As I engage in a variety of coaching, mentoring and pastoral relationships I observe a concerning pattern in how people navigate through challenging life issues. When life gets tough there is a tendency to take the path of least resistance by withdrawing from people who will confront and gravitating towards people who will comfort. In other words, we look for people who will tell us what we want to hear rather than those who will tell us what we need to hear! This is a pattern that I see manifested in almost every area of life:
A couple going through a marriage crisis withdraws from mutual friends who see both sides of the relationship and gravitates towards people who will affirm their respective points of view.
A Christian who is struggling with faith withdraws from the fellowship of the Church and gravitates towards people who offer a more humanistic worldview.
A leader overwhelmed by the demands and expectations of leadership withdraws from positive networks and gravitates towards other disillusioned leaders.
While I don't pretend to understand the psychology of this pattern of behaviour, it is indicative of a 'fear of conflict' and 'avoidance of accountability' that seems so prevalent in our society. This is not just an external observation, but one that comes from self-awareness of similar patterns I've wrestled with in my own life. It is a strange paradox how human beings will withdraw from the very people who will contribute to our growth and gravitate towards people who will perpetuate our struggle.
In my discipleship and leadership journey I have learned the value of pursuing relationships with people who are further along their journey than me. If I want to develop as a leader, then I need to align myself with leaders who are more experienced than I am. If I want to seek marriage advice, then I need to interact with couples who have a strong and healthy relationship. If I want to grow spiritually, then I need to worship and fellowship with the body of Christ. For these relationships to really impact my life there needs to be a level of vulnerability and accountability where I am not afraid to engage in tough conversations and hear the things I don't want to hear. It has been my experience that this is usually the point where people disengage.
We all like to be comforted during challenging times, but it is the willingness to engage in the conflict, in the context of accountable relationships, that we will grow through these challenges.