Friends are the people we want to be around. But it is not always that easy, it’s not all about a smooth road which veers to our every whim. Because maybe, friendship is fundamentally about conflict.
I want to do something. Someone else wants to do something else. We search for harmony in our relationships, but the life we live pays testament that it is conflict and not harmony that usually wins the day.
It can be mundane, it can be trivial, it can be easy and it can be hard. It could be what to do with a final Saturday in the summer sun. Or maybe who we include in certain activities.
The practicalities will often be verbalised, the differences clear. But many of the areas of conflict will go unspoken, they will simmer under the surface. We will continue as though there is no disagreement, that everything is hunky dory.
But I am committed to getting through it. And I am determined to not let my tendency for isolation to let me flee from challenging situations.
I’ve been away with my friends a couple of times over the summer and each time the fun and harmony was sprinkled with a dose of conflict. And perhaps I was more to blame than most for the disruption. While I may not have handled the specific situations particularly well, they did cause me to think about how much space we allow for conflict in our friendships.
There’s a memorable line in the film “Good Will Hunting” when Sean is telling Will about his relationship with his wife: ‘The little idiosyncrasies that only I know about: that’s what made her my wife. Oh she had the goods on me too, she knew all about my little peccadilloes. People call these things imperfections, but they’re not. Ah, that’s the good stuff.’
We think that the best a relationship can be is one with complete harmony and an absence of problems. This simply misses the point. We live in a world where relationships are broken and we are fuelled by selfishness and greed. If our pursuit of relationships, both romantic and platonic does not take this into account we will end up both disappointed and spurred on to build a facade of perfection that does not exist.
Maybe because we have a certain intentionality in romantic relationships we accept the need to ‘get through conflict’, but even this misses the point that it is a never ending challenge. Things do not get better once you’ve argued and made up once. But in friendships there is rarely the acknowledgement of the need for hard graft.
It also seems a bit too eager, to go into a group of friends and start off the conversation. And you can come across as the fun police, especially if you want to say something unpopular. But sometimes these things need to be said, there needs to be room for the dissenting opinion to be voiced. Because it is just in the circumstances that it is not given space that peer pressure takes its toll. When other people are doing something or saying something and you just go along for the ride.
There’s two different categories of conflict here, there are those which are based on subjective preferences, where some form of compromise needs to be found between people with myriad different opinions and views. There’s often not a solid right or a wrong thing to be done. Should we go to the beach or the park on a sunny day?
But there is a second category, and within the church sometimes we consider ourselves exempt from this. We live under the assumption that in our interaction with the wider world we have to be on our guard against temptation, but among our church friends all is fine.
I think I am more tempted to behave in a manner dishonouring to God around Christians. Maybe it is because I don’t take such care, but also because to suggest that something is wrong is not only about my beliefs and values, but I am explicitly questioning theirs.
So how do we create the space for these kind of conversations to take place? How do we let ourselves be challenged when we are behaving in an inconsiderate way, are we too protective of being in the right that we squash any challenges before they are spoken?
2 thoughts on “When love and life collide”
Great blog danny! However I disagree, I don’t believe friendship is fundamentally about conflict. I believe friendship is fundamentally about unity. Friendships are people united around similarities, sometimes music or sport sometimes beliefs or purpose. The trinity sets the example of a perfect relationship, there is no conflct present.
The example of relationship in the Trinity is of a perfect relationship. We are most certainly not perfect. Without conflict where is the space to learn, grow, develop – to truly know a person character warts (sin) and all? Can we truly know a person and be their friend if we only have seen their good and none of their bad? (The trinity has no bad to show – something to strive towards but also acknowledge we will never fully achieve on earth) Conflict I do not think has to be about arguments or fights but it arises when a person does/says something fundamently differently to how you would. And here we have a choice. Are we willing to accept or dismiss their behaviour or opinion or are we going to (gracefully) challenge it? I think the outcome of that decision says ultimately so much more about a friendship than the times of pleasure you have experienced together. It is how you work through conflict and challenge that unites you and takes you further on your relational journeys – friendship or romantic.
I have a key example of a recent camping trip I experienced with some friends, or actually people I thought were my friends – and I say that statement with no bitterness or malice intended. Whilst my behaviour was in no way perfect on this trip (far from it and the catalyst for much personal reflection and growth) as the conflict arose I saw that with these particular people the conflict was too great for the friendship and therefore now the friendship no longer exists. The actions and choices made by the other party were so different and ‘out of line’ with my own personal values and expectations that there was no choice but to part ways. Without this conflict how was I to ever know? I can also give examples of the complete opposite happening and friendships have been nurtured and have grown over many years with a great deal of conflict thrown which has, to date, only made that friendship stronger.
In my humble opinion far too many Christians consider anger and conflict to be something we should flee from but I think the opposite is true. We are human. We sin. We get offended and get upset. If these things are repressed in the name of Christianity to the point we feel we cannot dare to cause a potential conflict… well I have seen the consequences, and they are not pretty.
Great blog Danny – I suppose I’m basically saying I agree