Last year, a couple whom I love dearly asked to sit with me and speak about how my stance on certain topics has affected them. Preparation for that meeting was stressful and chaotic. I’m not sure I presented my best self during the discussion, but it has been worth it. Intimacy cannot survive without painful discussions. Relationships sometimes can, but they will lose depth.
Have you ever needed to bring a difficult subject up with someone? Whether you eagerly meet conflict head-on, or you avoid it to your own detriment—there are times when you must speak with someone.
Approaching someone to convict them of sin
Approaching someone to tell them how they’ve hurt you
Approaching someone to confess your own sin
The method of approach should be similar for all three situations. The first thing to focus on is that you are not there to initiate conflict—but it may be the result. I have a bookmark from Al-Anon that says healthy detachment is “Not to prevent a crisis if that is the natural course of events.”
The second thing, and this should receive the most deliberation, is to ask yourself, “What’s the point?” If you don’t know your end goal then you are not ready to approach them.
I’ve found that I need to discover (through honest prayer and self reflection) what I want from all intentional discussions. Because more often than intended, my goal has been to validate my pain by making the other person acknowledge the depth of it and their participation.
The only reason to approach someone else should be for the goal of reconciliation. Reconciliation between you and the person, you and God, or them and the Lord.
If you truly want reconciliation, then Matthew 16:25 can give you the posture you need. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” I see this as releasing my own will.
Let go of my will to be heard and understood. Let go of my will to be forgiven. Releasing my will means letting go of the outcome.
If I know in my heart that making them apologize will not give me peace because I am not ready to forgive—then it is not time to approach them. If I know in my heart that I do not want to bring them back into intimacy, then there really isn’t a point to pursue the steps which do that.
Approaching someone to convict them of sin or tell how they’ve hurt you
Matthew 18:6-35 speaks about sin. Our own, convicting others, and not forgiving others. When I think of my willingness to forgive, verse 18 has curiously challenged me. “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I’ve been so convicted that I included the theme in a pivotal scene releasing a character from his animal form in Heiress of Coeur d’Alene. If I’m not ready to reconcile or I don’t see the point, the idea of me having power to bind or release bothers me. I made a mantra that helps: “I release my right for absolution…” I’ve had to say it out loud at times.
Approaching someone to confess your own sin
If you are the one in error, be patient. Just because you’re truly repentant doesn’t mean you can escape all of the consequences of your history. We do not “pay” for our own sins, don’t be arrogant—you can’t afford it, but sometimes payment is needed. Sentences still have to be served. Psalm 99:6-8
Your safety matters
Some people are not safe. I mentioned in the post Contemplating Love that kind tones and facial expressions can help your brain heal. If you have someone volatile in your life who changes the rules and reacts randomly good or bad—know that they cannot provide a place for healing.
More than safety for healing, if you are thinking of approaching someone who is (or potentially is) abusive, there are other steps to take before you speak with them. Please see a trusted counselor and have a plan, and a place to go, if escape could be needed. Focus on the Family has some resources to get started.
The good news is that God loves reconciliation and he is willing to play the long game to make it happen. I really enjoy this theme in Joseph’s story. Genesis 37-50. This reconciliation with his brothers shows us God’s heart to repair relationships and families.
Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him. Genesis 45:14
But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to keep many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21