Article Nov 16, 2015

5 ways to pursue peace in a difficult relationship

My friends are good forgivers. In fact, my best friends are women who are hard to offend and quick to forgive. Their love for me has caused them to overlook a multitude of offenses and to continue to think the best of me despite my track record.
Relationships are not for the faint of heart. But they are worth it. When God created relationships, he let us in on breathtakingly beautiful mysteries about himself. As we live in relationship with one another, he takes us into a deeper experience of His love.

Here’s the rub: we have to be willing to navigate hurt, misunderstanding and differences with each other. This can be especially true during the holidays. And while I’m still in kindergarten when it comes to these issues, here are a few helpful things I tell myself when I’m in the thick of a difficult relationship:

1. Be hard to offend.

We are a hypersensitive society, quick to play the victim card. We write about “9 Things You Should Never Say to Your Single Friends” and “11 Topics Guaranteed to Ignite Mommy Wars.”

But meaningful relationships can’t flourish when we’re walking on eggshells.

I’m one to talk: I’m naturally sensitive and have a history of taking things too personally. But by God’s grace, I’m working hard against this tendency because I want to love people, not react to them. Sometimes it’s as simple as growing thicker skin in order to love someone past their rough edges. (So let your friends say something stupid once in awhile. It’s good for you.)

2. Give it time.

As I look back at some of my most intimidating conflicts with family and friends, I realize that time has often played a significant role in resolving our differences and helping us better understand each other. To be honest, I hate that. I want restoration right now. I’m a peacemaker at heart, and I’m miserable when a relationship isn’t in a place of perfect tranquility. But some of the most tender restorations have come years after what felt like an insurmountable difference. God was working in both of our hearts, humbling and maturing us, and that kind of work typically doesn’t happen overnight. The writer of Ecclesiastes says,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…

a time to seek, and a time to lose…

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”

God can give us the wisdom to know when to pursue immediate restoration (embrace, seek, speak) and when to step back and wait on him (refrain, lose, keep silent).

3. Give fresh grace.

That friend or family member you’re at odds with? You have a fresh and abundant supply of grace to offer them today. God’s mercies are new every morning—for you, for them. It’s easy to start viewing someone through their history of offense, but as L.M. Montgomery once wrote, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

When I’m struggling to offer this kind of grace to an offender, chances are I’ve forgotten how much I’ve been forgiven. Think of it this way: if my offenses against God filled the pages of all the books in the New York Public Library, your offenses against me would fit on a small Post-It Note. When I revel in the fact that my library of sin was burned up—I’m motivated to go set fire to that measly little Post-It Note.

4. Cultivate a loving thought life.

Do you have conversations in your head with “that person”? You know, those monologues where you say all the zingers you’ve wanted to say but haven’t?

The fruit of relationship begins in the soil of our thoughts. So if our inner lawyer is rising up in our defense, if we’re constantly replaying another’s faults and failings, if we’re mentally preparing for the next offense, then that relationship will bear defensive, fault-finding fruit.

On the other hand, if we’re applying God’s truth to a difficult relationship—if we’re resolved to love past our differences by God’s power—then no matter what choices the other person makes, we will reap the fruit of a free and forgiving spirit. We’ll no longer feel at the mercy of someone else’s actions.

5. Stop acting surprised.

There should be a disclaimer at the outset of every new relationship, be it friend, roommate, spouse or in-law: “At some point along the way, I will miserably fail you, hurt you and anger you. Guaranteed.” So, we should stop acting so surprised when it happens.

Yes, we have the best of intentions to love each other, but the truth is, we’re two sinners in relationship, and things are going to get messy from time to time. Don’t make the mistake of putting your friend or family member in the place of God. It leads to unrealistic expectations and unnecessary hurt. God is perfect. They are not.

If we’re going to enjoy authentic, life-giving, loving relationships, we need to be ready to forgive (and be forgiven). Seventy times seven.

Easier said than done, isn’t it? We’re going to fail often at forgiving and loving—but he won’t. Today, let’s turn our thoughts away from others’ failures and to the One who loved us with His very life and forgave us seventy times infinity. We love because He first loved us.

PLEASE NOTE: This article is addressing everyday relational offenses (between believers), not serious issues of abuse or immorality.

Scriptures referenced: Prov. 10:12; Eccl. 3; Lam. 3:22-23; Matt. 18:22; 1 John 4:19.