In our family, we had a weekly event called “Family Council.” It was usually on Sundays, and we covered the schedule for the week, made announcements, had a family worship—and conducted confrontations. I have since heard this referred to as “the airing of the grievances” and I’m sure there are even better ways of describing what happened. But, in essence, it was this: If someone in the family had been hurt by someone else in the family (including our parents), or was upset at a specific behavior, they expressed their feelings and described their concern using an agreed-upon protocol. There were frequently tears, occasionally raised voices, and sometimes the family council went on for hours, but I can’t remember a time when it didn’t also end in hugs and reconciliation.
Since then, as my siblings and I have all muddled through young adulthood and expanded into middle age, we have fewer mechanisms for resolving our concerns with each other. Confrontation has not been normalized or regularized in our lives. Of course, we also have fewer tiffs, but the more we interact with each other (and we do enjoy our time together and always hope for it!), the more “opportunities” there are for rudeness, selfishness, neglect, and laziness to impinge on our relationships. We also are integrating in-laws and young-adult nieces and nephews, so the chances for hurt are huge. I miss having the chance to talk out those little irks and slights before they become gaps or cold wars between us.
I’m not a therapist, and nothing I say here should be taken as advice for people who are in damaging, debilitating relationships—please see your counselors for those deeply rooted wounds. But I would like to make the case that we should be doing much more straight talking to each other, rooted in the sort of self-revelation and bravery that Jesus (and his twenty-first-century follower, Brené Brown) describes. So many of my work relationships, my friend and church circles, and of course my family interactions would be helped by my honesty about my own weaknesses and assumptions. Instead, I assume what seems really clear to me is in fact the motivation or the back story or the full narrative of what occurred, and I move from there.
Paul’s encouragement to the early church to solve their problems through honesty and with humility alert us to the fact that our communities have long had such potential for misunderstanding, judgment and hurt-producing barriers. Brené Brown, in Rising Strong, encourages us to say, “The story I’m telling myself is….,” and be honest with those with whom we hope to walk with affection. We allow them to clarify. And then we have to accept their truth alongside our own. We may not like it, and we may wish we could change their perspective, but if we can’t, Jesus encourages us to turn to a wider circle to help us decide how to allow us both to be the people he wanted us to be.
You and I can both think of the cracks, bruises, or brokenness that enter into some of our most daily, significant relationships. The primary ways I’ve found to keep those relationships from degenerating into passive aggressiveness or outright hostility are: first, be truthful about what is going on with me and what my fears actually are. Then, assume the best in others and give them the benefit of the doubt that they want what is best with me too. Finally, when I tell my friends, fellow church members, or family the truth about me, most of the time reconciliation can take place. Especially if I haven’t spent time talking to others about how much that person has hurt me or my cause. Jesus tells us to go directly to that person because He knows how tempting it is to start to marshal others to my cause before I have even approached my colleague with my worries.
Confrontation is painful, but days or weeks or years of those bad feelings that come from a low-grade conflict are even worse. When I’m not honest with my people, I find myself avoiding projects or events or get-togethers, or even worse, manipulating situations so that I achieve what I want without having to deal directly with the person I’m in conflict with. This is exhausting and unhealthy. The discomfort of a difficult conversation prevents so much more pain down the road. And it allows your life and the life of the church or family or workplace to flourish.
The spiritual gift of prophecy was at least partly intended to prevent these kinds of wounds from festering in the church. This gift calls people to apologize when someone tells them they’ve hurt them, and those with the spiritual gift of prophecy are also brave enough to help difficult conversations happen or to confront the bullies in the community. We need more elders, pastors, and church members who will help us all follow healthy habits in our communication with others and set an example of healthy reconciliation patterns before the church disintegrates into fighting factions.
What has allowed you to experience reconciliation with others? What makes it hard to heal broken relationships? When is it time to stop trying to reconcile and go your separate ways?
Lisa Clark Diller is Chair of the History Faculty at Southern Adventist University.
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