Mind the Gap: Bridging Difficulty in Relationships

It is discouraging when gaps of difficulty exist in relationships. When gaps are evident, something is missing in that relationship—there is a break or a separation. When gaps are apparent, so are sinful behaviors such as frustration, withdrawal, argumentativeness, bitterness, impatience, or a critical attitude.

The first is self-regard. This attitude centers on my needs, my wants, and my expectations. Philippians 2:3-4 however exhorts me to do “nothing out of selfishness” or “look only to my own interests.” Rather, I am to be Christ and others-centered (Phil 2:2). Jesus modeled this in His life and in His death (Phil 2:6-8). So if a gap exists, as I examine my desires, am I defaulting to “my way, or the highway?”

The second is self-rule. When I am in self-rule mode, my desire is to be in control. But God’s Word reminds me that because I am in union with Christ, I am no longer my own; I am subject to a new King (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The phrase that my husband and I remind each other of often is, “It’s not we three kings, it’s one King!” So if a gap exists, as I examine my desires, am I wanting to be king versus Jesus who is the King of kings?

The third is self-reliance. When I walk in self-reliance, I can exhibit extreme confidence in my flesh and abilities. But as I look to Christ, I am reminded that He is the True Vine, and I (a branch) am called to abide in Him (Jn 15:4). My pastor once said, “The more a believer loses their self in Christ, the more fruitful they will become.” Once again, if a gaps exists, as I examine my desires, am I leaning more on my own abilities and strength versus Christ and His Word?


So how do we mind the gap and begin to build a bridge? Consider the following biblical principles:


Be Mindful

Upon repentance and faith in Christ’s finished work, believers are spiritually positioned in Christ. We did not deserve it, but God chose, set apart, loved, and forgave us (Col. 3:12-13). So we should be mindful that our hearts have been regenerated by God out of His mercy and love. This undeserved grace should motivate us to think like God and put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness (Col. 3:12-15).


Reflect on God’s Attributes.

God is Creator and Ruler of all (Gen 1:1; Ps. 2:4-6). When I endeavor to grow in a high view of Him through His Word, I grow in humility and am moved to worship Him. Reflecting on God’s attributes helps bridge the gaps of difficulty because it renews my mind and spurs me on to treat others as God would treat them – with mercy, grace, and steadfast love even when they do not deserve it.


Initiate Unity

Christians, are called to “make every effort” to maintain unity in the body of Christ. One way this is accomplished is by walking in humility (Eph. 4:2-3). Dr. Stuart Scott defines it this way, “humility is the mindset of Christ: a focus on God and others, a pursuit of the recognition and the exaltation of God, and a desire to glorify and please God in all things and by all things He has given.” When I think of myself in proper relationship to God and others, I begin to bridge gaps of difficulty in relationships.


Depend on Christ

Dependence upon Christ begins at salvation and continues throughout the Christian walk as the believer seeks Him through His Word, believes in His Word, and acts upon His Word by faith. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). Thus out of love for our Savior, we can bridge gaps by striving toward holiness while abiding in Him.


Go and be Reconciled

This step is hard because it may mean humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness from someone we have sinned against. Fight your flesh and look to your Savior who reminds you that if you are offering a gift at the altar and remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift and be reconciled (Mt. 5:23-25). From experience I have found that when I seek to work out conflict in a godly manner, I bridge gaps of difficulty in my relationships.


Engage in Daily Forgiveness

Believers are forgiven a huge debt which could never be repaid to God. Consequently they ought to be the most forgiving people in the world. The Bible teaches about two types of forgiveness: a spirit of forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Col 3:14) and transactional forgiveness (Lk. 17:3-4). When I engage daily in a spirit of forgiveness, I am eager to forgive any repentant offender who asks. A spirit of forgiveness is from the heart and guards against bitterness. It must take place before I can grant transactional forgiveness, which is a covenant not to remember their sin nor hold it against them.

Do you want to bridge gaps of difficulty in your relationships? Begin by recognizing and repenting of your selfish desires. Then turn to Christ and His Word where you will find forgiveness and help in putting on practical righteousness, such as being mindful, reflecting on God’s attributes, initiating unity, depending upon Christ, being reconciled, and forgiving. This bridge is solid and steady because it is built on Christ and His Word.

For another post on this topic, check out Caroline Newheiser’s blog “How to Respond to Difficult People”.

Shelbi Cullen
Dr. Shelbi Cullen has been an Adjunct Professor and Office Manager for the Biblical Counseling Department at The Master's University for the last 6 years. She completed her masters in Biblical Counseling at The Master’s University, her doctorate in Educational Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and her ACBC certification in 2005. When she’s not grading papers, she enjoys short-term mission’s trips with her husband Sean. They currently reside in California and enjoy spending time with their four grown children and their spouses. You can reach her at
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