By young adulthood, most of us have formed some sort of idea of what we consider to be the best way to live. We believe certain spiritual truths and consider different behaviors either acceptable, unacceptable, or tolerable. We typically seek to surround ourselves with others whose core values match our own. Here I am referring to the very core. Tattooed Christians may spend most of their time with non-Christians, but the values they most appreciate within their Christian faith probably lean heavily towards love, peace, acceptance and modernity.
However, in this age of shifting careers, social circles, and cities, friendships and relationships with people who have fundamentally different values are a given. How do we cultivate relationships, even friendships, in an age of divergent—to the point of being divisive—values?
Sharing Without Discussing
This is also an age of social anxiety, superficial self-esteem, and a poverty of basic social skills. The young adults now entering the sphere of social and political influence have grown up with selfies, Facebook, and the prevalent conception that their opinions bear equal if not elevated weight to all others (such as those with more training, knowledge, experience, etc.). Their views are shared loudly but rarely discussed, voiced instead through a link to someone else’s blog or video.
We are already treading dangerous ground in actual, real life conversation as logic, discourse, and the emotional ability to discuss topics with individuals of a different mindset are skills that cannot be taken for granted. When weighty topics come up with friends and acquaintances with whom we disagree, what do we do?
When the bridesmaid at your Catholic wedding tells you that she is moving in with her girlfriend, can you swallow the fight or flight response and truly seek to speak the truth in love? When your friend leaves his wife and posts pictures with his new girlfriend on social media a day later, is it enough to refrain from double clicking or is more encouraged/expected/demanded by your love for him? What is our end game, maintaining peace or sharing truth? Can relationships even be maintained once the dreaded reality of different values emerges? Beyond maintenance, can these relationships grow?
It is awkward and uncomfortable to disagree on very personal issues that reveal value judgements on someone’s actions and choices. These are almost always received as a judgement on who they are-their very person-no matter how well you communicate that it is the action that you are addressing. Furthermore, it is difficult to navigate truth in love. Is it loving to make someone feel attacked and sinful? Is it truthful to say merely “well for me…”
And then we complicate our communication by attempting to decipher how to be most effective.
- Perhaps if I don’t broach the issue we will have a better, more Spirit-led conversation next month.
- If I push too hard and she cuts me out there will be no one in her life that might encourage her down the road.
- I’m not sure how depressed he is; if I upset him that might push him over the ledge. He knows what I really think anyways.
Relationships, temperaments, and situations are always unique. The only universal aids I have found in addressing the how, when and where in loving our brothers and sisters in truth and towards truth are these:
- Check your motives. Do you truly love and seek to know the other person? If we are not responding to someone we are merely speaking at her. Let your words not be a pulpit (we need those too but leave it to the experts, unless you are one!) but a conversation in which you listen more than you talk.
- Pray to the Holy Spirit in the moment. Conversation may still be awkward, flat, or go terribly wrong, but invoke the power of God to do with it as he will.
- Be humble. We never know the whole person—what drives his decisions and affects his emotions? We don’t know what he is bringing into the conversation, nor do we have all the answers.
- Don’t be the one to give up on the relationship, no matter how uncomfortable you feel. I remember contemplating sitting out an important event for a family member who had made and continued to make a very damaging decision (unrelated to the event) when my husband asked me “Why? We still love him and support him in this. He may not talk to us but we will be there.” It struck a chord. He would have to be the one to cut me out of his life. I would be there. No matter how clumsily we inched forward, we wouldn’t stagnate because I was drained and uncertain.
Sharing the Truth in Love
It is never ideal to hurt feelings, make an easy friendship hard, or be the minority opinion. The reality is that relationships end, friendships sour and we are ill-equipped to share the full truth in full love, yet that is the task set before us.