Confrontation is uncomfortable. I would go so far as to say that it is painful. At least by the definition that most of us view it. For a lot of us I think the word confront is synonymous with the word argue. Unfortunately, confrontation is often a precursor to fighting. In fact, the first definition that comes up in the dictionary for confrontation is, “a situation in which people, groups, etc., fight, oppose, or challenge each other in an angry way.” Is it any mystery why many of us avoid it altogether? It is not natural to chase after uncomfortable situations. As humans we want to preserve our comfort, and it seems more peaceful, even more loving, to just let it be.
Yet have any of you ever been on the receiving end of someone that is “avoiding conflict” with you? I have. There have been times where I offended someone unknowingly and years went by before I found out. Yet I could feel something was off between us. You see, when someone is avoiding, it is rarely hidden well. I myself have been guilty on more than one occasion of the cliché answer of “fine” when questioned if I was alright.
So does it truly love when we avoid the issue? Does it bring real peace, or is it actually a false sense of peace? In my experience even small situations avoided can easily become the first brick in a wall between two people. Yet what I have found time and again is that when we swallow our fear in order to pick up courage and confront the individual, many times we find a simple misunderstanding on the other end.
Did you know that like most words, confrontation also has another less used definition? It is also defined, to compare. “Meaningful comparison” to be exact. So using that definition a step further, what does it mean within our relationships? Misunderstandings are often created by two people viewing a situation from different perspectives. A way to resolve it is to confront the situation and compare our views. Not aggressively as the first definition might suggest, but by giving our view and asking for theirs in order to understand.
I had a roommate for a few years during college that I admired for her adept ability to confront in love. If something bothered her, she did not wait. She did not gossip to others about that person. Instead she confronted them quickly to bring light to the situation. She would say how she felt and ask if that was accurate to how they viewed it. How did they see it? And then she listened. In fact, to this day she is one of my best friends because her behavior has told me three important things. First, that she loves me. Second, that our relationship means enough to her that she would confront and protect it. And third, that I can trust her. I can trust that she says what she means and means what she says. I can trust that if she is upset with me, I will hear it from her first. She is a wonderful person that has taught me a great deal about true friendship.
Now I would like to address my fellow Christians, myself included. Because I believe that some of the worst offenders of false peace live within the churches. After all, aren’t we supposed to bring peace and joy always? Confrontation seems like a four letter word within Christian culture. Or in another extreme, confrontation is done as it is described in the first definition, with aggression. These both result many times with people being insincere or ambiguous with one another. It does not feel safe.
What does the Bible have to say about the subject? Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, but you and him alone.” Now I take that verse with a humble grain of salt since I know that many times I have felt “sinned against” only to find out that we simply had differing views. But, the first step is always to go straight to the person. The other verse that comes to mind is Ephesians 4:23. “Therefore having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” I believe this brings us back to the point of false peace to avoid conflict. “Putting away” the falsehood of acting like a peaceful friend when something is actually eating away at you. “Speaking truth” to them instead of acting disingenuous towards them.
Practicing healthy confrontation is a life skill we have to learn, just like social skills, money management, and work ethic. But regrettably conflict resolution is a teaching that has been neglected in many of our lives. The last couple of years I have been reading up on these skills and find that there is a lot of material available in order to learn and put it into practice. Practice being the true key. One thing that helped me to do this was by having a conversation in advance with my close friends and family. I let them know of my current lack of skill in that area, but that I was trying to learn it. I let them know that if I ever offended them, that I wanted them to confront me. That I promised to listen and not get angry or defensive. I also asked for their patience if I ever tried to confront them. In other words I strived to create a safe place to practice this skill.
You see, I love them. And I want a healthy relationship with them without walls. And the first step towards recognizing that in my own life is to practice.