Have you ever been in conflict and not known what to do? Some men like a fight, some avoid it at all costs. Too many of us drop the ball during a conflict. But first, let’s look at the bigger picture.
When I taught a marriage class at Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, I held up a 10-inch playground ball and said, “This ball is going to teach you about the deep mysteries of life, relationships, marriage and the Trinity.” Yes, I went big. I threw the ball back and forth with volunteers in each class. I asked them what they learned about the Trinity from this. They understood immediately that it reflected mutual self-giving, or extending and receiving, between the Father and the Son, which becomes the Holy Spirit. I explained that the body speaks this same language in sex — males extend and females receive, bringing forth new life — babies and/or bonding.
The infinite and primordial liturgies
Extending and receiving is the basic movement of life and love. This movement within the Trinity I called the “infinite liturgy,” defining liturgy as a ritual and routine that communicates love and creates communion. God uses liturgy to remind us who we are in God, to form our identity — think the liturgies of creation, the seventh day and the Mass.
On a psychological level this movement is seen in all our communication, starting with hello. “Hello,” is an extending; and if the other replies “Hello,” the cycle, the liturgy, is complete, bringing new life to the relationship. Deeper exchanges increase both our risk and rewards, while no response causes a little death. Since our human extending and receiving was from the beginning, in the garden, it could be called the “primordial liturgy.”
In the domestic Church, the family, the primordial liturgy is our expression of love and the bedrock of our identity. Without love, St. John Paul II says our lives become senseless and incomprehensible. Without love, we live in fear. Even more, these liturgies are the very structure and movement of love, which casts out fear. In fact, I think this extending and receiving should be the foundation of all spirituality, especially a lay spirituality — the micro-level of St. Therese’s little way. Families should not imitate a monastic spirituality, carving out hours of time for prayer and feeling like failures when life interferes. Instead, what if every interpersonal exchange, where extending and receiving is completed, is considered a prayer and a gift, directly reflecting the Trinity’s love? That’s a liturgy we could practice all day long.
Fear, the ball and bad liturgy
In the class, I talked more about fear, explaining that while love moves us towards others, fear moves us towards ourselves. St. Augustine says sin curves us back in on ourselves. I then demonstrated our fear reactions of fight, flight and freeze, or as we call them in our counseling practice, tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert mode. When my volunteers threw me the ball, I smacked it to the ground — tantruming on the receiving side. And I faked a hard throw that made the first rows jump — another tantrum, but on the extending side.
Next, my volunteers threw me the ball, and I caught it and walked away. This was pouting/withdrawing, or flight. Expert mode happens when one person has a wonderful solution for the other person (extending), but the other is not interested (not receiving). To represent this, when they threw me the ball three times, I let it hit my chest and fall to the ground. Teasing, I told the kids I was sure they never did this to their parents.
The tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert modes are fear responses and always disrupt the primordial liturgy. They are Satan’s plan for relationships and illustrate the literal meaning of his names: Satan — to accuse, and devil/diablo—to separate.
Conflict: rally ball vs. pingpong
In conflict, we tend to forget love — the extending and receiving — and respond in fear. We “drop the ball” in some way. The primordial liturgy is disrupted. We start playing pingpong, where we try to outsmart the other person to win. But rally ball is the model needed during a conflict, where the object is to keep the ball going back and forth as long as possible. If the ball is dropped, you simply start over. The ideal in conflict is to receive the other’s hostility with empathy while not allowing yourself to be destroyed. But sometimes this can be difficult, and you may need to end the argument with, “I am too upset to continue this conversation,” so you don’t move into pingpong. More on this in upcoming articles.
The Trinity, with its extending and receiving, the infinite liturgy, is the new foundation for a lay spirituality. Reflecting the Trinity in the primordial liturgy of the domestic Church can make every interaction between persons a connection with God. Men, radiate the Father’s love by living the extending and receiving in your families — and keep the ball in play, even in conflict.
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