Have you ever thought about how well you nurture and cultivate love in your relationships? I confess, I hadn’t thought much about it and assumed I was pretty good at it. An unexpected conversation with an old friend a few years ago opened my eyes and transformed my life. As one of my oldest, closest friends, she knew everything about me. And, like others I had gotten close to, I cut her off after a conflict at a time when my life was falling apart. By the grace of God and the loving compassion in her heart, we reconciled our relationship over a decade after the fallout. She helped me see the damage done — not just to her family, but to myself. It was a painful lesson and also one for which I am eternally grateful.
When the going gets tough in relationships, we each react differently. Some may turn toward the conflict, while others may avoid it either by withdrawing or even removing themselves from the situation completely. These strategies tend to help us to cope by self-protecting and attempting to gain a sense of control.
Love and Fear
After becoming aware of my behavior, I needed to understand why I needed to take such drastic action. I noticed that each time I cut someone off, I was convinced I was both right and justified. I also felt as if I was triggered by something inside me that hijacked my good sense. It turned out to be fear. And once it was triggered, it was difficult for me to think logically. In my case, I had a long and deep fear of being abandoned after being given up for adoption. It was a powerful force in my life.
During my reflection, I was filled with sadness, grief and shame for having allowed fear to dictate my actions with those I loved. I prayed. I asked for guidance and forgiveness. I wondered what Jesus would say to me. After all, Jesus has had much to say on the subject of love and fear. As 1 John 4:18 reminds us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
The moment we find ourselves in fear, we lose connection with love. Have you ever tried to open yourself up to another when you’re feeling fearful? It’s not easy; is it?
Sometimes the shift from love to fear can happen in an instant. Other times it may develop more subtly and gradually over time. Sometimes we may not be aware that fear was involved in a situation or relationship. It might go unnoticed until we find ourselves wondering what happened to the love in our relationships. Without self-awareness, fear can take control. As we become aware of when and how fear shows up for us, we create new opportunities and choices that can transform our relationships.
How do we find our way back to love in the midst of fear?
Jesus suggests that we “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). To do so, we have to start by humbling ourselves. We acknowledge our humanity and imperfection. We forgive. We lead. Instead of waiting and hoping for something from another, we lead with compassion and forgiveness. We take responsibility when we might not have been listening. We own where we might have made assumptions or judgments. And we say the most magical words: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
Taking responsibility for our actions and our humanity is a powerful stance. I’ve seen it create miracles in distressed relationships. I know the power of this stance personally as it is what has allowed me to reconcile the broken relationships that I created over the years.
If we are looking to reconcile relationships, we have to be willing to give up being right in exchange for listening and allowing another to be fully heard without judgment. As Colossians 3:13 states, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
This intentional way of living, which Jesus demonstrated for us, will cultivate the love and connection that our hearts truly desire.
A Word of Caution
Please note that some relationships should not be reconciled because of ongoing verbal, emotional or physical abuse, which God condemns (Psalm 11:5, Proverbs 12:18, Colossians 3:19). According to Proverbs 27:12, “The prudent see danger and take refuge.”
Martha Picinich is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University with a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology. She is a certified mindfulness and meditation instructor. Her company (findyourpath.xyz) provides individualized, holistic one-on-one coaching and leadership development to clients around the country.2