Let me let you in on a little secret about myself: I hate conflict. I hate the feeling that someone is upset with me or that I’m upset with them. I hate having to think about confronting someone about said conflict.
When I teach my students about conflict resolution, the first option on the chart is Parker the Passive Turtle, whose response to conflict is to avoid it. I feel like Parker the Passive Turtle so often. I just want to pretend like everybody is happy all the time and that we can just all get along if we keep on being positive and chipper.
But that is not reality and living in that kind of naïve bubble will only lead to greater hurts down the road. Because the longer we allow those hurts to go unaddressed – the longer we choose to ignore them, even when they are causing harm to our souls – and the longer we force ourselves to be happy about something we’re not happy about – we are allowing bitterness and anger to grow in our hearts. Pretty soon all the unaddressed hurt is going to explode out of us and there will be a much bigger mess to clean up than if we had just started talking about it upfront.
I tend to think that keeping the peace is more important than saying how I really feel. And we have to use our discretion, because sometimes that is true. Minor problems don’t always require a full-blown talk about how we feel. We choose which things to ignore or overlook, and we learn which things are more important to us that we need to speak up about.
Because, as I have learned in the past, if I don’t speak up about things that matter to me, I will become a doormat and people will walk all over me, or I will become a resentful person, harboring bitterness about something that the other person is clueless about. And when that happens, unity in the church and in our families will start to break down.
This summer, I’ve been studying Ephesians with a ladies’ Bible study. As it turns out, the whole theme of Ephesians is unity in the body of Christ because that is what Christ saved us to accomplish. Chapter 4 especially addresses how the church works towards unity on a practical level, and verse 15 says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.” Learning how to speak the truth in love is not only a key to having unity, but it is a mark of a truly unified church.
It’s also a sign of maturity. As we “grow up in every way into Him” we are shedding the ways of immature faith that either doesn’t speak the truth or doesn’t love while speaking the truth.
And this is the real challenge for me – how do I learn to speak the truth – my truth of how I’m feeling, but more importantly God’s truth when we feel like it’s being violated – and how do I do that in a loving way?
God has given me some “opportunities” to practice this in the last year, and some of them I feel like I botched royally, and others I felt tiny sprigs of growth in. It’s hard not to allow your emotions to drive the conversation and make you frustrated that the other person isn’t seeing your way. It’s hard to love them even when they still disagree with you. And it’s hard to acknowledge when you’re not always right, even when you were so sure that you were.
But here are some things that God has been revealing to me about this process of speaking the truth in love:
Pray before you speak. Sometimes this isn’t always possible, if things come up in a discussion that you weren’t expecting, and the emotions of the moment catch you off-guard. In those cases, sometimes it’s better to say, “You know what, I need to talk more about this later” – not as a cop-out, but as a way to calm yourself down [just make sure to go back to that issue later and not ignore it]. But if you know that you need to have a hard conversation with someone, pray a lot beforehand about the words coming out of your mouth, that God would give you wisdom to speak words of love.
Humble yourself. The beginning of chapter 4 says to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Try not to use highly-charged, accusatory language, but share where you’re coming from, acknowledging that you aren’t perfect and that you may not say everything right. This doesn’t mean consenting that the other person is right if you disagree with them, but simply recognizing that you are a fallible person in sharing your concerns.
Do acknowledge the truth of where the other person is coming from. Try to see it from their perspective and ask them what they meant by it or where they’re at. Don’t assume that the other person is coming at you from a place of vindictiveness or spite, because more than likely they didn’t intend to hurt you.
Express your love for the other person, even if you end up still disagreeing with them. There will be topics that we can’t agree on with everybody. Once we have shared the truth with the other person, and they still stick to their own perspective, we have to still love them and not carry a chip on our shoulder because they aren’t “coming around to the truth.”
There is much more that I still need to learn about this process, but I’m working through what that looks like on so many practical levels – with family members, with church members, with co-workers – and I’ve been having to learn a lot of bravery. Because it’s very easy for me to have opinions (and strong ones!), and it’s easy for me to be stubborn and cling to my own ways. But it’s not very easy for me to always speak up about what I need to when I’m feeling conflict with another person.
Christ has called me to love others and to preserve the unity of the church, however, so I must be obedient to that calling, even when it’s difficult. I’m grateful to those in my life who have had such patience with me and have loved me through the difficult truth-speaking times. I do fail at this, but I’m slowly learning His grace more every day.
And as I have spoken truth to others – or expressed my hurt in a relationship – that relationship has only grown stronger. It has kept me from harboring bitterness toward them. It has helped us to build more trust. And it has helped us to be more honest about who we are and what we need in that relationship. This is what I need to remember in the future when I get scared of confronting someone about a problem, big or small. The more honest we are about all aspects of our relationship, the stronger it will grow, and the more we will understand each other.
And in this way, we will truly be “speaking the truth in love,” just the way God intended us to. And it will bring Him the most glory.