Embracing Differences

I am still in the process of really accepting how misunderstandings in discipleship groups are inevitable. But as Jesus continues to walk me through this journey, I have come to realize that misunderstandings are not always bad. It does not only build-up a friendship per se but also the characters of those involved. Choices made amidst conflicts reveal someone’s state of heart – a heart that is either full of self (e.g., I’m-right-your-wrong attitude, withdrawal, self-pity, slandering, pride or getting huffy) or full of maturity (e.g., empathy, forbearance, kindness, peace, forgiveness or gentleness).

During misunderstandings, I cannot force any of the ladies that God has blessed me with to easily choose the track that I would pray for them to choose. I know I could have figured this out sooner but did not. I learnt that my own effort to make them comprehend many things about spiritual maturity is a pointless preoccupation.

First, it is only God who can actually make them comprehend (because really, who am I to do that?). Second, God planted us in different battlefields. Yes, God can use personal experiences and testimonies to nurture relationships, but I cannot shove my perspectives down to their throats as we have been uniquely dispersed in warfares. Third, we have different temperaments. Fourth, the point of discipleship is not to become like anyone else but to become more like Christ, and to exalt Him and not any mortal man.

Certainly, the joy and beauty of discipleship is that it is not just about the change of heart amongst disciples but more importantly, amongst disciplemakers. And I am still learning…

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The other day, I had a dinner date with some of the girls in my discipleship group. My intention was to settle a misunderstanding between them brought about by differences in personalities (and probably mood-swings). Because these girls are really close to each other, their disagreements would sometimes feel like friendship déjà vus. One girl wanted space as she considers the other girls to be too clingy. The second girl, because she was in a way offended of the first girl’s decision to isolate, decided to isolate herself too. The third girl was also hurt eventually because the first two girls suddenly became cold towards her. I know that this may sound petty to some, as it sounded to me at first, but considering it shallow won’t build up these girls so might as well put myself in their situation and understand where they are really coming from.

The night before that dinner date, I was constantly seeking guidance from God on how to resolve such conflict. Come morning, God provided opportunities for me to have brief one-on-one discussions with them. They don’t know about this but I was able to get a snippet of their individual perspectives based on what conspired. I was able to pray for them as well.

During our dinner date (which praise God, pushed through), even though I was not comfortable to the subtle portrayals of awkwardness I was seeing from among them, I opted not to bring-up my intention right away. I did not want to appear like an instigator of conflicts. Instead, I prayed that God would lead an opportunity for the issue to be brought to light or when everyone is open-minded to actually discuss it.

After our icebreaker session which was purposely pegged at as kamustahan segways, I asked who among them usually clashes in terms of personalities. One by one, they reverted to their phones to avoid any form of eye contact, implying that they did not want to discuss it. I did not like how they responded, so I asked rather abruptly, “Oh..kay. That’s it? Shouldn’t we resolve conflicts before we sleep tonight?” I was referring to Ephesians 4:26 (“In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”) which is good. But at the same time, I was considering the need to hyperbolise the possible negativities from the situation… which is not-so-good.

I wanted the issue to be solved right away. I wanted them to reconcile based on my own terms, not God’s terms. This obviously demonstrated not just my impatience but also my petulant attitude.

These girls came from different upbringings. The Holy Spirit had to remind me of this. Some of them came from an environment of sunshine and sparkles, while some from rags and rags. They have their unique strengths and gifts, but they have their weaknesses and differences too. So reconciliation does not have to be enforced, it just has to be anchored on God’s perspective: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7)”

This verse, when laid on the table, reminded our group to get over ourselves and start obeying God instead. Rather than look at our own selves and feel offended, resentful, misunderstood and thrown in a pity party, we realised that we should keep our eyes fixed on God’s command: Love God, love others.

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Through God’s Word, the atmosphere of our fellowship changed that night. We were able to talk about the time when we took a temperament personality test together, and found out later on how opposite some of us are. This made us realise that instead of bailing out emotionally and spiritually when conflicts arise, we should learn to embrace and appreciate the weaknesses and uniqueness of one another. We were also able to talk about the times when some of them had tampuhans. Some were embarrassed, but they eventually realised how silly and childish they were.

By God’s grace, we experienced reconciliation, acceptance and humility from one another that night. While walking on our way home, one of the girls came up to me teary-eyed and said thank you. She said that she appreciates our time together, and that she is truly thankful to God for having this family. I was teary-eyed too because I felt the same way. I am thankful that God does not only use situations, He uses people too to bestow His love for us.

That same week, another girl from the group shared to me a verse that recently struck her during her quiet time, “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). She shared to me how God has been challenging her to mature in the aspect of building relationships with others. Another girl later on sent me a text message saying almost the same things that the other girls have said. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I believe that it is God working in our lives for us to be more like Christ.

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13)

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