The city of Butte Montana is built over a mine which had been on fire for over twenty years. This was not a roaring blaze, but rather a smoldering fire that simply kept burning year after year. The fire was accidentally set by a fellow named Henshaw, who left a candle burning unattended on a pine beam. The beam caught fire. The fire spread to other beams and kept burning for decades. This is at least partially due to the miners managing to deprive the fire of oxygen, which kept it from burning out of control but also prolonged the burn.
As the holidays approach and family gathers to celebrate, it is often the case that old smoldering resentments can flare up and create chaos in their wake. Similarly, small disagreements can quickly spread and get out of control. Both of these possibilities are increased during holidays because of the stress rising from increased financial pressures, stress related to having guests or traveling, and the addition of new chores to already-busy routines. These flare ups can ruin meals, holidays, and even families.
Be conscious of the folks who make you angry: The surest way to avoid this potentiality is by being conscious of what needs to be done in order to prevent fires. For starters, it is necessary for folks to be aware of their own stress levels, particularly when spending time with folks who tend to push buttons, whether consciously or unconsciously. Self-awareness leads to an increased ability to avoid conflict.
Be quick to apologize and let things go: Often, conflicts that arise keep going because everyone involved holds tight to resentment. When people in conflict dig in and refuse to budge or demand apologies for slights, resolution becomes impossible. Finishing the fight often means someone has to let go and say sorry. This may feel like losing, but its far better to lose a little face in the name of harmony than becoming entrenched in bitterness or ruining family time together with pettiness. Pairing the aforementioned self awareness with a willingness to apologize first for any negativity will quickly smooth over most problems.
Knowing the right way to respond: Years ago, a pastor I worked with gave me a guide for the next step for dealing with flare-ups when they arise. The pastor told me that everyone has two options when they encounter the beginnings of an angry exchange. It’s like having 2 buckets, one in each hand. A gas bucket and a water bucket. When we see a fire, we have a choice to make as to which bucket we will throw at the blaze. Our gas bucket will spread the flames with a vengeance. This is like encouraging gossip or answering insult with angry words. Throwing your gas bucket at the wrong time can result in a fire that will go in forever. If we choose to throw the water bucket, we squelch the fire before it spreads. Throwing the water bucket looks like an apology or quieting gossip or simply saying nothing in response to a slight.
The book of James compares the tongue to a spark that can cause fires that burn up people’s lives. James goes on to say that the tongue is so tough to tame that it usually just tames us. This effort to intentionally throw the right bucket when people upset you is far from easy. It takes effort, forgiveness, prayer, and a great deal of intentionally planning to respond the right way. This effort may seem like a headache, but it is worth it to avoid living over 20 years of smoldering fires in the form of family conflict.