We hadn’t seen each other very much lately, or even texted in our usual way. I knew we had both been busy, so I hadn’t thought much of it. I have lots of friends I don’t see very often because of proximity, different life stages or work schedules, but we always pick right back up as if no time had passed. Assuming the same would be true with this friend, I had looked forward to seeing her at an event later that week.
But the big hug and incessant catch up session I expected didn’t come. Instead my presence was barely acknowledged. Not knowing what to make of her icy reception, I pretended not to notice, opting instead to keep trying to get the conversation going. I kept asking questions hoping to make things feel normal, only it was never reciprocated which left me hurt and confused.
Back home, later that night and into the next day and week, I kept replaying this whole scenario in my head. But the longer I dwelt on it, the more my hurt turned to indignation and I became convinced of my own narrative. Of course, at this point I didn’t know what was really true, but it didn’t matter. I felt justified in thinking how dare she be mad at me for not texting or calling her, when she hadn’t reached out to me either. Ironically, in the same way I felt like she wanted me to “pay” some consequence for something I knew nothing about and I now wanted her to pay. For I deserved a better friend than what she’d shown me!
I know I’m not alone in this line of thinking even though we usually don’t tease it out. However, the book of James helps us see what these “quarrels and fights” are all about. I’ll give you a hint: It’s not primarily what the other person did or didn’t do. No, what causes relational conflict is our own desires at war within us (James 4:1).
I wanted to be understood, for her to know the stress I had been under that had made me unavailable. I believed I deserved grace and compassion. What I later learned is she wanted to know I cared about her, to feel like she was important, and for me to show her that by prioritizing our friendship with my presence. Neither of our desires were wrong. Where our desires go off track is when they morph into demands.
When we demand another person to measure up to the expectations we’ve placed upon them—expectations they often don’t know anything about—that is when conflict arises. Unaddressed, we create false narrative, then treat people accordingly. Is it any wonder friendships fracture?
So why don’t we deal honestly with the conflict?
In a nutshell: fear. We fear vulnerability, not knowing what someone else will think or how it might be used against us. We fear exposure, not wanting others to see our sin or judge us for it. We fear further rejection. What if we bring up the conversation, and they don’t respond as we had hoped?
Therefore, it seems easier to sweep it under the rug, and in one regard it is. It saves us the discomfort of dealing head-on with conflict. But by picking temporal comfort or rationalizing the conflict will blow over, we forgo living redemptively and proclaim the gospel is too small to fix rifts.
On the other hand, redemptive living, though not easy, comes with soul-satisfying joy and brings the blessing of true relationships. Redemptive living calls us to die to self and live for the good of another. It seeks first to understand. It is quick to confess and repent, and even quicker to give forgiveness and grace. It absorbs hurt and refuses to make the other pay. It’s the kind of relationship we feel safe in because the other person has seen us at our worst and remains anyway.
In this day and age, these kinds of relationships are rare. We’ve come to accept a consumer approach as normal and justifiable—relationships that say, “I will like you as long as you give me what I want.”
But don’t you want more?
Ultimately, by God’s grace, it was my desire for more that led me to reach out to my friend. In choosing to do the scary thing, we make way for the gospel to triumph. And while the conversation may not always go as we hope, there is One who loves us perfectly. In him, there is no fear, for perfect love casts out fear.
May you rest secure in his love and because of it move toward others as a reflection of his steadfast love to you.
About the Author:
Kristen Hatton is the author of The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students, Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World and Get Your Story Straight. In addition to her own blog, she frequently contributes to the Rooted Ministry and Women’s Ministry enCourage blogs, and recently started Redemptive Parenting on Instagram. Kristen lives in Oklahoma with her pastor husband and is the mother of three teenage/young adult children. Learn more by visiting her website at www.kristenhatton.com.