My mama used to use a phrase: “walking on eggshells.” Do people still say this? Having moved around so much, I’m not always sure what is true vernacular and what is just my family or my generation. I may not know the origins or journey of the phrase, but we all knew what Mama meant. She meant one of us was being too sensitive, resulting in her needing to tread carefully. When she said it, she let us know she felt the environment was unstable, and that one wrong move could make someone (or some situation) fall to pieces.
A similar, though slightly more graphic phrase: walking through a minefield.
That time I almost stepped on a landmine…
In 1998 I moved to Bosnia as an intern with CrossWorld (UFM International, it was called back then). This was a church-planting mission built on the foundation of humanitarian aid and the practice of loving our neighbors. The war had ended just two years earlier, but evidence of it remained everywhere. You could see it not just in the pock-marked buildings or damaged infrastructure, but in the people as well. Reconstruction takes time. Governments, buildings, and property can be restored much quicker than human hearts and minds.
In some sections of the city or the surrounding countryside we would find mine tape. You know the yellow CAUTION tape law enforcement or construction workers might use? Picture that but with MINE written across it. Far more sinister than the seagulls of Finding Nemo, this marked property where they suspected landmines had been buried. They had not yet had the opportunity or resources to sweep the field. To make things a bit more dangerous, there wasn’t always enough tape to circle the suspected area.
I remember walking with a friend one day when she suddenly stopped. Thinking only of the photo I wanted to capture and how to position myself right to get it, I took five or six more steps up the hill before turning toward her.
“Mina.” The Bosnian word for landmine.
She needn’t say anything more. She stared in the direction I had walked, her feet cemented to their spot as fear filled her features. As awareness filled me, I slowly backed up, surrendering all cares about photography. We never walked that way again.
Parenting teenagers is hard. Some days we’re walking on eggshells and other days we’re traversing minefields. Some days, like this weekend, we’re doing both in a matter of hours.
Let’s be honest: this doesn’t apply only to parenting teenagers. We could say the same about raising toddlers. Or sustaining high-maintenance friendships. Or attempting a political discussion in any sector of America.
We could blame hormones or stress or social climate. We could blame education, communication skills, or even incomplete discipleship. I’m not a psychologist and, while I believe we often have very good explanations for what triggers us, I’m not interested in diving into those root causes today. Rather, I want to just talk about our reactions.
Believe it or not, we do have a choice in how we respond. We can decide to be the eggshell, the mine, or the foot.
The eggshell is delicate, easily broken. This would be the person who gets crushed under pressure. If confronted or (seemingly) threatened, this person will crumble emotionally, likely internalize the situation, and deepen her insecurities. She’ll collapse on herself. She may become sharp, poking here and there in her pain, but mostly she allows the impact of whatever force comes against her to destroy her.
The mine, like the eggshell, can be tremendously sensitive, but the effects go out rather than in. This person often seems fine on the surface. A lot can happen around him, and the ground may appear stable, but if you hit just the right spot with just the right pressure, he’ll explode. The reaction may end just as suddenly as it begins, but the damage goes far and wide, sometimes inadvertently setting off other nearby mines with their own spheres of destruction.
You might think that the problem in all these situations is what’s underfoot. Maybe. Maybe not.
The eggshell is responsible for her reactions.
The mine is responsible for his reactions.
The foot is responsible for where it steps and how hard it stomps.
And all three can take some responsibility for clean-up.
So which one are you? And what will you do about it?
- Are you fragile to the point of having your personal worth damaged easily by the words and steps of others?
- Do you appear safe, but then explode at simple, but specific provocation, often hurting others around you?
- Are you careful about how you approach others? Do you stomp around like you own the world and everyone else can just deal with it?
You may be all three, choosing a primary mode in different seasons or situations.
Now, I don’t really like suggesting that we “ARE” any of these. It’s a metaphor. We are not defined by our reactions, but by who God says we are. This is just an exercise to evaluate the choices we make. Because we do have choices.
The point isn’t which metaphor fits best, but what we do about it.
“A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”Proverbs 15:3 (NET)
“Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”Philippians 2:3–4 (NET)
How might we apply these verses to situations that find us underfoot? What about situations we (unintentionally or purposefully) provoke?
We can opt for the gentle answer. We can give the benefit of doubt. We can employ words and compassion that deescalate or even diffuse a potentially volatile engagement.
We don’t always do these things, but WE CAN.
Good news: one reaction doesn’t need to destroy everything. We can prioritize healing, for ourselves and those around us. May we promote peace and communication. May we pursue understanding and unity.
Remember, unity doesn’t mean we must agree on all matters. It simply means we favor the relationship over the issue. It means we value the person more than winning the argument.
Let us exude grace with patience. Let us be known by our love for one another.