking into an electric fence.

I won't speak for anyone else, but know that if I bother to take the hard, uncomfortable road in our relationship then it's because our relationship is meaningful to me, and being authentic is far more important to me than being nice.

Are there any relationships in your life that you would like to see move past the point of niceties? Contemplate those people and count the costs of moving forward or remaining right where you are in that relationship. I dare you.

Prov 27: 6 (AMP) Faithful are the wounds of a friend [who corrects out of love and concern], but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful [because they serve his hidden agenda].

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