Confronting Courageous Love
"I never have friends over and the one time I do, you tell us to keep it down! You should be more considerate to the people around you!" Her eyes are blazing, hatred seeping out of every pore.
The incident my housemate is referring to happened 8 months earlier. It was a weeknight, and heading past 10pm. Her friends were sitting out on the porch, near my window chatting away.
In the last few years, I've been confronting my resentment of confrontation.
The family dynamic I grew up in would swing from passive to aggressive, so I found it hard to strike a balance, though I would usually lean towards passivity. Someone says something that annoys me. I would turn the other cheek, mull over it for a few hours, go and walk it out…but would sooner swallow my own tongue than have a vulnerable conversation with that person. Perhaps I never learnt how to.
There's a few classrooms of life in which you learn (and practice) confrontation: house-sharing, workplaces, relationships. My first real teachers were a married Dutch couple I lived with who brought me kicking and screaming into the realisation that bringing things up and dealing with them is better for the both of you: you don't hold onto resentment and the other person has the opportunity to defend the charges you've laid against them. Since that point I've grit my teeth, practiced deep breathing, written a draft script, whatever it takes to garner courage to say what I want to say and let the other person respond. It's hard, but definitely worth it.
The accusation from the housemate came left-field: tacked onto another heated discussion. "You mean you've been holding onto this for 8 months?!" I ask in disbelief. No wonder she relished so quickly asking my friends to keep it down whenever I had anyone over.
I said she’d given me no opportunity to defend myself but passed judgement and held it over me for 8 months. It didn't feel fair.
Passivity sends the message that you're not worth sorting out the problem.
That it doesn't matter if the relationship is preserved or not, that you'll happily resent someone long-term.
We naturally shy away from confrontation, especially as Christians. But I don’t think genuine love always looks like passivity. Jesus felt anger, he unleashed fury on the Pharisees who set up shop in the temple. Genuine love has the best intentions in mind for the other person, and sometimes the best intentions are protecting them from your resentment.
It's so much easier to write someone off, or walk away than push through a conflict.
But the rewards of pushing through are a deeper understanding of the person, greater empathy, greater strength to forgive, greater opportunity to examine the planks in your own eye.
Of course both parties have to be open to this process, and a recent revelation is that not everyone is. People would rather gouge their eyes out than work through a conflict. I know this first-hand and still feel this eye-gouging pull every time.
I rarely get it right, and it will be a lifelong process. But I would rather invest my energies into people who are willing to sign up to the process of an authentic relationship, which is messy and accept conflict as a reality and commit to walking through it rather than walking away. I want to learn to love courageously, love despite all odds and see conflict as an opportunity rather than a dysfunction.
Cherie Lee leads many lives: by night she writes, by day she works with intellectually disabled people and some nights, she goes and fights injustice with her team of crime-fighting cats, who also have many lives.