We don't see many books of matches anymore. That's a good thing. When I do see one, it takes me back to the early-mid nineties. I was waiting on a lab position with the USDA and in the meantime, I was selling insurance door to door. In our training, we were given a spiel to say and strategies for selling. We were also told to carry a book of matches with us every day. There are twenty matches in there. Each time we give our spiel (not twenty knocks on doors, but actual conversations) we were to tear out a match. If we worked each day until our book was empty, we could expect to have success. There are a lot of "no's" around the occasional "yes's." This was a rigorous discipline! And some days were rougher than others.
One particular day, it was getting on towards evening and I was doing a renewal and went to an address with the hope of simply collecting the renewal (and the commission that went with it) and calling it a day. The customer had been waiting for a representative to show up at his door. He had beef. He was looking forward to expressing it. I sat quietly on his couch as he ranted. And raved. And paced. And cancelled his policy. Well, he meant to cancel his policy, but ultimately he renewed and added a disability policy as well.
I learned a lot that day. First, discipline trumps motivation every time. I was done with that particular day long before I went home, but I still had matches, and rent would soon be due. It's easy to give into the temptation of giving in when we "don't feel like it," but that doesn't provide us the life we want. To build a life we look forward to living involves putting in the work to create it. I'm not an advocate of all work and no play, life is about finding that healthy balance after all, and being able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. But the life we want isn't going to come and find us; it's something we build. In the building of it, we clarify what's important to us and what we can let go of.
Second, I learned the power of being present. The dissatisfied customer needed to express his dissatisfaction. He didn't need to be told he was mistaken (he was), or to be told what to do (he already knew). What he needed was to be heard. He needed someone who would look him in the eye and listen to what he had to say. His anger had nothing to do with me, I was merely the one who was there. There was no reason to feel anything - anxiety, defensiveness, or anything at all. His outrage was his, not mine. Had I tried to explain, justify, or defend it would not have helped, only worsened the situation. It didn't matter what his policy covered or didn't cover, it wasn't going to fix his wife, nor could he. His wife suffered. Badly. He needed to get those feelings out and this was how he chose to do it.
I discovered two magic words that day: I understand. Saying "I understand," and nothing else, changed the entire day for both of us. I was a champion at explaining, justifying, and defending. What I learned, is that when people are mad logic isn't what they want or need. Most of us already know what we need to do to 'fix' a situation and are fine asking for the info if we do not. Usually, when someone unleashes a 'tirade' it's a letting go of emotions that he/she doesn't know what to do with.
I'm grateful for that day. That day built muscles I need for life and ministry. Every time I see a book of matches I smile, say a prayer of gratitude, and get to work.
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Hi, my name is Melissa Ebken, and I'm so glad you found your way here.
I am at home in the difficult spaces of peoples’ lives, willing to listen and to support those who work to grow themselves. I am a trained coach and have consulted with churches in conflict. Not your stereotypical minister, I embrace the Gospel with joy and laughter as I seek to help those around me grow in faith and understanding, always striving to leave people better than they came. An agent of wholeness, I create a safe space for people, especially those who have been marginalized, where they can understand how ridiculously loved and valued they are by God/Higher Power/Spirit, and to experience the difference that makes in life.
I started the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast to share the stories of people who have faced life's most difficult challenges, to inspire you to lean into and overcome your own. It's helpful to know that you're not alone in your struggles and to see how others have navigated similar circumstances. You can listen to it here.
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