Bend like a willow
Bend like a willow….For a long time I used to rely on a wise saying that it is better to bend like a willow than break like a mighty oak….The meaning of this to me was that it was better to surrender in love, truth and humility, to a storm of conflict, than to stand and fight an unwinnable argument, leaving devastation and no real resolution.
Ok, I need a minute for that to soak in. I spent 4 years in high school on the Tournament Speech and Debate Team. My Dad made me take one year of speech, and this was what I thought would be the easiest option – and then I was hooked. I learned tremendous skills of articulation, public speaking, overcoming anxiety, poise, rational thought and most of all, the art of persuasion.
After years of this training, it comes as no surprise that in my marriage and parenting roles, I am always up for an argument. Not one to back down easily – I could go many rounds without relinquishing my opinion or thought pattern. These skills had served me well professionally, but at home I found myself and my husband frustrated and angry much of the time. I was a mighty oak of conviction, even when I may have been wrong.
Then a shift happened. I had some life experiences that crystallized what’s valuable to me, and winning arguments did not make that short list. What I found of value was love above all, acceptance and grace in truth. I realized how flawed we all are, and how crazy our minds work to rationalize our own opinions and defend them at the cost of losing a relationship, or respect, or love and acceptance. I was seeking to be accepted myself – what we all want in our lives – but I was demanding that acceptance through conflict. Something had to change.
So I regarded the Willow Tree. It’s a graceful, flexible and beautiful creature that literally does bend with the strong winds that blow against it. It is in this flexibility that the willow finds its strength. Its roots grow in a shallow but wide network near water to support the trunk when the strong winds blow. I became like the willow. I learned that, in surrendering my will, my opinions, and my readiness to argue over to our Father, I could begin to grow my roots wider in His wisdom and learn to foster relationships, even through conflict.
What Jesus taught me is to regard my husband and children as His children, seeking the same thing I am, namely love and acceptance and grace in truth. If I take a moment to step out of my emotions while in the midst of a conflict and seek to understand the opposing point of view, I find myself calmer and more loving rather than unbending and stoic. Then, I find that the conflict quickly resolves. You know what really works? Admitting I am wrong, or could be wrong, and asking for more information from the other person. Personal barriers fall, compassion rises and we find we are on more common ground.
My hope is that as I grow deeper in my faith that I practice and strengthen my ability to bend like the willow, so I may endure and strengthen through the storms in life.