Several years ago when I was a youth pastor, I did an activity with a group of junior high students. I talked about different conflict resolution styles, and then I had the students role-play different scenarios in order to practice resolving conflicts in healthy ways.
Two junior high girls – let’s call them Jenny and Stephanie – role-played the most memorable situation. In the role-play, Jenny gently and reluctantly confronted Stephanie because
Stephanie had been gossiping about her. When confronted, Stephanie coldly and aggressively snapped back, “Yeah, I said those things! I was mad at you!” At this, Jenny looked at the ground, paused, and then said, “Well…I’m glad we were able to work that out.”
Not exactly the model picture of conflict resolution.
The way this imaginary scenario played out was both comical and instructive. My wife and I still laugh about it today. However, in this role-play, Jenny and Stephanie both revealed the obstacles that would keep each of them from experiencing closeness in relationships. Jenny was so afraid of conflict that she would be willing to accept hurts without seeking resolution. Stephanie would run over others and refuse to take their hurts seriously. They demonstrated two wildly different approaches to
relationships, but both approaches are equally hindering to the kind of closeness to which most of us aspire.
Both Jenny and Stephanie needed to be set free. Jenny needed to be set free from her fears so that she could risk upsetting others in order to pursue close relationships. Stephanie needed to be set free from her defensiveness so that she could be vulnerable and considerate. One of the ironies of this scenario is that Jenny and Stephanie were best friends. But you can
probably imagine how their different approaches hindered them from
having true closeness.
Relationships are complicated.
Whether we are talking about husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings or friends, we all find it a struggle to connect. On the one hand, our hearts desire for closeness. We want to know and to be known. At the same time, we find our relationships lacking for any number of reasons.
We are too cold. We are too clingy.
We start fights. We refuse to engage.
We smother. We neglect. We send the mixed signals that we want to be known, and yet we refuse to open ourselves up so that others can know us.
Much like Jenny and Stephanie, we all need to be set free. Some of us need to be set free from the illusion that human relationships can heal all of our wounds. Until we are set free, we will pour all of our energy into relationships and then pull away and despise our loved ones when they don’t fulfill our deepest needs. Others of us need to be set free from our crippling fear of being vulnerable.
We need to know that we are safe at the deepest level, so that we can be free to risk closeness with people who could use what they learn about us to hurt us later on.
The only true and ultimate paths to this freedom is through the gospel of Jesus. Only when we are connected to God can we be set free from the unhealthy habit of using others up for our purposes. Only when we have experienced the grace and forgiveness of Jesus can we be set free from the unhealthy habit of hiding from others in order to protect ourselves.
God created us for relationships. He Himself is Triune, existing forever in perfect community. God longs for us to have connections with one another that bring joy and fullness to our lives.
And it is only God who can lead us to experience the kind of health and harmony for which we long.
In the month of April at Life Bible Fellowship Church, we will walk through a 5-week series called How We Relate: Relationships as God Intended. Each week we will talk about an aspect of how Scripture leads us to relational joy and health. And more than this, we will talk about how when we cling to the gospel of Jesus, we find ourselves free to take the risks that are necessary to experience relationships as God intended.