Friday, October 14, 2005

That darn Jesus, always leaving me with the thorny questions.....

I had dinner with a friend last night and we got into a pretty good conversation about the struggles and challenges involved in being in relationship with each other in a community context. As we talked, our discussion began to turn toward considering how jarring and shocking it can be when we encounter sharp differences of opinion or even minor disagreements with those whom we live with or whose company we regularly keep. We both commented about how such encounters can easily cause us to pull back from involvement with others and incline us toward seeking the path of least resistance or defaulting to a kind of self-protective mode of relating. But the thing that really struck me as we continued to share, was how easy it is for me to treat as unnatural, threatening, or even objectionable and offensive, things that are a very natural and healthy part of building robust & genuine friendships with each other. I began to realize in a whole new way how my own tendency to internalize and take personally differences of opinion, or even conflict with others, prevents me from being able to learn that this is a very natural, and healthy, part of being in mature adult relationships with each other; it prevents me from seeing that working through and with difference(s) is the only path to true and lasting relationships. I'm beginning to understand that at many points when I feel like I'm in crisis or stalemated in a particular relationship, what I am really experiencing is the beginning of the pathway to a much deeper and richer experience of love and fellowship with another person. But this is only if I choose to continue moving forward in situations and with people who make me feel unmcomfortable (for whatever reasons).
Obviously, there are genuinely bad conflicts/relationships, and there are times when we move beyond disagreement or difference into violence, emotional abuse, blatant insensitivity, or outright manipulation of each other. When these circumstances arise, we need to decisively address them and arrange for the kind of help that will lead to their proper resolution. However, I have to admit that I think these kinds of circumstances are actually a lot less prevalent than my own fragile ego would like to admit. Most of the conflicts & difficulties that I have with people in my life are just a natural part of two (or more) human beings entering into a relationship with each other; and the natural corollary is that a substantial part, even the majority, of the conflict is actually bound up in my own personal insecurities, my demand to be right, my own desire to be safe, my own desire to find the answer that everyone else needs, etc. At any rate, these are some of the things that last night's encounter brought before the bar of my own conscience. It helped me realize a bit more about what Jesus might have meant when he said, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax-collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that (Matthew 5:46-47)?


dwain said...

Great post! It's sometimes impossible to discern the line that separates blatant malice from constructive conflict, but it's heartbreaking when a friendship crosses over to "the dark side." Too few people take the time that you obviously have to reflect on the conflictive relationships in their lives, and that's a pity.

ryan k said...

Well said, Billy. We are considering the phenomenon of disagreement in a Marriage and Family Therapy class. My professor has emphasized the notion of differentiation: the ability to be connected and autonomous; the capacity to discover or develop one's own values without becoming overly anxious about how this might threaten others. I hope I am doing your post (and this word) justice--it sounds like what you are describing.
Ryan K.