I giggled at one of those retro-looking but kind of catty pictures on Pinterest the other day. It said, “Life was much simpler when we could play a friendly game of red rover and just clothesline the people we didn’t like.” While I was never particularly vicious in red rover (partly because I had no clue why we would want to clothesline each other in the first place), this graphic caught me. I think it was the fact that there’s such a sense of ‘us vs them’ pulling for understanding, for validation. And this same voice creeps into churches all. the. stinking. time. It is one of the biggest, ugliest enemies of unity known to man (or woman).
It might seem a bit odd to think of a concept—like unity—as having enemies. But when unity is so highly prized and so dearly bought by the ultimate Hero, you can be sure that it will be vigorously battled by the ultimate villain. Jesus has made it crystal clear that unity matters to Him: verses are scattered throughout Scripture, including the majority of content of His last few moments of prayer before going to the cross. With such grand expression of unity’s significance, Satan has put up several hurdles around it and plants them in minds and hearts all over the place.
So what are the obstacles to oneness? Here are some of the most common:
- Competition: This is the previously stated ‘us vs them’ mentality in which we must prove ourselves more, better, whatever. We fracture Jesus’ team and create mini teams that battle one another while the real enemy points and laughs. For instance, think about how different life would be if the “mommy wars” ended and moms came together to love and encourage one another despite any differences they may have.
- Perfectionism: Women who hold themselves and/or others to an unrealistically high standard make unity virtually impossible. If we’re so afraid of making a mistake that we don’t even try—or we’re so afraid that someone else will make a mistake that we don’t let them try—that’s the point when the biggest mistake of all has been made: failure to act based on a lack of faith. We must learn to admit that we will fail others and that they will fail us, and that that is what grace is for.
- Fear of emotional vulnerability: This is probably due to a harmful experience in the past. We have all been hurt by someone, all been taught to fear something—being mocked, rejected, abandoned, ignored. It is so important to cherish every chance someone takes in trusting us by creating a safe place to be real. Just as important, though, is to bravely take chances in trusting others, too.
- Harsh tongues: Scripture is chock-full of verses about how we communicate, and God takes our speech very seriously. If unity is to be our goal, some filters will have to go on our mouths. One of the best sets of questions I have heard for deciding whether to say something is to ask ourselves, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” How many feelings would be spared if these questions began dictating what we said!
- Past friendship hurts: God allows bad things to happen. Are you with me so far? But if we allow those bad things to close off our hearts from any potentially good things God might want to bring our way, we will miss the good because of the bad, and our continued misery will be our own fault. If a friend has failed us in the past, we can feel free to cry our eyes out, forgive her, dust ourselves off, and open the door again to possibility.
- Complaining/critical spirits: As the Bobby McFerrin classic, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, goes, “Don’t bring everybody down.” Yes, if clouds are looming, we can all see them. There is no need to point them out. The trick is to major on the majors—we love Jesus, we want to see our city changed. It’s a funny thing: when we release our expectations and simply go with the flow, there is nothing left to criticize or complain about.
- Suspicion: How would our hearts be changed by believing the best of everybody, giving people the benefit of the doubt? If we must assume, we should err on the side of generosity. To go through life expecting friend after friend after friend to stab us in the back is to fence off our hearts and stop any chance at unity in its tracks.
- Dissension: Some individuals just like to pick a fight, for whatever reason. If these are believers, we are to gently walk with them through verses on the topic of living together in peace. Where drama thrives, oneness falters, but it is possible to try to stop drama in a way that only feeds it. Paul tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
- Lack of communication: When we aren’t sure where we’re going, we won’t go anywhere together.
I’m sure you can think of other hurdles we will need to get over to cultivate a deep, authentic sense of unity. As far as we may need to go, let’s start with ourselves first. My job isn’t to fix you—it’s to weed out any of the poisonous barbs that have sprung up within my own heart. I have quite enough junk to deal with in myself to start pointing fingers at you and what you struggle with. So let’s allow the Spirit to do what only He can do, cleaning us up, and then come together in love and with a single purpose: to clothesline the real enemy like there’s no tomorrow.