April was a very difficult month. Every moment and every day, it felt like threats were coming in from all around. I was in a state of nearly constant anxiety because I was doing a lot of internal realization and reflection, and I was trying to work through it without letting anyone in on it. I tend to think the people in my life aren’t capable of carrying the painful burden of what I’ve been through since childhood, so I withhold myself from them because I think it keeps them safe from me. Because of this, I dissociated from my husband, my daughter, my friends, my work all because of a deep pain and sense of lack of inner resources to handle the conflict within and around me.
As we’re nearing the end of June, I’m still working through all of this. I’m coming to terms with what is really at the base of the way I dissociate when I feel threatened, and it’s tough to have those conversations. They never seem to go the way I would hope. They’re hard. There are a lot of emotions I’m not comfortable expressing, but they’re vitally important to growing together in our various relationships if we want them to last.
The Bible is not silent when it comes to relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Live in peace with one another” (Romans 12:18).
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17).
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19; Mark 12).
That just names a few, but I think Scripture often reminds us of how to live with one another in a way that brings glory to God because we’re pretty rotten at actually doing it. It’s so easy to go into the default patterns of the world around us, to act petty, be bitter, write off people the first time they hurt us to protect ourselves from further hurt. That’s not what God wants for us; he wants more. The ways we handle times of difficulty in our relationships are meant to show us and the world God’s merciful plan to redeem us and bring us into relationship with himself.
So we know what we are supposed to do -- how we are meant to live, but how do we properly handle these times of difficulty? How do we both glorify God and be reconciled with our neighbor when moments of relational strain occur?
When You’ve Been Hurt
When you get close to someone, you start to plant seeds of yourself in the soil of that person’s heart. Sometimes you share secrets with them, and you hope that they keep them with as much sincerity as you have.
When they let you down, it is natural to feel the disappointment proportional to the situation. If you want that relationship to grow past this point, though, you have to have a difficult conversation. You have to have the courage to go to this person and, in love, tell them you’re not okay. Tell them, in love, what it was that they did and give them an opportunity to accept the responsibility of what they did and make amends for it.
Matthew 18:15-20 provides an excellent framework for how to handle times when you’ve been sinned against (or hurt). “[G]o and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not, listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two to three witnesses” (v.v. 15-16).
When You Hurt Someone
What if someone comes to you alone and tells you your fault? Truthfully, I started with when you’ve been hurt because no one likes to be the person who has done wrong to another. No one should enjoy seeing the pained look of another person who is hurting from something you’ve said or done, even when it is done with what you believe to be good intentions.
Matthew 18:15 says that when someone brings our fault to us, we should listen. Listening can be very difficult. You can hear what the other person says without actually listening, and you might as well not have even given them your time if you’re only going to hear what they have to say without listening to them. How can you make amends without a sincere attempt at understanding what you have done and the consequences for that?
An article from the New York Times, written by Claire Cain Miller, lists tips to having these conversations.
“Learn to be quiet”. Don’t focus on your own feelings, make yourself the center of the conversation, or blame them or deny your responsibility in their hurt, but make an effort to consider their feelings. Practice empathy by putting yourself into their perspective and work to understand. This isn’t meant to be easy. We’re all hardwired in our sinful natures to consider ourselves more important than others, which is what I think can be the hardest part of Scripture -- considering another person above ourselves, or even just as important as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:30-31).
“Learn to listen”. Show, through non-verbal cues, that you’re actively participating in the conversation, that you’re there for them and to understand them and help them. Pay attention to their non-verbal cues -- their facial expressions, what their body is saying. Don’t cut them off. Don’t be distracted by things you can control; Social Media, and other non-emergent communication can wait. Ask them questions to offer them an opportunity to explain themselves in a way that’s considerate of their situation.
Finally, after you have made yourself quiet and listened and understood what you have done, apologize sincerely. Work to make amends.
Conversations Talking about our Struggles to our Brother/Sister
One of the most difficult conversations to have with someone is confessing to a struggle or sin. It’s in our human nature to hide from others when we’re in sin (Genesis 2), even when restoration is as easy as turning from sin and returning to God.
Romans 12:15 says to mourn with those who mourn, as well as share in their joy. We are also told not to carry our struggles alone. We’ve been given each other. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
This is one of the things I really liked about Celebrate Recovery: it provides a framework for walking alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ as we come to terms with the sin in our lives, the fact we need Jesus in order to overcome those sins, and then supporting and coaching each other as we work through them.
In Celebrate Recovery, you get to a point when you write out an inventory. You list out those you have wronged, confess your wrongs to a trusted person (ideally, a sponsor), and then get to a point where you work to make amends with those you have hurt to try and restore those relationships (when doing so would not harm yourself or others).
It’s very similar to our relationship with Christ. When we first came alive in Christ, the grace of Christ made us aware of how dead in our sin we were, and then because of His great love, we were driven to repentance, and the blood of Jesus shed on the cross washed us clean, so now we are able to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul so that we may live (Deuteronomy 30).
So, have the difficult conversations. Don’t be afraid of what will break. Even if it’s so broken that it can never be fixed, “you always build it better the second time around,” (Aron Wright, “Build it Better”). Maybe you say goodbye to a friendship or a relationship, but oh, what if the only things that break are the walls between you? Take that chance. It’s exhausting. It’s emotionally charged. But it’s worth it.
I hope for you that these relationships are ones that can be rebuilt. I hope for you that the relationships that matter most for you only become stronger through these difficult conversations, whatever they may be. I hope you aren’t afraid to say what you really think or express how you really feel, or confess that dark secret or hidden sin, and I hope they are open to hear it. I hope that for you.
May grace and peace be with you as you go and have these difficult conversations.