After writing on the art of friendship, here, https://mutheusarah.wordpress.com/2018/11/21/the-art-of-friendships/, I have consistently reflected a lot on how to navigate through the friendships all together. It is one thing to start a friendship and it is another to nurture it. Friendship is one of the great gifts of God, one of the deepest longings of the soul, but it can also be a difficult thing to navigate. Many of us have some kind of embedded picture of what friendship ought to be, perhaps shaped by past friendships, movies, and so on.
I have come to a conclusion so far that deep friendships take time and are often forged through the fires of trial; Often coming as conflicts. And just as gardeners get their hands dirty when they tend their garden, tending a friendship may be messy at times. Conflicts in any relationship are inevitable and as much as we all want deep, meaningful, exciting friendships in our lives we can agree that they just don’t fall from the sky- they require effort. And the effort will involve us learning how to resolve the conflicts that arise. As much as we love to just overlook conflicts and “move on” most times it just does not work; As daunting as the task of conflict resolution may seem, the alternative is often much worse because when hurt feelings are left unaddressed, they can blossom into bitterness and resentment that can destroy relationships.
I consider friendship as a vocation, as an avenue for me to serve the Lord through the persons He has given to my life as friends, but it has not been an easy journey all the same, I have had numerous friendship strains, fall-outs that have been staring at me right on the face, as if to ask- “what are you gonna do about this?” Even so, as I write this I sincerely celebrate deep and meaningful friendships that I have in my life, I have friendships I still think I don’t deserve, greater than any idea of friendship I had in mind and am very grateful.
I have had a number of reflections that the Lord has helped me as I navigate through friendships and especially when conflicts arise. Conflicts arise because we are human, different in every angle, we are sinners- desperate for God’s grace and often face a clash of expectations for one another. In my own friendship journey I have either been an initiator (offender) or a receiver (offended) as regards to conflicts that have come up, and I regrettably have mishandled some, leading to friendship fall-outs and in others by God’s grace I have handled the issue to restoring the friendship.
What have I learned?
- In the case of a conflict, I should make the first move– whether I am the offender or the offended, I should make a move to resolve the conflict. You see, most times in a conflict we sit and wait for the other person to make a move to resolve, especially hoping that they come apologizing to us. Many times we also say that, ‘time heals all wounds’ so we distance ourselves, give the person some silent treatment and wait for time to heal us. I will allow us to disagree on this but I believe that time heals nothing if it not used right and in reflection, prayer & seeking reconciliation & advice; in every conflict a wound is formed and we all know how wounds behave, if I got a wound right now and waited a day longer before getting it treated, I definitely will wake up to a worse situation tomorrow. The same way when we allow friendship wounds to linger, the wounds grow- it only gives us time to think about that person more in resentment and bitterness, and it gets even more difficult to resolve the matter. Actually we spend the time that we are supposed to be ‘healing’ researching on the other person, adding more evidence to our hurt and talking about them and the truth is we hurt the more! We just act in ignorance and we convince ourselves that we have moved on but when we see that person again, bitterness boils up in our hearts again and we notice that we really never moved an inch rather we are still stuck in our cocoon of fear, ego and bitterness. The truth is that we procrastinate because we fear and not because we are waiting for God’s time. Well, what does God say about reconciliation? Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Clearly to God, reconciliation is a priority even before worship and sacrifice. God holds relationships highly and he advises us to resolve our issues with one another first before we come to offer- I can’t help but notice the bit of ‘leave your gift at the altar and first go and be reconciled!’ How many time have I offered my worship to God overlooking the need for reconciliation with fellow brethren? Yet God takes it as a matter of urgency?Then 1 John 3: 15: Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. Most of us can agree that we have never killed anyone, but we have exercised anger/bitterness towards people and especially those people who have been very close to us and we presume have hurt us deeply. Forgive us Lord!
- Ask God for wisdom in reconciliation- He will tell you what to do. I have noticed also, as I ask God for something I should be ready to obey what He tells me to do, at one point, I had a conflict with someone and I faithfully asked the Lord to help me know what to tell them and God asked me to go and tell them that I am sorry for what I did. And I was like, ‘seriously?’, according to me, the other person was supposed to apologize to me, I had felt misunderstood and judged wrongly but God wanted me to say sorry and I initiated the meeting and I apologized. And as if to wound my ego further the other person told me that they had forgiven me! That evening what the Lord had done was to handle my pride and also that I should learn forgiveness without necessarily waiting for an apology, it is actually a command from the Lord-to forgive those who have done me wrong and the bible does not put a condition that I will do that when they apologize- what happened; We are great friends to date. The Lord often deals with us first before He handles the other person, we can only be humble enough to obey Him.
- Begin with what is your fault rather than what is their fault- Difficult, true! Most times we meet people we have conflicts with so that we can ‘give them a piece of our mind’ but no one including you likes to be blamed for everything- as much as the friend is at fault, you are at fault also, but your pride would never allow you to see that, I think that’s why God asked me to apologize in the case above, it was like He was telling me, ‘Can’t you see your mistake in this conflict?!’ And it is even in the habit of always trying to justify ourselves, we also lack the art of repentance even to God, we even justify the reasons of our sins as if He doesn’t know the state of our hearts!
