I’m thinking of developing a new messaging app.
The distinctive feature of the app is that it won’t let you reply to an upsetting text until you’ve waited 20 minutes. Then you have to reply. I’ll market it to three different types of people: 1) The Reactionaries – those who fire off angry replies, which they later regret, 2) The People-Pleasers – those who quickly write compliant replies, which they later resent, and 3) The Avoiders – those who give no replies, for which they later mumble lame excuses. All that to say, it will be marketed to everyone.
I’m going to call it “Repent-a-gram.” Here’s how it will work for each group:
For the Reactionaries—If you get an offending text, the app will let you write whatever you want in response, all the while measuring WPM, your blood pressure, and the amount of CAPITALIZATION and exclamation !!!!s. If some combination of those numbers is too high, your message will dissolve and flow off the screen before you can hit send. Then it locks your whole phone down for 20 minutes.
For the People-Pleasers—If you get an unreasonable request, a passive-aggressive accusation, or otherwise uncomfortable text, the app will auto-erase any nice or sweet words in your reply (“Of course I understand,” “No trouble at all,” “Yes, I’d be glad too” and so on). Then it locks your phone down for 20 minutes. You can still say yes if you want to, but you have to think about it for 20 minutes.
For the Avoiders—The app immediately auto-replies, “I’ll get back to you in 20 minutes.” Then it locks down your phone for 20 minutes. It will sound an alarm when it comes back online, but only the message app will operate, forcing you to respond. Once you reply, then it unlocks the rest of your phone.
The whole premise of the app is this: If you just wait 20 minutes, you’ll be a better person. You will reply with less rancor, fake agreement, or fearful avoidance (depending on the type of person you are).
There are lots of psychological reasons for this. When you encounter a threat, you reflexively go into a defense mechanism to reduce your anxiety. You aren’t thinking about the best long-term response, nor the most loving one. You are simply trying to reduce the threat.
But if you sit in the threat for a while – pray, breathe, and think – the feeling of “This is an emergency!” will rise, crest, and slowly dissipate. In fight or flight mode, you will not make your best response. But wait 20 minutes? Then your chances of responding healthily increases. This is how the anxiety cycle works.
But there is also a spiritual reason to wait 20 minutes. It doesn’t conflict with the psychological reason, and it is much more profound.
The spiritual reason for waiting 20 minutes is because it increases your ability to trust, and your ability to trust is the single biggest factor in responding productively. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? If I am threatened, you might say, then trusting feels like the dumbest thing to do. But it’s just the opposite.
Here’s how a willingness to trust can enable a productive and even loving response:
Reactionaries—”Maybe if I can speak well, they will be willing to hear my perspective.”
People-Pleasers—”Maybe if I am honest about how much I can do, then they will understand my limits.”
Avoiders—”Maybe if I face this directly, they will see that I am willing to work with them and they might work with me.”
Defense mechanisms are about taking control, but trust mechanisms are about giving goodwill a chance. Defense mechanism guarantee a problem, but trust gives growth a shot.
But it isn’t just about trusting the other person. You have to be willing to trust yourself, too:
Reactionaries—”If I calm down, I’m betting I can find the courage to represent myself both truthfully and vulnerably.”
People-Pleasers—”If I take a beat, I’m betting I can find the courage to give a meaningful Yes or No.”
Avoiders—”If I pause, I’m betting that I can find the courage to move into whatever this is.”
I use the word “courage” in all three, because in all three you have to face a core fear.
But there is more. You also have to be willing to trust God:
Reactionaries—”Even if I am misunderstood, God is for me.”
People-Pleasers—”Even if I disappoint someone, God wants my honesty.”
Avoiders—”Even if I get into difficulty, God will stick with me.”
Trust mechanisms don’t guarantee understanding, acceptance, or peace. But they do give them a chance. Even if the other person doesn’t reciprocate, then you still find a growing self. In misunderstanding, disappointment, or difficulty we grow because trust takes us out of the “it’s up to me” sphere and into the “I am beloved” sphere. And that we don’t regret.
Coming to the App Store soon.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean; they have seven children and nine grandchildren.
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