January 31, 2015

Friend Check: How to Clear the Air

There are certain personal questions that you can ask people to help clear the air, build up relationships and develop personal and spiritual growth. This can help foster a powerful testimony of sincere and authentic love in a Christian community. Some people don't like discussing personal issues at all. But most people do appreciate it when you try to make sure that things are copacetic and that you would care enough to make sure that there isn't some old festering resentment about something.

When I recently began asking some friends on facebook to critique my life, one remembered an argument from 15 years ago. Another friend asked me to do the same for him, to critique his life using the same questions. Asking friends to be honest with you and critique your life with some constructive criticism can seem pretty scary at first. But I believe you will find that it helps to clear the air, rekindle older friendships and support personal growth. On facebook and other social platforms, there can be a tendency towards focusing on the more superficial aspects of relationships while not addressing some important deeper questions. Time limitations and personality differences don't allow us to be close friends with everyone, but we can try to keep lines of communication open and sincere.

A couple of friends asked me, “Is this a part of a Bible study?” In a sense, it is. There are some powerful verses on relationships that can be meditated on and applied. Verses describe the powerful apologetic nature of sincere love and sincere relationships within a Christian community. And there are verses that apply towards clearing the air and detoxing the Body of Christ from built-up negativity. Other verses encourage us to give thoughtful words of grace that build each other up and help in personal and spiritual growth:

Bible Verses on Communication and Relationships

John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)

Matthew 18:15: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (NIV)

Matthew 5:23: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (NIV)
Romans 12.18: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (NIV)
Hebrews 12.14: "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." (NIV)
Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (NIV)

Proverbs 18.21: "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (NIV)

John 13.35 implies that a church with sincere love is a living and powerful testimony that God is real and that knowing God has a notable positive effect on relationships. Matthew 18.5 shows the reality that some believers will not desire to meet personally to try and resolve a conflict. However, the preferred course is clearly meeting and seeking reconciliation. Matthew 5.23 shows that reconciliation in the body of Christ is to be a great and urgent priority. Ephesians 4.29 emphasizes that gossip is to be avoided while supportive words are preferred. Proverbs 18.21 emphasizes the power of words to be instruments of life or death.

One person at a forum claimed that the only biblically valid way to ask for forgiveness is to do it privately, that one should never offer a public invitation on facebook, for example. However, I believe both approaches are biblically valid. I have personally asked people if I have hurt them or offended them in any way and I have also posted the above image publicly on facebook. I believe that both Romans 12.18 and Hebrews 12.14 support the idea of a public invitation for reconciliation. Many hurts and resentments are based on misunderstandings that we may not even be aware of. There is a likelihood that one or more people in our facebook friend's list has been let down or hurt by us and offering to reconcile is an offer for people to contact you if there is a perceived problem.
A church that fosters healthy and mature communication encourages people to talk one on one and face to face if there is any grievance. Unfortunately, many choose to gossip rather than speak directly with people about perceived problems. This attitude can spread like toxic mold through a church. While it may seem that asking for people's honest critique of our personal lives is too dangerous and makes us too vulnerable, there are many positive benefits. For one, opening up this subject allows us to tell others about the gifts we see in them, not just the things we are concerned about. We are all broken people that need to grow in many ways. The extent to which we are willing to honestly acknowledge and address our faults and weaknesses is the extent to which we might be able to see more of God's grace and sufficiency in our lives and in our churches. This applies to family life as well as friendships.

Quotes on Communication

"Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true." - Charles Dickens. "Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "Grant that we may not so much seek to be understood as to understand." - St. Francis of Assisi

The following is a sample note can be used to ask some personal questions related to friendship and personal growth. You might find other questions more suitable.

Dear ___

This is something new for me. You may be too busy at the moment, but I'm writing a brief note to some friends to ask how our friendship could be improved. I value your honest opinion and I'd ask that you not worry about offending me because I like it when people are direct and honest with me in constructive criticism. If you don't wish do this, please answer something, even if it's just, “I'd rather not do this.” - Thanks for your time!

1. Have I offended you or hurt you in a notable way in anything I've said, done or not done?
2. Have I done anything you're aware of that you feel I should probably ask forgiveness for or repent of?
3. What area of my life do you feel could use the most improvement?
4. What aspect of my life has been helpful or encouraging to you, if any?
5. Off hand, is there any area of my life that you feel I could focus on and develop more in ministry?

6. What can help me to better understand you and how to pray for you?
Tags: friend check, clear the air, personal growth, Bible verses on gossip, facebook friendship check, life check, body talk, diagnostic questions, toxic gossip, examples of edifying words, constructive criticism in the church, quotes on Christian communication, Bible verses on Christian commumication

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