Minister’s forum: Don’t just ignore the struggle – deal with it
It is not easy to live in harmony together. If you do not live alone, you know that it is not easy to maintain harmony even with those you love. Every family has its times of conflict and disharmony. What is true in our blood families also occurs in our church family. Conflict is unavoidable in interpersonal relations. The church is not immune to conflicts of opinion, interest or personality. Conflict and disagreement occur when people live in community.
It is how we deal with that conflict that defines us. Do we allow conflict to break the relationship, or do we meet the conflict head on, and with open minds? Do we listen to the other side? Do we run away from the conflict, or do we confront it and discuss it in community?
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches that we must confront one another when there is an issue between us. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).
When we confront one another, we must do so with love. We are meant to live in community together. Christianity is not a solitary religion. Yes, there have been contemplative hermits in our history, but our faith was forged in community. Jesus traveled with his friends, the disciples. Even when he sent them out to do his work, he did not send each to a different place, but he sent them in pairs.
We live in community not just for “safety,” but for the support and challenge that we bring to one another’s lives. Yes, it can be a struggle to live together. Each of us has his or her own ideas of how things should be done. Compromise and listening are the keys to living together in community. Sometimes an issue arises that must be addressed. Jesus tells us to address those issues directly. Don’t talk behind someone’s back. Confront him or her with whatever wrong is between you. Talk it out together. Try to understand the other’s perspective. If there is a true wrong, then rectify it. Wrestle with it if necessary.
The problem is, most of us find it difficult to confront someone when there is an issue between us. We are more likely to complain to a third person about the other’s behavior.
John Kavanaugh writes: “Encountering the truth with another person daunts us because it makes us face another being who cannot be reduced to our own desires or projections. We may try to make others a function of our egos, but it fails. Rather than enter the struggle, we ignore it. If, however, we seriously love another person as an ‘other,’ and not a mere instrument of our wills, we experience the kind of self-transcendence that is required in our relationship to God.” We do need to confront one another when we see a serious transgression. If I see my friend entering into destructive behavior, I have a moral obligation to confront her. That is part of being a friend.
Every one of us has done something that has hurt another, sometimes without even realizing it. Have we confronted the situation? Have we apologized if our behavior was the cause of hurt? Have we let hurt fester, instead of discussing it with the other person?
By living in community with one another, we take on a level of responsibility for one another. We pray for one another, we watch out for one another, and we teach one another. Community life is a great testing ground of faith. Saint Teresa of Avila thought that relationships in community were often a greater indication of one’s relationship to God than the heights of mystical prayer.
William Willimon writes: “Whenever two or three are gathered together to tell the truth to one another, to risk relationship on a truthful level, to seek repentance and offer forgiveness, then Jesus is there with us.”
Our call as Christians is to love one another. This does not change when we disagree. Jesus is there with us when we wrestle with those disagreements. May we deal gently and honestly with one another when a difficulty arises.
– The Rev. Elizabeth Tattersall is from the St. John’s in the Wilderness Episcopal Church