When I’m engaging with others (and when they engage with me), I’m usually trying to get something from them. This sounds terrible, but I think it’s true. It could be as crude as a physical favour – say, the loan of money. More common is a dynamic so subtle that even I may not even recognise it. And it’s this:
I want people to respond to me in a certain way. I want them to affirm me, or to validate the way in which I want to see myself. To respond to me with interest, to laugh at my jokes, to listen, to do things that make me feel better (or worse) about myself. This desire – and my attempts to get what I think I need from others, is my ‘pull’. (I get the phrase from Larry Crabb – I don’t think “pulling” means the same in America as it does in the UK!)
But this is where it gets complicated. You see, I’m not the only one with a pull. In fact, we’ve all got one. This means that at any given time, in any interaction, there’ll be lots of ‘pulls’ going on – some of which will be conflicting, and many invisible to the human eye. This helps explain why some conversations leave us feeling like we’ve been silently assassinated – even though nothing negative has actually been said. You may recognise it in dealings with what are known as ‘frenemies’ – ‘friends’ who have a gift for undermining and deflating us, though never in so many words. Or how about the tactic of ‘hoovering?’ This is a metaphor used to describe how an abuse victim, trying to leave or limit contact in a dysfunctional relationship, gets “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily shows improved behaviour.
‘Pulling’ happens too, with those we love. Warring pulls are why occasions such as Christmas can be so stressful as well as enjoyable. Even if no-one actually says anything bad, the complexities of family life are all too obvious – from hissy fits to sulking and martyred silence. Surely I’m not the only person who regresses into a sulky teen at the first sign of tinsel..?
Romans 13 verse 14 says, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” As I enter a conversation or social situation, I’m reminded not to clothe myself in ‘charm’ or ‘beauty’ or ‘niceness’ or ‘shyness’ or ‘intelligence’ or ‘wit’, but in Him. He is my identity. And He is what other people are meant to pick up from me. Instead, I often forget the Jesus-clothing and throw my energies into my agenda, my ‘pull.’
Next time you’re engaging with others, why not consider what your ‘pull’ might be. What are you trying to get from them? How are you doing this? In what ways are you responding to or resisting their ‘pull’? It may not be a bad thing. Or you may find, that like me, too many interactions are driven by insecurity, instead of peace. From a desire to manipulate and take, rather than the identity that frees us up to give and to bless.
Thank God for grace!