I’m not one to confront conflict with courage. So I was not looking forward to meeting with one of my church friends last week. It would be no ordinary get together. No cooking experiments or shopping—it was a meeting to figure out why we couldn’t get along.
The conflict began innocently enough with a careless word that led to a misunderstanding. Now more than 18 months later, this unresolved hurt has festered into an unhealed sore, and it has tainted every encounter between us.
The situation exploded when my friend tried to confront the issue in an e-mail. I know electronic communication is not typically the best way to address conflict, but, as a writer, I felt it was my best opportunity to clearly articulate my thoughts and concerns. So I sat down with my laptop to retaliate—I mean, reply.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that 18 months of negative thinking had obscured my ability to see any of my friend’s positive qualities. I had painted a picture of her with strokes of bitterness and resentment. This distorted image was preventing reconciliation from happening. Before clicking off an e-mail, I took a few minutes to identify her good qualities and to remind myself of her value to God. This helped melt the phony caricature I had created of her in my mind, and it wasn’t until I confessed my hardness of heart to God that I felt free to start repairing the relationship.
My “blindness” reminded me of the account of the Jesus and the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Jesus had just been crucified and buried. It was now three days later after he had risen when he encountered Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. The men did not recognize Jesus, even when he “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:27). It wasn’t until Jesus broke and blessed the bread and gave it to them that the men recognized Jesus for who he really was.
While I know the Bible says that God kept the two men from recognizing Jesus, this story reminds me of how our own criticisms can blind us. In the midst of my conflict and frustration with my friend, I was not able to see any of her positive qualities because I was too focused on criticism. It wasn’t until I started looking for and seeing the good in her that my eyes were opened to who she really is.
Although we attempted to begin resolving our conflict by e-mail, eventually we met in person to share our thoughts and feelings. As with many other conflicts, ours was ultimately rooted in misunderstandings. We both had to learn how to forgive.
Like any major wound that heals, our friendship still bears the scars that come from unresolved conflict. However, the pain and damage that prevented us from building our relationship is gone. If you are bitter toward someone, I hope you pray my prayer: that you would begin to see your adversary as Christ sees them. If Jesus sees them as worth dying for, only a blind person would want to see them otherwise.
What about you? Have you ever had an ugly falling out with someone? How did you respond?