During these last 7 days, it feels like the landscape of life has drastically changed on a daily, even hourly, basis! From postponed plans and cancelled school to overcrowded grocery stores, things are quickly and dramatically changing.
With all the rapid changes unsettling and changing our daily circumstances, it is easy to fall into what Dr. Jim Wilder calls enemy mode.
In enemy mode, we can see those around us as a burden rather than a blessing, or worse yet, as a threat. Not only can this shift in perspective happen with those we don’t know well–the freaked-out person who bought the last of the toilet paper, or the young, healthy person who is flippantly walking around with nothing to fear, ignoring guidelines and exposing those at risk–but it can also happen in our home.
I don’t know about you, but my home life looks different right now with my kids home for the next 4 weeks from school. When I first heard the news, I felt a mixture of excitement and dread.
My sons have amazing teachers who are working with us to continue school through “at-home-learning” over this extended break. Yesterday, we were working through the lesson plans the teachers sent home, and we quickly ran into conflicts. “Mommy, this isn’t how we do things in class!” and, “You are doing it all wrong!” were frequent comments from my sons as I tried to fill in as their at-home teacher.
Patience on both sides quickly wore thin, and before we realized it, everyone was slipping out of relational mode. The worst moment came when we were working on spelling words. My son misspelled the word “enemy.” I asked him to write ”enemy” four more times in order to practice the correct spelling. The last time he wrote “Mommy is my ENEMY” in big red letters on his whiteboard.
I realized we had all hit our limit. I knew it was time for some quiet in our rooms to read or to rest. As I walked my sons into their rooms, my one son was still very angry with me. We exchanged a few more words, then he threw a stuffed animal. I ended the interaction saying, “My relational circuits are off, and I am going to my room so I can get them back on. Your RCs are also off, and it is your responsibility to get back into relational mode, and it is your job to avoid destroying things when you are mad.”
After a few minutes of quieting myself and getting back to relational mode myself, I went to check on my son. I apologized for snapping at him, then I expressed my sadness that he was so distressed by our interaction that he felt I was his enemy. We were able to repair, then we returned to our quiet times.
When the whole family is thrust into sharing space for 24 hours a day, for days on end, the result is a rapid-moving current where we can easily push each other’s buttons, where it is all-too-easy to fall out of relational mode and into enemy mode. So what should we do? Here are some practical steps to try:
- Notice if you are in relational mode.
- If you are not in relational mode, take steps for restoration.
- Interact with Jesus to receive His peace so you stay grounded in your interactions.
- Share the language of relational mode with those around you, and give them permission to point out when you slip into enemy mode.
- Reflect on the things, people, and moments you appreciate when you notice you are beginning to feel “crispy.”
- Tell your family what you appreciate about them and build some joy together.