One of the sharper childhood memories I hold surrounds an event that took place one Saturday morning when I was five or six years old. There was a knock at our front door, and I saw through the glass framework that it was my grandfather. I remember the big, goofy grin plastered on my face as I ran to open the door for him, and how quickly that grin turned to shock and terror as he pushed the door open and bolted past me, not stopping to say hello. It didn’t even register with me until he was seated in the den that he was crying.
Crying. My grandfather.
The man whom I’d only ever seen with two emotional expressions: a smile of love or a frown from being lovingly curmudgeonly. And yet here he was, sobbing, claiming “It’s over, it’s over. She’s going to leave me. I’m going to be all alone.” I was confused and more than a little scared; how could he and my grandmother be “over?” What did that even mean?
I tried the best my kindergarten-aged self could to help to alleviate his anxiety, but it was no use. Although time has erased the exact words spoken, the tone and volume with which my grandfather yelled still puts a knot in my stomach when I think about it. After a couple of hours – where I had to stay upstairs in my room – he eventually left and went back home.
…and afterwards, nothing was ever said of this again.
Not that I wanted to hear nor would it would have been appropriate for them to debrief me about the nuances of their relationship, but there was never an outward sign of reconciliation between my grandparents.
My parents, despite the fact that they were married for almost 40 years before my father’s death in 2008, were not much better. When they fought, it was with a quiet intensity that was deafening. There was an extended period when I was in high school where for months, my mom and dad slept in separate rooms. But like with my grandparents, one day things just went back to “normal.” There was never a discussion as a family that now things were okay between them.
It just happened, now it’s over, and we’re just going to move on.
And not say one word about it.
Something to Talk About
The first time Ashley and I got into a fight while we were dating, I genuinely didn’t know how to react. It wasn’t that we hit a deep-seeded moral or theological roadblock in our growing relationship. I asked her about it the other day, and neither of us recall the details of the argument. But because of the patterns of inappropriate closure that had been modeled in my life, I was terrified.
I wasn’t scared that she was going to dump me. Although to be fair, my dating legacy up until this point had pretty much been “guy meets girl, guy falls for girl, girl dumps admittedly immature guy.” What scared me more than anything was the sentence she asked me the next day:
“Are you ready to talk about it?”
Honestly? I wasn’t ready then, and even though we’ve known each other for the better part of a decade, I’m just now barely ready to talk after she & I have a fight.
Casting the First Stone
Part of the problem is that as believers, we’re not taught how to fight fair.
Growing up in the church, to take the polemic stance of “I’m/we’re right, you’re/they’re wrong” is what we see many of our leaders do, often drawing an invisible line between “us” and “them.”
We sometimes are so busy trying to make sure our voice is heard that we’re already planning our next retort while the other person is speaking. And then we take the way we’ve learned to take a stance on our theology and use it as the template for how we interact with others.
The cold, hard truth is that despite the fact we share a spiritual bloodline, some of us are simply not going to be friends this side of paradise.
Many take the passage in 2 Timothy 2:23-24 “…don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone…” (NLT) and distill it to the essence of “they will know we are Christians by our love” through passive-aggressive vows of silence.
We let divisive, bitter moments divide and conquer us, often in a public arena. Looking at the Twitter feed of many Christians shows this to be the case.
It hasn’t been pride that has made it difficult for me to talk – and reconcile – with Ashley after we get into a fight. By this point I’ve swallowed so much pride (from often being in the wrong in our fights) that I’ve probably not got much left to get in the way. It’s simply that learning to discuss the issue and not attack the person had been a skill, a muscle I’d never had to use before.
And I still manage to screw it up on an almost weekly basis.
However, we are highly intentional in letting Kai see that if we do fight, we hug afterwards. He’s heard both of us say “I’m sorry” to the other one, and more importantly, seen both of us try and change the behavior that brought us to the point of the fight in the first place. He sees us making up first, and then being able to move on.
Love can be better when noisy.
[Photo: MartialArtsNomad.com, Creative Commons]