Chapter 1: Introduction
When I was six years old, my mom took me to swim lessons. The water in the shallow end threatened each breath as it splashed just beneath my chin. But, as long as I could touch both of my feet to the prickly, concrete bottom and hang close to the side of the pool, I felt safe.
As I stood there with my hair dry and my hands just a few feet from the pool’s edge, another breed of kid played at the other end. I watched with a jealous wonder as these kids splashed around and jumped off the diving board one after the other, like penguins on a grand adventure. Some of them even dove beneath the surface of the water and swam gracefully in what seemed like a whole new world to me. I wanted so much to swim out there too, but I knew the water was over my head, so I stayed where I was safe.
After each swim lesson, I promised myself that I’d venture out to the deep the very next week. But the lesson would come and, before I could muster up enough courage to inch my way out, the instructor would blow her whistle and I’d be left standing with my hair dry as a growing crowd of kids pushed past me, up the stairs, and out of the pool.
Not much has changed. Oh, I’m not afraid of pools anymore. Now I’m afraid of people. Maybe we all are. After all, there is something unsettling about entering the deep places of the human spirit. Sure, we want to enjoy the deep waters of real and engaging friendship, but we’re afraid of getting in over our heads. It seems so much safer to keep our feet down against the bottom of the pool.
Jesus Christ never said that following him involved staying safe. He never wanted us to settle for watching the swimmers at the other end. He showed us that relationships are about getting our hair wet and jumping off the board and diving deep into another world.
Yes, there are wonders in this world. There are mountains and manatees and media and museums that fill our days with delight. But let us never forget that although these are meant for our pleasure, we are meant for relationship. That’s all that carries over into God’s other world -- the wonder of one another -- the wonder that can only be explored if we leave the safety of the shallow end.
Chapter 1: Relational Conflict
We have found through our fifty-plus years of combined pastoral counseling experience that relational conflict is a primary reason people stay in the shallows. In the Gospel of John, Jesus prayed that Christians would experience such unity that the world would notice and be drawn toward him. He prayed that his followers “may be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:21).
Most of us want these kinds of relationships, but the conflicts are too much with us. The days that used to make us smile are gone and the only Happy Days in our lives are in the reruns we rent from Netflix™. We feel consumed by relational conflicts that confine our hearts and minds to the shallow end.
We find conflict at the kitchen table, in the corporate office, on the ball field, the golf course, the freeway, or at the health club — none of our relationships are exempt. Every parent, every child, every spouse, every employer — every one of us has experienced the crippling effects of unresolved conflict.
But conflict need not cripple us. Although it may be one of the most difficult things we do in life, resolving conflict is also one of the most rewarding. As we begin our journey through this emotional labyrinth, we will discover practical solutions, as well as ways to reduce the frequency of the conflicts we face.
Since the Bible contains God’s wisdom about both the causes of conflict and how to resolve them, we have worked hard to let Scripture outline the content of this book. We are not “self-appointed experts.” We are pastors who help people with their conflicts, and we are individuals learning to solve our own. It’s our prayer that you will find, in these pages, the help and courage you need to let go of the side and swim deep.
The book Redeeming Relationships – in its entirety – goes on sale April 1.