5 ways to pursue peace in a difficult relationship

November 16, 2015

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.

Colleen Chao

Colleen Elisabeth Chao is a freelance editor and the author of the children’s book on suffering, Out of the Shadow World. She blogs about God's kindness to her through the unexpected chapters of her story, including singleness, depression, and cancer. She makes her home in Southern California with her husband Eddie and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24