We slammed the taxi doors in unison, shook off the secondhand smoke and let our frustrations turn to ice in the open air. The four of us walked the grey pavement in our knock-off North Face coats. No words, just grumbles. No eye to eye, just rolling of the eyes. Tensions rose like the sound of that tone I just couldn’t get right, the one that the teacher pressured me with until I tipped, ink spill on skin as thin as rice paper.

Half of us showed up to class every morning with the homework all done, every sweep of character marked in perfection. The other half just got by, spending time escaping in Dickens novels instead. You can guess which side I fell on.

When I had put my all into deciphering symbols and come up short, all motivation left me. So what that it was one of the hardest languages in the world? I let my failure stain my view of myself..and my view of the ones who excelled. Those two made it look too easy. And they took us two to be lazy.

Then there was the shared apartment and the dishes piled and laundry left crumpled in the dryer (a luxury we’d pitched in to purchase at the beginning of the year), plus a whole laundry list of other grievances, some of which were misplaced. (Believe it or not, I was diligent at cleaning in those days.)

Here we were supposed to be helping each other walk through the smog and confusion of a completely different culture, yet we were cracking under the pressure of all we were to each other there. We were classmates, family, co-workers, church, and social circle all in one. And now, in our forced closeness, we couldn’t escape the conflict, couldn’t hide from each other. We had to talk.

Finally, we locked ourselves in a dorm room, our own little version of Survivor. For four hours we poured ourselves out (almost as long as our Pride & Prejudice movie marathons), spilled it all, every misunderstanding and mess-up. By the end, we’d used up a pack or two of tissue, even the normally stoic ones letting some tears run.

In the authenticity of the tell-all, we emptied ourselves of all bitterness and every form of malice. We let go of shallow acquaintanceship and delved into deep, heartfelt friendship.

In days to come, other local teams remarked at how close-knit we were, always waiting for one another before biking across the city for a meeting, eating most meals on the alley as one big happy family, taking evening walks on campus to talk philosophy, scrunching together on happier taxi trips (with me stepping out to practice the language in real conversation with taxi drivers), planning trips to the mountains together to get out from under coal-stained skies.

Back home, where I can more easily shrug off a person who seems cold and unreachable, where I don’t so readily feel the urgency of clearing the air, I remind myself of the beautiful friendships that came alive when my teammates and I broke and spilled ourselves in that dorm room on a whole different continent.

That experience has made me a bit more brave to face delicate situations and misunderstandings, at least with those who are willing. The willingness to step into mess even saved the day when one of my favorites wanted to give up on our friendship a couple of years ago. Instead of deciphering symbols, I have found release in speaking and being open to hearing words honest and plain, even if painful. This is the language that leads to deepest friendship.

{Do you tend to be a “keep it all in” or “hash it all out” kind of person? How has this affected conflict resolution in your friendships? Comment below or share your story in this week’s Take Heart link up.}


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This week in our Take Heart series we’re talking about how to find encouragement in struggles with extended family, difficult ministry situations and conflict in friendship. We’d love to have you link up with us (before midnight tonight!) and share your story. And don’t forget to comment on yesterday’s post for your chance to win our giveaway from Be Small Studios!