A few years ago I experienced some very painful relational conflict. To make a very long story short, I think early in a relationship I pushed up against something in a friend’s spirit – maybe I even knocked something over. I thought I was gently probing, but to her it felt like something much deeper. I hurt her – completely unbeknown to me.
Perhaps in an effort to believe the best in me, or some other innocent intention, she chose not to mention anything to me until many months later. When she did finally express herself, her frustration had reached a boiling point.
I admit, it wasn’t a complete surprise – but I had ignored the signs – the closing up, the stiffening conversations, the subtle tension. I chose to ignore them because I hoped they would just go away, I thought they were a product of some other tensions in her life, and I was tired.
In response to her “false peace” I set up my own “false peace” but a few months later we couldn’t be in the same room with each other. We eventually had the knock-down-drag-out that was inevitable and by then there seemed so little left to the fabric of our once very beautiful relationship, it seemed futile to try to patch it up. I felt betrayed, hurt, angry, defensive, and insecure. I’m sure she felt similarly.
The best I could do was hobble away from her – offering all the apology I could muster and fleeing to the farthest corner of all the places we might accidentally meet.
I wish I could say we are all better now. Our physical paths have distanced us for better or for worse and it seems unlikely that either of us will attempt to resurrect the closeness we once had. It bothers me sometimes, but what bothers me more is the underlying root cause that seemed so innocent but did so much damage in the end.
That being – false peace.
I’m reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality now, by Peter Scazzero. Not even 2 chapters in and I’m already really challenged. He has a list of what he calls “The Top Ten Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality,” and number six is – Spiritualizing Away Conflict.
“…Like radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant, if not contained, I feared it (conflict) might unleash terrible damage. So I did what most Christians do: I lied a lot, both to myself and others…”
“…Out of desire to bring true peace, Jesus disrupts the false peace all around him.”
In the short term, ignoring conflict feels rights – we are still smiling, we are still pretending to like the other person, and no unpleasant words have been expressed. I have learned first hand that conflict, that is, frustration at someones words, actions, attitudes, values, ideas, – it merely buries itself in our thoughts, expressing itself in destructive ways.
If only she had told me, that day I someone seemed to set myself against her unwittingly. If only I had called her out of her passive aggressiveness, and helped her feel safe again. If only we had chosen to work on our differences when our relationship could bear the weight of differing upbringings, values, and ways of expressing ourselves, instead of waiting.
False peace is a killer of trust. A killer of real friendship. And although it has seemed a foolproof method in my past, I’m tossing it out. Perhaps I will experience conflict more frequently now – but I can trust Jesus to model what is best for me.
Have you employed false peace in a relationship only to have it backfire in your face? Are you attempting, even now, to extend false peace to someone, while internally bitterness and anger is growing? Have you been on the other end, suddenly confronted by an anger you never knew was brewing inside someone close?
I hope not, but I bet so. Perhaps you are like me and confounded by how frequently you experience conflict despite bending over backwards to stay in harmony with people. Well, false harmony is not harmony. Invisible arrows still hurt, laying your frustration at different feet only kindles it, instead of diffusing it, and conflict is sometimes the only way to true peace and joy.
Can I get an amen?