I had a really painful relationship conflict earlier this year, and though I’m mostly over it, the sharp sting of it has been jabbing me at random in the last two weeks. The sadness comes screaming back in with startling force. After the third episode, I figured that I needed to process this conflict a bit more.
Here’s what I realized, as I’ve realized many times before: When you get to the root of relationship issues, it’s really about Fear. The reason this conflict was so painful was that the nature of it suggested to me that the person didn’t actually love me. This sent a tsunami of fear through me, because a) humans are meant for relationship but, more pertinent to the point here, b) we are all desperately afraid in the core of our being that we aren’t worthy of love.
So, this conflict reinforced the key lie of our existence, and I was devastated. As a Fear Type, the worst-case scenarios began to spiral up. Gut and Heart Types react differently, but the point is that we all share the same core lie.
How did this happen? How did we end up with this lie? I believe it comes from our fundamental disconnection from God. We were made for relationship with him, but our sin nature separates us from him. And that feels horrific. It’s an unlivable feeling. So our psyche kicks in and says, “I’ll handle this. I will make rules for you to follow so that you will be acceptable to the world. Just follow me.” And voila – the personality comes into being.
Now, when we say yes to Jesus, who alone is able to deal with that whole sin nature thing, that core lie doesn’t go away. Our eternal selves get saved, but our minds don’t automatically, do they? The concept of sanctification exists exactly because while the spirit’s salvation is instantaneous, the soul’s (which includes the mind) is not.
There is a huge gap between what our heads know and what our hearts know. That gap is created by the personality. So, we can have all kinds of good theology in our heads and still be devastated by a relationship crisis. We can “know” God loves us unconditionally and still “know” in our inner being that we’re not worthy of love and had better behave or else.
One of my favorite verses is one that is perennially taken out of context: 1 John 4:18. “Perfect love casts out fear.” Most people use this to combat fear in general, because they don’t understand the context provided by the rest of the sentence: “because fear has to do with punishment.” John is trying to help people understand grace and the nature of God’s love, not telling them to stop being afraid of spiders etc. The next sentence makes this quite clear – I’m quoting the New Living Translation because it’s so beautifully plain: “If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
We fear punishment because our personalities are based on a system of Law that does not understand perfect love. We fear that we are not inherently lovable because we know in our core that we are incapable of keeping the personality’s Law.
So, I’ll bring this back to my own story now. I was hurt and deeply saddened by this conflict, but those emotions were covering over the deeper emotion of fear. I fear because I have not been able to fully grasp just how beloved I am. I know all the right verses, but they have not yet worked their way down to the part of me where the lie of unlovability lives.
How can we change this dilemma? As I said, knowing Scripture is a huge part of the answer, but another huge part is understanding how our particular personality operates. This is why I study and teach the Enneagram and why I practice stillness every day. Greater self-awareness helps us to overcome fear of not being lovable. This makes interpersonal conflicts much less scary. I am convinced that this self-knowledge and these practices help us experience “his perfect love” and even be able to extend that kind of love to others. That’s a journey worth taking, in my book.