The Art of Friendship

Part 2: Obstacles

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:15

This area is a doozy for me. I have been thinking about many specific friends during while planning, research, and writing these blogs. The people who are no longer my friends, or those with whom I have completely failed? Those have been at the forefront of my mind. I picture them reading this series and having one thought… 

Wow. That’s rich. 

These broken relationships have caused me to doubt every word I have written thus far, and they will probably cloud the remaining blogs in this series. 

I find myself thinking, Well, Marebs, look at X relationship. You really whiffed it there. What gives you any right to talk about friendship? 

Here’s the truth: I am petrified of conflict. When the time comes, I am paralyzed. In fact, I do absolutely everything I can to head off any potential area of contention. If I get annoyed or frustrated, I swallow it. I drive my closest friends nuts with my after-conversation analytics, in which I apologize for every little detail they might have perceived the wrong way. 

Both of these strategies have blown up in my face multiple times. 

Here’s a juicy secret for you: in the moment, people mostly confuse the shell out of me. I try to react out of the best parts of me. I try not to be defensive. I try to be honest and authentic. But sometimes it feels like my bad habits are too deep to shake. 

I am the most ideal friend in theory. But when it comes to putting these tenets into practice? I am just as human as any of you reading this now. Perhaps maybe even more so. 

Let me tell you a few things I have learned about conflict, mostly because I’ve done it incorrectly. 

It helps to start with humility and kindness. A little self-deprecation goes a long way. Re-iterate your care for that person. Apologize for anything you need to apologize for. THEN RIP THEM A NEW ONE. 

Kidding. In an ideal world, you would then calmly and gently air your grievance. 

I guess that’s supposed how it’s supposed to go. 

I recently met up with a friend to talk about one tiny comment he made that had made me angry. I started with a thirty-minute monologue basically justifying every feeling I have ever had in an attempt to legitimize my anger. When we finally got to the comment in question, he said, “You know, you could have just said, ‘Hey, that thing you said pissed me off.'” 

In short, I know nothing. 

Let me tell you what I do know. I have cultivated friendships that can withstand my awkward, fumbling attempts to express “negative” emotion. Or, maybe more accurately, I have been absurdly lucky to have the friends that I do. 

Authentic friendship and intimacy stand up to our mistakes. Or it doesn’t. I have friends who have responded gracefully, friends who have gotten angry, and I have been oblivious in the face of both reactions. 

The good news is you don’t have to listen to little old me about any of this. Paul is full of goodies regarding conflict. I know, I’m nailing this whole building credibility thing that is slightly important as a writer of non-fiction. Lucky for you, I can deflect like a champ. 

In Ephesians 2:14-16, Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” 

This is great news for people-pleasers like me, and probably like you, too. The art of making peace is messy and costly. Christ made peace for us through the cross. When we are wronged, and when we wrong each other, we can approach each other with confidence because Christ has made us one. He did the heavy lifting. 

I don’t understand it most of the time. Lord knows I’m not good at it. But it’s bigger than me. And it’s bigger than my broken relationships and my failures. That doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for the hurt that I cause, but it doesn’t get to define me. And that’s great news. 

If you were looking for something more constructive, check out Galatians 6:1-5.