Don’t Waste Your Conflict

Jen Smidt » Counseling Suffering

Being human immediately qualifies you for facing a lifetime of repeated and regular conflict. While some of us cringe at that prospect and others seem to thrive in it, we all need to seize the opportunities that conflict offers.

Because conflict is inevitable, it is helpful to be both proactive and reactive when it comes to conflict. There are many great biblical principles (James 1:19, Col 3) and guidelines to follow ahead of time to ensure that conflict doesn’t erupt in the first place. More helpful still may be to take a look in the rearview mirror after a conflict has died down and examine whether or not both parties followed biblical wisdom. In our fast-paced, push-forward, never-slow-down world, pausing to reflect on the past is often neglected.

The age-old adage about repeating history if we don’t learn from it comes to mind. There is only so much we can sweep under the carpet before we trip over the mound of rubble we’ve been avoiding. If we fail to pause and look back with honesty, humility, and teachability, we may very well miss what God wants to show us.

We can take comfort in realizing that no matter how painful it may be to look back at the wounds of conflict, the cross is back farther still to make sense of, cover over, and heal the wounds of conflict. The cross looms large and lovingly over conflict.

Questions for those in conflict

It is sweet when the redemptive and maturing purposes of conflict become evident in our lives. There are times when we may never know what God was allowing through conflict. There are times when he will ask us to pause for reflection and be humbled, repentant, matured, and hopeful for the next conflict that will inevitably arise.

Between Christians, conflict has even higher stakes. The world is watching how we handle each other, and if it looks a lot like what they are already doing (or worse), we’ve missed a gospel opportunity to let them taste and see the power of Jesus.

1. Have you processed your feelings in prayer first?

As Charles Spurgeon once said, “Neglected [prayer] is the birth-place of all evil.”

Prayer is the posture of humility. There is nothing like a little time on our knees with our heavenly Father to sort out and smooth over our emotions into something helpful and usable. Tim Keller states that “Every single emotion you have should be processed in prayer.” Search the Psalms for emotion that may match yours; note the conclusions that these men of God draw. At some point, they always conclude with and cling to the steadfast love and sturdy promises of God. So should we before we continue on with conflict resolution.

2. Have you put it in writing?

It may be helpful to write down some of your conclusions that you’ve drawn from prayer into an “issues list.” Form your concerns into a question that can be asked of the other person. Pray over your list, and pay attention to your tone, accusation, or words that may put the other on the defensive.

3. Does each party have the same information?

Probably not. Paul Tripp wisely notes that there are facts and interpretations of the facts. The most reliable way to share information accurately is face-to-face. I realize I just heard a collective groan from the internet-connected world, but the truth is we have gotten lazy. The time that the internet saves us in other areas of our lives, where less is at stake, can be used to make a face-to-face connection with the person you must resolve conflict with.

There is nothing like a little time on our knees with our heavenly Father to sort out and smooth over our emotions into something helpful and usable.

4. What assumptions are being made?

We often fill in the gap of silence with assumptions. Even when we have concrete information and knowledge, we often fabricate assumptions far beyond what is true. Judy Dabler warns, “Don’t commit assumicide.” Those are sobering words, but I have seen firsthand the death and destruction that assumptions can wreak on relationships. Root out assumptions by asking yourself what the facts are and verifying those facts with the other. When you assume, you do not ask.

5. Is it necessary for a neutral party to be involved or at least made aware?

When emotion is running high, reason may need a seat at the table. Emotions run the gamut of anger to fear, hurtful accusation to manipulative tears. A less emotionally-invested person may be needed to speak truth and objectivity into the conflict.

6. Is each party showing love? Is each party receiving love?

This aspect alone may be the distinguishing mark between what fuels Christians in conflict and what the world is often not concerned with. Love initiates, love confronts, love comforts, love tells the truth, love overlooks an offense. What one party may call love may look and feel unloving to the other. A simple entry gate into this conversation is for each party to ask, “Have I loved you well?”

7. Was listening a top priority?

Each party needs a voice in conflict. There may be differing roles, responses, and responsibilities for the conflict and for the resolution, but each party must be given an opportunity to speak. Each party must make a concerted effort to listen closely to the other.

8. Did communication happen between the offended parties only in a timely and direct manner?

Gossip runs rampant. One hurt person in conflict left unaddressed is trouble. That person’s hurt may fuel a pattern of bitterness that can spread like wildfire in one heart or through a group of people. If someone’s hair is on fire, you wouldn’t send them off alone to run through the tall, dry grass. Silence or long periods of time between flare-ups of conflict leave room for assumptions to formulate and the enemy to work his destructive divisions between people. Extinguish the fire of conflict prayerfully, lovingly, in a timely manner, and directly with the correct person.

Each party must make a concerted effort to listen closely to the other.

9. Has forgiveness been asked for, offered, and received?

The desired end result of conflict is godly resolution. When there is brokenness in a relationship, repentance must happen first by both parties in whatever ways the Holy Spirit has revealed to them their sin. It may not even have been overt commission of sin, but passive omission that caused the conflict. These issues of both sin and hurt must be addressed. Forgiveness flows out of a heart softened by Jesus. He absorbed the cost of all of our sin. From the full and complete covering of sin by his blood comes the possibility to cover the sin of ourselves and others.

10. Are both parties bearing fruit in keeping with repentance?

Restoration and reconciliation in relationships can take time. Trust often erodes during the heat of conflict. We may be tempted to withhold due to our hurt. Sometimes, there is wisdom in holding back relationship from someone who has wounded you or your family deeply. Sometimes, there is sin in punishing another for their sin rather than leaving that to God. An honest assessment, over time, of a person’s commitment to the relationship helps rebuild trust. The reinstatement of enjoyed intimacy and trust come when each party is walking in humility and transparency and bearing fruit in keeping with their repentance.

Conflict is painful, but conflict has great potential. Are we willing to look back over our shoulders into the wreckage of conflict to learn more about love,  loss, and the lavish riches available to us in Christ Jesus to heal and mature from conflict?

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