Walls Up, Guard Up
The walls around my heart and mind have been up for most of my life. Quick to defend, always on guard, hearing the worst instead of the intent. I’ve lived life on the defense for nearly three decades.
Early on in dating my (now) husband, we had a conversation that nearly ruined our New Year’s Eve. I can recall that December day like it was yesterday. It started with dinner and a new outfit I had picked out earlier that morning. Feeling cute, I was looking for a compliment but felt sorely disappointed when no words of praise came my way.
Fishing a little, I asked, “What do you think of my new outfit?” The response left much to be desired. In fact, it hurt my feelings. He drew a comparison he thought would be funny, but I felt discouraged and annoyed and slightly hurt.
The next few hours looked like me pouting, tension in the air, and a silent treatment reserved for the most dramatic of occasions.
Let Your Guard Down
In hindsight, I should have replied to his comments with honesty, let him know that hurt my feelings, and we could have moved on through the evening on the same page. But the hours of tension and the defensive posture of my heart were really just the smoke signals of a fire burning deep inside. We needed to talk.
He was calm and direct, like always, which just annoyed me more. Why was he so comfortable with conflict? How did he take confrontation by the horns every time, without fear? I had very little experience with this, being conflict-averse as I am, and it freaked me out. He was direct and sincere but always cut to the point. It didn’t take long for him to express how he really felt or to address a problem. On the other hand, I would rather bury my head in the dirt than be honest about something that might create dissension in any relationship.
He pulled me aside and looked me in the eyes. With one conversation, my world changed forever. “Rachael, your feelings are like lace. I never know how to talk to you. And while I want to have an open, honest relationship with you, I don’t know how. We have to figure this out.”
Through the weeks that followed—well, really the past decade—we continued to work on this problem. There were many conversations, questions about why my guard was up, and helpful encouragement to trust. I began to see there was another way to live life than with walls so high I could barely see daylight over them.
As my walls came down, I began to see that there is freedom in a relationship when we choose honesty. The more honest he is with me, the more freedom I feel to reply in kind. We hear one another, making space to process and share openly.
When I’m tempted to reply to what I think I hear, my heart gives me pause and I take a step back. What did he actually say? Am I misinterpreting his words with my own insecurities?
Is he intending one thing and my emotions are causing me to hear something else?
Almost always, those questions clear the air. Rarely, if ever, does he intend what I first hear. I’m hard on myself. When he asks a question, I can remind myself it’s not a criticism, but curiosity. Or when he points something out, I can believe it’s a statement, not an attack.
Freedom From Humility
The freedom and trust that has blossomed in our relationship began with that one honest conversation over a decade ago. It’s taken me years to be able to have a healthy conversation in which I come with my guard down, but I can promise you this: it’s worth the effort.
Do you find yourself defensive, constantly hurt by those closest to you, always on guard? Do you dread conflict or confrontation? I’m not here to tell you to pick up your boxing gloves and get to fighting. Rather, do some honest evaluation of your heart.
Is insecurity causing you to misinterpret the words of the people closest to you? Are you placing a narrative on the relationships around you that’s not actually rooted in truth? Have you become so quick to defend that you’ve forgotten how to trust?
I want to tell you that there is a better way. An honest way. A way that doesn’t require fighting or fleeing, but walking in the grace and pursuing honesty. Be sincere and humble in your conversations rather than salty and wounded. Take the words you hear at face value rather than assuming a hidden meaning or message behind them. If you’re unsure, ask.
Build up trust between your loved ones that enables you to have an honest discussion. Be humble enough to listen and reply in grace to those who are honest with you (James 1:19).
Practice Takes Patience
This requires practice, patience, and a whole lot of grace from the Holy Spirit. But I believe that the unguarded life is the more fruitful life. When we are united with Christ and humbly lay our lives down day in and day out, we become more open and easy to be around, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. There is room for everyone at our table. We can walk in trust and hope rather than bitterness and pain. Grace-filled confrontation can be a useful tool for moving forward rather than a scary word we avoid at all costs.
Christ demonstrated humility in every encounter. When attacked, He replied in truth and grace. If questioned, He always had the words to say because He was abiding in the Father. Similarly, we have the Holy Spirit living in us! We don’t have to be on guard as if it’s up to us to protect ourselves from any possible attack—we can rely on the Lord to give us the words to say in a posture of humility.
The next time you feel yourself becoming defensive, pray. It can be a simple thought-prayer: Father, help me respond in love and truth. If you feel unsure of how to reply, ask clarifying questions in your conversation. Assuming rarely takes us to the right conclusion. Let honesty guide your conversations, and may they always be seasoned with grace.
We know walking through conflict can be messy and difficult. If you are struggling to approach conflict healthily in your relationships, the books Resolving Everyday Conflict and Peacemaking for Families by Ken Sande offer biblical help and practical tools. We also highly recommend seeing a qualified counselor if there are persistent issues with unresolved or unhealthy conflict in your life.