Tearing Down Walls in Difficult Relationships
Have you seen this meme on social media?
“Life is too short to put up with people who make us unhappy.”
Some people live by that mantra. Are they right? Should we simply withdraw from people who create unnecessary drama in our lives?
Some of the most distressing interactions I’ve experienced occurred with those closest to me. People with whom I felt safe, with whom I let down my guard. The emotional wounds caused by their actions were as real and painful as any physical injury.
We all have people in our lives who deplete us, don’t we? People who rub us the wrong way. Family members who push our hot buttons. Difficult coworkers. Disagreeable acquaintances. Sometimes the worst offenders can even be other Christians.
My natural reaction is to withdraw from difficult people who interfere with my happiness. When I’m hurt, I want to retreat behind emotional walls to protect myself from future pain.
The problem of building relational walls is not a new one. The apostle Paul confronted the early Corinthian church about this very behavior:
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children —open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13 NIV).
Our walls come in a variety of shapes and sizes, don’t they? We might hide behind anger, insecurity, or unforgiveness. Walls can be constructed of resentment, self-righteousness, or pride. Sometimes we hide behind a façade of people-pleasing. We might even hide behind technology. The list is as varied as we are, yet surprisingly similar for all of us.
But as author David Timms notes, “We cannot grow in grace by withdrawing from others.”
Growing in Grace
In the New Testament, grace became closely associated with the salvation God offers in Jesus Christ. But grace is not restricted to the giving of salvation. Second Peter 3:18 tells us to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
It’s by God’s grace we are equipped to build up other believers, respond to unbelievers, and find help for any area of life, including relationships . . . even difficult ones.
When we build walls to keep people out, those walls affect more than the one relationship we’re trying to avoid. We can actually close ourselves off to the grace God desires to pour into us for that particular situation. The result is a lost opportunity to mature in our spiritual walk.
Relationships are hard work, aren’t they? Even successful relationships are messy. Of course, there are times when we must step back from people who are destructive. And no matter how hard we try, not everyone will respond to our overtures. Healthy boundaries are necessary. Still, many of us quit relationships long before we should. We retreat behind walls, cover the windows, and bolt the doors.
Where did we ever get the idea relationships were supposed to be easy? Not from Jesus!
“If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. But love your enemies, do good to them . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:33, 35 NIV).
The walls I erected protected me from hurt, but they also prevented me from experiencing the blessing of intimate fellowship with the Lord and with others. The only way my walls could be dismantled was by reliance on the Holy Spirit. It didn’t happen overnight. This is a slow and continuing process as I rely on the Lord for the courage to become and remain vulnerable.
God set the example for us. The apostle Paul wrote, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). Successful relationships must be done God’s way in God’s power, whether it’s with people who count us as friends or those who call us enemies.
Most of us won’t be called to die for the difficult people in our lives. But maybe—just maybe—God is calling us to tear down a wall, one brick at a time.
How has God used difficult people in your life to grow you in grace?