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Chaplain's Corner

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Letting Go

4 Nov 2022 | Lt. Michael Bowen Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

We have all seen it, the relative who never seems to mature. The friend who continually makes excuses and somehow slips the noose before facing real consequences. The coworker who can’t seem to perform or appear on time, but receives pass after pass from bosses who avoid conflict and fear rocking the boat. What fuels this behavior, and what is the caring and neighborly response we ought to render, even when we want to pull our hair out in frustration?

I often reference Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve, in my work as a chaplain and officer. It is a book about “leadership in the age of the quick fix,” when it is much easier to fix than to lead. Friedman provides a treatment for those members of our teams and families who continually fail to perform and risk the productivity of the whole, indeed the success of the mission: He says the only way we can help people to grow is to increase our tolerance for their pain.

As a leader, I have seen this principle work on all levels. From parenting a kindergartener to supervising a professional or holding a peer accountable, Friedman’s word is law. Why would the child pick up the toy if she knows dad will just do it for her? Why would the employee show up on time if there will never be a negative counseling? Too many times we shield consequences from others, thinking we are helping them or showing them empathy. Instead, we stunt their growth!

As a Chaplain and man of faith, I believe the principle holds as well. As minister in the tradition of the Churches of Christ, I strive to follow the teaching and example of Jesus. Could there be anyone more helpful, anyone who showed more empathy? In my opinion, there could not. The Son of God who sacrificed his life for the very world he made takes the prize for empathy.

And yet, he had a high tolerance for peoples’ pain. He invited everyone he met to follow him, and some did. But when others made excuses and did not follow him, he allowed them to walk away (See Matthew 19:16-30). Perhaps with a broken heart, probably with great regret for their choice, but he allowed others to fall. Maybe it was the only way for them to grow.

I wonder if we are walking in his example? I need to ask myself, “Who am I protecting from pain, and is my protection really helping them?” Maybe the most gracious, Christ-like, empathetic thing I can do is to let them go and entrust them to a Higher Power.

The Chaplain’s Corner covers everything faith related. Facts not attributed are purely the opinion of the writer.