The time had come to address the issue. My stomach seemed to drop beneath the ground and my head began to spin. The weight of conflict landed heavy on my shoulders and made my fight or flight reflexes begin to wrestle with unrivaled fury. I knew this issue must be dealt with and I also knew I did not want to do what was necessary.
As I entered the room and sat across from the man I needed to speak with, my legs felt like jello and I could see on his face the same weight was heavy on him. Small talk and light banter covered over our awkward attempts to dance around the issue. Then, one of us spoke of it.
This sort of encounter is normative in communities. People are fragile. Relationships break and fracture. Often these confrontational meetings are necessary. However necessary they may be, we don’t like them and we often try to avoid them. We convince ourselves that we can just sweep the issue aside and persist in a false sense of harmony. Overwhelmed with the prospect of effort it will take to overcome the conflict, we run from the opportunity for joy! You see, when conflict arises, we are given a rare opportunity to press hard into the community and find joy. We are granted the grace to test our faith community and see the grace of God. We are given the chance to trust God in the midst of our failures. We are given the opportunity to love and know God more fully.
Yet, given the opportunity to walk through difficulty and feel the grace of God, we often deny ourselves the joy in favor of complacent comfort. There are numerous reasons for this avoidance, here are four common reasons why I have avoided conflict:
1. I was afraid of the outcome. Indeed, the end result of conflict terrifies us. We convince ourselves that vulnerability will result in our own self-destruction. We look across at the other person as though we are in a contest that must result in the death of someone or something. However, death is not required in conflict. Indeed, if you have trusted in Christ, death is not on the table. Conflict will not result in your demise, only your betterment. Romans 8:28 is true! God works all things for good. In the midst of conflict, we need to remember death is not on the table.
2. I don’t trust God’s grace and sovereignty. In general, it is safe to say that most people believe that God is all powerful and CAN do what He desires to do. While some may argue over the self-imposed limitations or the preservation of free agency, Christians agree that God is actively playing a role in the world and in our individual circumstances. If it is true that God is actively involved in the world and that His involvement is good (Romans 8:28), then it stands to reason that the conflicts we face can be used by God for our good and His glory. When we avoid necessary confrontations and difficult discussions we deny the truth that God is good and we fail to trust that God is at work in our circumstances. We fail to trust God.
3. I fear I will be fully known. Most people do not have close personal friends. Indeed, many are living rather lonely lives even in the midst of crowded spaces. In truth, we don’t want to people to know who we really are. Self-identity and thorough self examination are terrifying to our sensibilities. We want people to think that we are perfect and that we have everything together. However, there is great comfort in being known. When someone knows us, we need not fear that we will fail to live up to expectations or disappoint through conflict.
4. I misunderstand the value of conflict. Conflict is inherently valuable. It is through conflict that we grow and produce valuable means of grace and maturity. It is often through the greatest conflict that God develops the greatest soldiers in the Kingdom.
Here are three ways to press through conflict and grow.
1. Remember this is not the end, take the long view. My dad used to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff and if you back up far enough, everything is pretty small.” Remember there is a great deal more to life than this one issue. Gain some perspective and realize that this is not the end. Indeed, for a believer, none of this life is the end. Heaven awaits and this is merely a training ground. So, if this is not the end, then press on towards action. Instead of dwelling on and dealing with past offense, move forward. Make plans of how to move forward in the relationship. Ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, offer forgiveness when wounded, and make plans to advance the Kingdom of God. (A truly practical way to do this is to make specific plans to hold eachother accountable for gospel work. Commit to pray for specific gospel opportunities for one another. This way we turn conflict into conquest!)
2. Remember grace given to you, Jesus overcame the ultimate conflict for you. Often, in times of conflict, we forget the grace that has been given to us. A “woe is me” mindset begins to set in and our ability to see the reality of our circumstance is skewed. But God has granted us grace beyond our own ability and has rescued us from certain death! In Jesus, He has taken the punishment for sin upon Himself and forgiven you. You who were an enemy, He has made His child. Can you not extend grace to someone else? Is this conflict going to result in your literal crucifixion? If not, I think you can bare a little tension and struggle for the betterment of your community. Extend grace to the other person. Don’t take things personally, even if they are and go ahead and let yourself die for the other person. After all, if Christ is in you… then you have the power to do so.
3. Remember to cherish life. Through storm comes life. The aftermath of storms is devastating. Houses are destroyed, lives are lost, and even nature seems to be crying out in despair after a hurricane or tornado. However, when we return to the sight of a storm years later, houses are built stronger, lives are restored, and even the ground seems to have blossomed with a life-ferocious. Storms may bring pain, but they also strengthen the resolve to live. When conflict comes, do your best to preserve life, remembering that you will be stronger on the other end. Confess your wrongs, own your faults, take the blame (even if you’re right). Let the storm land on you so that you can preserve and protect the other. IN this way you will be stronger and the other will be loved.
Are there things you do to press into conflict? Share them in comments!
See part 1 of this post here