A friend of mine returns after a holiday visit with her in-laws. The relationship with her mother-in-law has been rough as a pot-hole-filled Minneapolis winter road from the start. Different interests, different expectations for the relationship, different cultures, different education…all of these are factors that leave these two both feeling like they are walking through a minefield whenever they are together.

They each go into time together armored up…wary. Over time, they have come to anticipate detonation rather than delight. The other becomes freeze-framed  as a caricature of their worst self…

“She is so ____________”

“Why is she so sensitive about _________________”

“I always have to __________________.”

Whether an in-law, or colleague or friendship that has soured, most of us have a relationship like this in our lives. I do. And as I have been reflecting on my friend with the in-law, and me with a difficult friendship, this is where the Lord has led me.

Humility promotes healing. 

To improve a strained relationship we need to remove our armor, examine our own failings, and offer two authentic words.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances. Proverbs 25:11

  1. The first word is “Thanks.” 

Here’s where I think we need to challenge ourselves. Set a goal of finding 1 thing each day that you are (HONESTLY) grateful for in the other person and let them know.

TELL THEM! Text, or write a note, or call and say, “I’m really thankful that you are ________”, or “you did __________”, or “you thought of _____________”

2. The second (much harder!) word is a genuine “Sorry.” This may take some reflection and self-examination.

Do you regret your negative expectations? Are you sorry you have been impatient with the other? This may include simply naming the elephant in the room. “I’m sorry it’s been hard for us to connect (Or “I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot”). I know we’re both trying.”

These words don’t mean we omit the additional hard, honest conversations that require us naming where we’ve been hurt, but there’s a difference between what can be covered by grace, and deeper issues that threaten to become a root of bitterness in us and require a Matthew 18:15 discussion.

If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. Mt. 18:15 MSG

Can you think of a strained relationship? Might you commit to one of these words this week? 

We all have hard relationships. What has been helpful or redemptive for you? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments. (NOTE: If it’s your first or second time commenting it won’t appear immediately, but be patient…it will! If you are receiving this in an email, just click on the title at the top and it will take you to the post on my website where you can comment. Thanks!

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