Spoiler Alert: It’s Not About the Lemonade

lemonade-pitcherJoey stormed out of the Ministry Center, seething, and assuring me that he would never be back again. The reason: lemonade. Joey wanted to make a pitcher of lemonade on a day when the Ministry Center wasn’t open, and I asked him to have water instead.

Working at Emmaus, I learned fairly quickly that whatever trivial matter seems to be the problem at the time is probably not the actual problem. Very likely, there is something else going on in the angered individual’s life, and that particular detail (in this case, the lemonade) is the thing that they choose as the object of their anger. They are trying to gain control over something, perhaps due to the helplessness they feel in many other areas of their lives.

During these occasions of misplaced anger, it’s important to keep emotional boundaries. It’s easy for me to feel like the problem was my fault and that I was personally responsible for the pain that Joey was feeling. But that’s not true. One of the ways that we love the men of Emmaus is by setting boundaries and sticking with them. It teaches the men that emotional manipulation and power plays are both inappropriate and ineffective relational tools.

Joey visited the Ministry Center a few weeks later for Christmas, and we got the chance to talk one-on-one. For a while, we talked about his goals for the coming year, but the conversation turned back to that fateful afternoon with the lemonade. “I apologize for my actions,” he admitted to me. “I don’t have anyone to blame but myself. And you were so cool about it. You didn’t even get mad. You were just like, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, Joey.’” We shared a laugh and parted with a hug.

It doesn’t always happen that people come back and apologize after an outburst, but when they do, it’s one of the most rewarding things about working at Emmaus. Healthy boundaries create healthy relationships—relationships that can weather the storm of a pitcher of lemonade.

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