God created us for relationships and one of the worst feelings in the world is having unresolved conflict in a relationship. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a specific step-by-step manual that God gave us to help navigate every conflict we face in life? Since there’s not, we often find ourselves in a quandary with conflict. How do we deal with the issues and more importantly, the people and relationships we have?
Maybe your conflict is with domineering in-laws, wayward teens, or jealous stepchildren. Perhaps it’s a child that is pursuing a homosexual relationship, abuse or manipulation in your marriage, some kind of mental illness, or some other form of conflict that has been dragging on for a long time.
Right now in my own extended family, there are unresolved conflicts that have waged war on our hearts. We are in a situation where a couple of close family members have deeply wounded us with words and actions. It’s caused almost a year of complete separation with very little dialogue, no acknowledgement of wrong-doing, a barrage of ongoing daily inward battles, and confusion about what to do about it.
My wife actually asked me the other day if there were any practical tools…articles, books, etc that we could read to finally be able to know how to correctly deal with these conflicts. I am kind of a problem solver, so I did a lot of research and came up with some very helpful and biblically based advice that I want to pass on in hopes that it may also encourage you. Most of what I’ll share has originated from “Focus on the family” broadcasts, books I’ve found, and a little bit of personal experience.
As I already mentioned, the angle I specifically wanted to focus on is navigating through harmful conflict. I say harmful, because even though I don’t like conflict of any type, some conflict is good. Jesus told us we would have troubles and conflicts in this life…it is to be expected and often brings about much needed change. However, there is destructive conflict that flows from unhealthy people and relationships. Where there is destructive conflict, you will often find patterns of cruelty, neglect, deception, control, indifference, and sometimes abuse. Destructive conflict involves a pattern of unhealthy communication and arises from individuals that consistently fail to admit their weaknesses, lie, rationalize, deny, apologize instead of change behavior, blame others instead of “owning” their part, and who are defensive instead of open to feedback.
Let’s first establish that it’s always easy to focus on the “speck” in others eyes instead of removing the “log” in our own eyes. When I look at that list of unhealthy behaviors, I see myself too. There are a number of things on that list that hit home and I know because of that, I have a portion of the blame in our situation. It seems that at the core of all the descriptions, there is the first and most deadly sin of pride. So I would say the first step to reconciliation always has to begin internally. We have to deal with our own issues in prayer and reconcile with God first.
We have to deal with our own issues in prayer and reconcile with God first.
The rest of the process comes from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17, where He instructs us how to deal with a brother/sister in Christ, friend, family member, and any other human relationship we have.
Speak up – “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”. God wants us to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Clinical psychiatrist Leslie Vernick says, “pursuing peace might mean risking conflict in order to bring about a genuine peace.” It’s very different from venting because it means speaking truth in love to someone after we’ve had time to search our hearts, pray and ask God to lead us, and prepare for the right time, place, and dialogue for the encounter. For many, like me, who have a passive nature, this step is the hardest of all to take. We would rather sweep things under the rug and avoid the contention than speak up and cause a rift. As painful as it is to do, I’ve learned to speak up more often and to get things out on the table before they become bitter roots.
Stand up – “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses”. God wants us to stand and not become a doormat for others to walk on. When others are blinded by their pride and sin we should enlist the help of others. That doesn’t always mean that we go confront the person/s with a gang of our supporters, but rather that we surround ourselves with supportive people that can lift us up and remind us that we are valuable, that we don’t have to live in fear, be lied to, or degraded.
Let me just brag on the body of Christ! Praise God for His Church! Both Jen and I have greatly benefited through the years in our own relationship in marriage as well as learning how to deal with other difficult relationships in the context of solid bible teaching and by surrounding ourselves with mature and like-minded brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, that seems to be a source of contention in the relationships we are struggling with now. There is jealousy and a disdain for the church because we rely on those relationships more than we do our disgruntled family members. Regardless of how they feel, I know the benefit of having godly people to walk with in life’s difficulties. I would strongly encourage anyone that is trying to do it alone or has been separated from fellowship, to consider the benefits of being a part of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Step back – “If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him as you would a pagan…” Dr. Vernick says, “When someone refuses to respond to our concerns, the relationship changes.” This is the tough part of loving others. You have to set boundaries and not allow them to disregard your feelings. Does that mean we have to permanently step away? Sometimes it does and it’s the best thing you can do for the relationship. Time and distance as they often says makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes it will cause a person to re-evaluate the relationship and if it is important enough, to try to do their part in reconciling.
Dr. Vernick also pointed out that, “even when we find it necessary to step back from a situation, God calls us to love. 1 Cor. 4:12 says, “We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us.” And in Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm.” I heard Pastor James MacDonald say the other day, “love is relational dynamite”. What he meant was basically that love covers a multitude of sin. Add love to any situation and it blows up and blows away conflicts, tensions, stubbornness, and pride.
Relationships are so complicated and these biblical steps may not be the “cure all” for every situation, but according to Jesus, the Master of all and maker of our hearts, this is a healthy way to begin the process of conflict reconciliation. It is a way to help minimize damages to our heart and soul and bring some accountability to those who have hurt us. May God be with you as you love, communicate, and seek to resolve conflicts in your life.
Grace be with you,