- Listen! We should try as much to listen twice as much as we speak. Even the other person has some perspective and hurt too if only we could listen. And listening is not just keeping quiet, it is growing in paying attention so that we understand, not that we keep quiet as they talk so that we can table our defense that we have put together as they were talking(and I pray that I grow in listening). I have one friend who truly listens to my conversations, we meet, I say so many things especially when we are sorting out a conflict, I talk more and I explain my perspective, I analyze his mistakes and I then ask him what he has to say and he says, ‘I am sorry!’ then I feel more justified to continue talking and many times he never justifies his mistakes(at that particular moment, he may mention later) he simply says how sorry he is. So recently as I was evaluating my ‘pride-meter’, God told me in regards to how I have handled issues concerning him that I am too full of myself, frankly it is true!(I will mention this later in the blog) but I have always been struck by his ability to listen to me and really feel sorry for what he did without giving me a list of excuses because the truth is, a mistake was done and he needs to hear my hurt and perspective without preparing his analysis of justification. On the other hand, I have had other conflict resolutions with other friends and we have both mentioned a mistake and then the other party justifies it and it is back and forth and it only leads us to a more serious friendship strain that when we first talked, and sometimes the friendship dies slowly. Did we listen to each other? Not really- We just heard what the other person was saying but not necessarily listening to feel them!
- Speak the truth with Love- Where I work- In World Vision, we have a mindset we call, “Timely truth telling with Love” ; What this means is that the truth must be told in time but it has to be said in Love. It has been quoted before that truth without love is harshness, and we can agree that the words are never as important as the emotions that accompany the words. People will remember the emotion and not the words. So to say that, ‘I speak it like it is’ is being rude and uncaring- the truth is not enough, it is how I put the truth that matters the most. Therefore I can not use the truth as a club, people change faster/easier when they receive truth that is wrapped in love. Proverbs 12:18 tells us that the words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise bring healing. Love is a choice and we can choose to exercise it with everyone especially those that have done us wrong. We should be willing to confront them in love- rather than quietly hold their wrongdoing against them forever. Often, I ask myself, ‘Do I truly love my friends enough to lovingly show them their sin?, or do I play ‘safe’ so that I can continue gaining from the friendship lest I risk loosing the friendship all together?.’ To have someone in your life who can see the ugly parts of it and not only still love you, but also cares enough to bring it to your attention is rare and a beautiful gift! It is a level of intimacy only a sincere friend can attempt to, it is an act of Love. It is much easier and self-serving to quietly “write the person off” and distance yourself, but it requires much more work and vulnerability to lovingly confront someone with the end goal of forgiveness and restoration. The kind of confrontation I’m referring to is not reactionary, but intentional. A critical first step is to search your own heart to determine whether your motivation for confrontation is coming from the right place. Is it in the best interest of the other person or just myself? Are there self-serving reasons at the root of my motives, such as the desire to “throw it in their face”? Your ultimate desire must be for forgiveness and restoration. If it isn’t, then you have issues to work out in your own heart first. May God show us grace in our dealings with one another during conflicts and may our hearts and minds be pointed to him as we endeavor to love one another in a manner that would glorify him.
So what really all causes this conflicts?
- Self- centeredness: As I said earlier, I have noticed I was too full of myself and it is true that when you are too full of yourself, anything will set you on. James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? It is by the selfish desires that are continually in us that we fight with one another, yet we just excuse it by saying that we have found out that we are not compatible! Honestly compatibility is fallacy , we are all the exact opposite of each other, the differences we have in our upbringing, DNA, growth and so on are so obvious, and that means we really may never be compatible with anyone else not unless we decide to mature up. It is not a matter of incompatibility but a matter of inflexibility- we are not willing to be flexible for anyone. Rick Warren says that the greater the ‘incompatibility’ or the differences, the greater the potential of growth. But we cannot grow if we are not willing to be humble and submit our sinful and selfish self under the authority of God. James 4 continues to say “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God…” I have read a couple of times that humility is not to think less of yourself but it is to think of yourself less, I think then I will be right to say that self-centeredness is the opposite of being a humble person, because a self centeredness person only thinks of themselves all the time, who hurt them, how can they dare hurt them, who did not do this and that to them and so on… May we submit ourselves to the Lord, because when we are too full of Jesus and His peace nothing will take us off. It does not mean that everything will be okay around us but even when conflicts arise, we can disagree without getting distressed.
- Pride- proverbs 13:10, pride only leads to argument… closely related to self- centeredness is our ego. We can never truly admit that we were only thinking of ourselves and we therefore are sorry about it. Pride will lead us never to see our blind spots and hence will stagnate our growth.
- Misunderstanding– I have found it quite interesting that most times we seek to be understood but never willing to understand, therefore we have become a bunch of people who are full of misunderstanding for one another. We tend to feel that our fears are normal and legitimate yet think that other people’s fears are silly, small and immature, Excuse me but all fears are irrational both mine and yours. We can therefore be considerate of the complexity of our differences and sometimes it is important to appreciate that perhaps if we were the ones who have had the same life as the people who have hurt us had, we would perhaps act worse than they did and therefore we will forgive them genuinely.
And perhaps someone would wonder why am I talking about just myself yet a conflict involves two people. Well, it is simple- I only have control over myself, my reaction, my thoughts and actions and I can make choices about them and change. If we got so concerned about changing ourselves rather than changing other people, we can make the world a better place. And do I have perfect friendships, I wish! Do I solve all my conflicts in the right ways, regrettably no! But I can become a better friend every day, and this will help me not just become a better Sarah for people to Love but it will help me to become a better Christian and build my relationship with Jesus even better, So as human as I am I can do this by Loving God better.
So help me God,