Tuesday, 16 March 2010


There's power in slamming down the phone...power to cut off in mid-sentence the one who is speaking to you...power to have the last word in any conversation...denying the other all opportunity to make a reply. "I have nothing more to say to you. I'm not interested in anything you might say to me." This certainly brings an abrupt and violent end to a conversation! It's a sign one of us has been pushed too far and is not prepared to take any more verbal attacks or insults. Usually this results from a flaming row, when vicious things are said, which often we don't really mean.

It's quite a shock when someone slams down the phone on us. We may well wonder what has hit us, and, self-righteously, try to justify what we said. Or we may feel full of remorse and wish we'd been more temperate in our language, more understanding and patient. And if we've slammed down the phone we will have dire thoughts about the person at the other end of the line being impossible and unreasonable.

Certainly it's a painful situation. Both parties feel aggrieved and resentful. They feel misunderstood and hurt. Slamming down the phone has broken off communication. If the friendship means anything to us we will feel a great sense of loss. If we're responsible for the breakdown we will feel guilty for causing so much pain. And if we're the one who has been hurt and pushed so far as to cut the phone call short we may regret that we didn't handle the situation better. Perhaps we could have defused the tension. If we're honest, we'll probably have to admit that we added fuel to the fire by hitting back with hurtful words. Rarely is one person entirely guilty or innocent in such situations.

No matter who's responsible, we all want to heal the wounds we've inflicted or suffered. Deep down we hate the tension of conflict and want to be at peace with someone who is dear to us. That can only be done by one of us picking up the phone and re-establishing contact.

I've found it's best not to stand on my pride. It doesn't really matter whether or not I was responsible for the breakdown in communication. It's worth my while to make the first move at bridge-building. I should pick up the phone, and if I was at fault, should apologise. And if I have been wronged and hurt then I should be generous in forgiving. Mercy given and received is the only way of restoring damaged relationships. Hopefully we will realise that the longer we cling onto our grievances the more they are likely to grow and we will become more entrenched in our bitterness. Everyone benefits if we waste no time in our efforts at peacemaking.

With phone-slamming on my mind I wondered how God reacts when we offend Him. Sometimes, when we get exasperated with God we cut him off -especially if we blame him for all the suffering in the world, and perhaps in our own lives. In contrast, God never loses patience with us and breaks off communications. He is like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who watches and waits for his wayward son to return. Or He makes the first move to seek out the lost sheep. Because His love is everlasting He is always merciful. His love for us is steadfast, not brittle and fickle. While God has the resilience to take the knocks we lose our cool and slam down the phone.

In his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 5) Paul tell us that in Christ we become a new creation. In Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us, and giving us the ministry of reconciliation. Though He was the injured innocent party, God in Christ made the first move in healing our relationship with Him, damaged by our sins. And He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Like Christ, we are to be peacemakers, whether or not we are innocent or guilty.

From reflecting on fraught telephone conversations I have learnt that God handles such situations in a much more positive way than we do. I must learn to be like Him and not slam down the phone and break off communications. And if they have broken down, I must again be like God in making the first move in repairing the damage. Like God, I must always be eager to accept an apology. But unlike God, I sometimes have to make peace by taking up the phone and saying, "Sorry."

And if I get so exasperated with God that I stop communicating with Him I can only meet him again in loving friendship if I stop sulking and start listening and talking to Him. And the sooner the better, since my petulance is only harming me, not Him.

Incidentally, I do get annoyed when someone dials the wrong number and puts down the phone without apologising. To me, that is downright bad manners!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on Meeting God through "My Weary Ways."

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