I think I had a pretty good fight recently. Not great, but it was progress. Let me backtrack.
Someone did something that made me, well… furious!
I grew up in a home where there was very little conflict, and when there was, we ignored it.
You know, like a kid who thinks if he closes his eyes no one will see him. So conflict’s not really been my thing. It’s had to be a growing edge for me as an adult.
And I’ve done it wrong. A. Lot.
When someone said something thoughtless, or did something mean, or (gasp!) was controlling or dismissive or disagreed with me…
I’ve done the angry email thing and the passive-aggressive thing, and the withdraw and punish thing…
See, I told you I was bad at this!
But the other day, once I settled down, I experienced a tiny (and I mean tiny) victory. It was conflict that really ended redemptively and I walked away marveling… “That was a good fight! I think this really pleased You, Lord! I think this is the way You meant for Your Body to interact.”
One of the things I’ve learned as an adult is that conflict is inevitable, but bitterness and divisiveness is a choice.
So, about 20 years ago I started studying this and making a list of the components that seemed to make for redemptive conflict (because I believe God’s ways are always redemptive).
A few of the main passages of Scripture that I’ve looked to for guidance on doing conflict are
- Matthew 18:16 “If a brother of sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you…”
- Romans 12:17-18 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right tin the eyes of everyone. If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
- Ephesians4:15, 25-27 “…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ…Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
- Psalm 139:23, 24 “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Here’s the list I’ve come up with that I try to apply when there’s conflict with someone:
1. Examine your own heart first. Exactly why are you angry or hurt and what part did you play in the conflict? Is your pain tied to a past experience which may cause you to distort the issue?
2. Determine what your goal is in confronting the person. Is it sin they’re unaware of that you think needs to change? Is it an understanding of how they’ve hurt you? Is it an apology you’re seeking?
2. Go directly to the person. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. And do not call your friend first to rant about this other person.
3. Go to the person with humility and grace. Question for better understanding. There may be factors you’re unaware of. Acknowledge your part of the conflict. Affirm the positives you can affirm with authenticity.
4. After you’ve talked to them (face to face, NEVER in email), circle back to check in and see how they’re feeling.
With my friend the other day I did 1, 2, and 3 pretty well (that was my tiny victory), but I could have approached him with a lot more humility and grace. He was the one who was incredibly humble, gracious, and apologetic. We’ve had follow up conversations, but it would still be a good idea for me to circle back and check in with him.
What experiences have you had with conflict? What have you learned?