You know that person, who when their number comes up on your phone, or you see them walking down the hall towards you at work; you get a knot in your stomach and kind of want to throw up? Yeah, there’s a good chance that feeling is because there’s something that needs to be stated between you. Either resolution to a known conflict or something they’re completely unaware of but has put a wedge between you. This article is not a panacea for all relationships. But I believe the content discussed can help you have more transparent, trust-filled, and therefore, healthier relationships. Specifically where things feel tense.
For as long as I can remember, my personality has leaned toward fear. As a little kid, spiders, the dark, thunder— heck, even Santa Claus could send me running and screaming (true story, that really happened). But that fear didn’t stay contained in the “normal” area of childhood phobias. As I grew, how I was received by others became the root of so many of my daily gripping fears. My desire to be liked and to be included meant I had to navigate disagreements, misunderstandings, and the occasional verbal throw down. But thanks to my overwhelming fears, I learned to sidestep conflict with the best of them.
Passive/aggressive comment?… you’re welcome. Avoidance?…Watch me go (literally) Eye contact?… I’ll just stare at this cute little ant, thank you…
Go figure, but every relationship; Be it friend, family, co-worker, spouse, or daughter, has required me to face periods of disagreement and frustration. I had to find a path through it rather than around it, and to constructively deal with it.
And I have. Over time, I’ve learned how to not run screaming like that little boy at the Christmas program. But instead to look fear in the face and find that there’s treasure to be unearthed.
In case you’re missing the point, let me be super clear; navigating difficult conversations DID NOT come naturally. At one point, I’d have opted for a root canal over having to sit down and hash something out with someone. I’m a peacemaker at all costs. That’s a godly quality—usually. But we have the ability to make anything godly, ungodly. My reasoning would be, “I’m pursuing peace”. But in reality, I was running from fear. Fear of tension, disappointment, anger, and ultimately, rejection. Does this sound eerily familiar? If so, take heart. There is hope!
Behind the perceived wall of fear, there’s strength. There’s understanding. There’s relational health. And most importantly, there’s a deeper connection to God as He guides you through it.
I’m not sure where you are with faith. I’m not trying to assume anything here. But for me, my faith in God is what gets me through these situations. That’s the only angle I can come at this from. So you’ll see some Bible verses as you read further. I use these as anchors to what I believe. If you’re not there, no worries. I just ask you to bear with me as I share from my faith perspective. Then you can wrestle with it as you will.
The bottom line: To get good at this, it takes time, patience, and courage. And speaking of patience and courage…
In the oldy but goody movie, Evan Almighty; Morgan Freeman plays the character of God and asks this question (2nd best God ever - BTW): “If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does he give him courage or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?”
What Mr. Freeman is saying is worth considering because of its Biblical roots.
James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Wait a minute. God is saying I should view difficulties (trials) as the, “greatest joy”? Ummm—weird. Or is it? To be clear, God isn’t saying to be happy when things are tough. He’s saying when things get tough— persevere. And as you do, your ability to persevere will “finish its work”, until it releases maturity and completion into who you are. That’s a cause for joy. We get perfected if we endure suffering. You and I know this world offers up a lot of opportunities to suffer.
And there it is—the bridge to what I want to talk about. Difficult conversations are real suffering. Can I get an Amen (or a Hells yeah!)? Think of the last time you had one of these. Want to do it again? Can’t wait for the next one? Nope, didn’t think so. But another one will come; pretty much guaranteed.
And if you approach it a certain way, you can endure it. You can get perfected through it. In other words, you will look more like the true self you were made to be. The self God created you to be. Sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself.
So I’d like to share an acronym I use to help me remember how to do this: T.R.A.S.H. talk.
No, I’m not training you how to talk smack at your Basketball league or how to verbally decimate your opponent as you play, Settlers of Catan (who would do that? Ohhh—I know people.)
T.R.A.S.H. is a simple acronym to remind us of a few skills to help navigate and mine all we can out of these sometimes very hard situations. Remember, we’re trying to get to the “Joy” that enduring difficulties brings about. So here goes. You’ll see I added a Bible verse to each attribute to show why I think they work. My personal belief is if I don’t first see it represented in the Bible, I’m suspicious of it working. So I try (many times, imperfectly) to start there. Here goes…
Training - for you and the other person.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Whether I’m going to the gym, tackling an online course, or about to engage in a challenging conversation, I need to know there’s potential benefit for my body, my mind, or my relationships. Otherwise, why engage? If entered into well, difficult conversations actually build relational and spiritual muscle. They force us to strengthen how we listen to both others and God, for guidance through it. It’s not about who can yell the loudest. It’s not about winning. It’s about working through conflict constructively, to get to a better place.
