I’m grateful to Peacemakers and their superb conflict coaching trainings for many of these invaluable insights.
Conflict is everywhere. And as my desires and, well, sin runs into other people’s, in conflict spoken or unspoken–I’m realizing something. Godly responses to conflict are pretty much all counter-natural–or more specifically, super-natural.
They beg an overhaul of what I typically want to do: You know, stuff like hand someone the silent treatment they have so justly deserved. Eloquently let my children (and possibly the neighbors) know exactly HOW they have trodden on my kingdom. Burn a bridge that isn’t that important to me anyway, I’ve decided.
Conflicts are full of such…loss. But would you believe me if I told you they’re an opportunity?
Conflict is a horizontal outworking of something God’s doing in me vertically (or sadly, what I’m lacking). Why does conflict matter?
Conflict, more specifically God’s conflict, is at the center of why God sent Jesus. And how we respond to the breaking of relationship is an expression of the Gospel. It’s a chance to honor God, to love others well, to grow more like Jesus, and to just find some practical solutions.
So I’m scribbling these down as a few reminders to myself as you glance over my shoulder–and just thankful for a God who cared enough to get dirty for me, to absorb my guilt when I’d positioned myself as enemy.
Here are some ways to actually cannibalize the–dare I say it?–latent beauty that can blossom from conflict.
1. Confronting or responding through any written word or social media. My husband, a trained mediator, describes the hazards of text-only communication by explaining that a significant portion (some estimate 70%) is nonverbal. Imagine how much can be misunderstood by subtracting 30%! Even if you’re a gifted communicator, words are never the same as seeing someone before your eyes, communicating the emotion and value that only physical presence can afford (…no matter how many emoticons you’ve got at your disposal). God handled His own conflict with us by sending Himself into our mess, in the flesh.
2. Assuming the worst. I’ve written before about the social psychological principle that when we mess up, we tend to attribute it to our circumstances. But when other people mess up, we tend to attribute it to their character. That’s just the kind of person she is.
But that’s only part of how our assumptions sabotage us. People have malicious intent much less often than we give them credit for! Gently asking questions about others’ motivations rather than assuming they meant harm can save us tremendous misunderstanding. Having been on both painful ends of mistaken assumptions, I am slowly learning all I don’t know—and beginning to treat my relationships with the dignity they deserve of gently asking when I wonder about someone’s motives. It’s a chance for both of us to realize the ways we inadvertently, consistently leave a wake.
3. Posing [for peace]. On the spectrum of “peace-breakers,” “peace-makers”, and “peace-fakers”, my weaknesses definitely tend toward the latter (er, with the exception of conflicts with my kids). I’d rather fake peace for my own comfort, to seem right, or because, sadly and truthfully, I’m indifferent enough to the relationship or person to dive deeper into the opportunity that is conflict. I’m not truly overlooking and graciously forgiving; I am hardening and distancing. God didn’t fake the severity of my conflict with Him, but chose to change me and honor Himself through it. He valued me enough to care about my holiness. Am I really extending grace, or am I glossing over and stuffing deeper?
4. Cleaning the surface. When we address only the presenting problem of the conflict and not the true interests and hurts and questions beneath it, it can be like slapping a Band-Aid on an infected wound and calling it good. Sometimes it may go away—but a lot of times it gets worse and/or repeats itself in another avatar.