Reliant on God - Listen for God’s voice and know that you’ve got a counselor.
John 14: 26-27 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Pray—a lot; Before, during, and after the conversation. Are you nervous about how this might go? I typically am. So I pray for peace. I pray for wisdom. And then when I actually engage with the person, I find that many times, God puts words in my mouth. Better words. More constructive and helpful words. But more important than my words, is my desire to listen. Both to the other person and to God. He’ll give me insight in the midst of the conversation. Remember, meeting high emotion with high emotion never works. Come into a situation with a small mouth and big ears. In doing so, you give space for God to speak. And I know sometimes these conversations come at us sideways. We weren’t expecting it. But if we train in the ones we do know are coming, we’ll be better prepared when we don’t.
Authenticity - Be transparent about your own brokenness.
Matthew 7:5 “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to ignore others’ “specks” (i.e. blindspots or struggles). Many times, these are the very things that require a difficult conversation to happen. But we MUST deal with our own stuff first. To be willing to talk about our brokenness, to be repentant, and ask for forgiveness when appropriate. And to be grace-filled if we need to correct someone else. If we’re willing to look at ourselves and have God reveal our own “Junk” first, then I believe we’ll be able to approach others with more clarity and impact. Regardless of how challenging the conversation might be.
Sharpening - We are tasked with sharpening one another.
Proverbs 27:6 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses”
The tongue is a very powerful instrument. James 3 goes as far as to say it’s the “most dangerous part of the human body.” It gives us the ability to both bless and curse the people we interact with. Just like a surgeon with a scalpel. We might have to “cut” (wound) someone to get to the problem and help remove it. In certain contexts, the act of cutting someone can be an act of violence. But in the case of surgery, it’s an act of healing. How are we wielding the power of our words? Just because something we say might sting the other person, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said. But how we say it matters. And if we sharpen, there’s a most important skill we must employ.
Humility - Deliver every word with humility and remove the enemy from the equation.
James 4:6-7 “But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’”
The bottom line is that we can enter into difficult conversations as an opportunity to train; We can rely on God; We can be authentic and willing to sharpen (and be sharpened). But if we aren’t humble, we’re making ourselves easy pickins for the devil. He’ll whisper lies in our ears like; We’re right and the other person is wrong. Or that we’re the problem and everyone else sees it but us. Or maybe we should just recognize this will always be an issue so just get over it. The list goes on and on.
But if we submit to God through our humility, the devil HAS TO FLEE. There’s no negotiation. He must leave. You might be asking, “How the heck will I know if the devil is fleeing?” Good question. You most likely won’t hear a door slam and screeching tires as he speeds away (although that would be cool…and a bit scary). It’s much more subtle. And it might take time to start to see that he’s lost his “grip” on you, the other person, or the situation. Maybe we see that it’s become easier to set our ego down and instead follow God’s promptings through the issue. Maybe we realize we’re finding it easier to stay silent and really listen to the other person, when before, we always wanted to jump to the defense out of the gate. Or maybe our heart just feels softer toward the other person. Not that you necessarily have changed your mind on the issue at hand (although that can happen), but that you have empathy for their point of view. That, my friend, is the devil fleeing! And it opens the opportunity for God’s healing to come pouring in.
So we should enter into every difficult conversation with humility. It doesn’t mean we can’t sharpen. But we do so in humility. It doesn’t mean we don’t say things we feel God wants us to say. But we do so in humility. Again, this not only allows us to speak well, it allows us to listen well.
We take the low road and enter in as a servant to the other person. The verse tells us that “God opposes the proud.” Who do you think wins between you and God? That’s an easy one, right? So avoid pride and stand on the side of God by standing in humility. God can do so much through us if we do. These challenging conversations can actually produce fruit, create deeper connections, and result in healing.
So I encourage you to talk T.R.A.S.H. the next time you have to enter a difficult conversation. Trust that God is calling you to this for your spiritual health as well as the other person. Don’t run away like me as a kid terrified by Santa. These conversations can actually be good. And for the record, so is Ol’ St. Nick.