Friday, February 6, 2009

How do we deal with conflict?

I think it's rare for someone to come by conflict resolution easily. It's complicated, as it involves emotions, some pre-wired personality issues, and then all the defense mechanisms we establish over time. So, it is not surprising that conflict resolution is hard, and even harder for someone who has been sexually abused.

Since our defense mechanisms are a big part of the equation, now seems as good a time as any to write about this. The way I would normally do this would be to draw pictures, but since I can't do that right now, please bare with me while I explain my images.

Some people cause conflict all the time, and out of very selfish and ugly desires. In my experience, dealing with these people is difficult, frustrating and usually quite hurtful. James 3:15-16, "For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, un-spiritual, and motivated by the Devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil." James 4:1-3 says, "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong - you want only what will give you pleasure." This kind of thinking and relating to others is not biblical and, frankly, it doesn't even make good common sense! The world definitely has a "what about me" mentality, but I think it's possible to care for your best interests while also treating people kindly. Whatever happened to treating others the way we want to be treated?

When God is at work in one's life, there will be certain noticeable attributes. In Galations 5:22 Paul lists these "fruits of the spirit" as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Christians experience conflict just like everyone else, but their heart should be such that there is a desire for peace, resolution and restoration where ever possible.

My two pictures images would be like this... When someone is rooted in selfish ambition, jealousy, etc. the result is fighting, hurtful behavior, disorder, and every other kind of evil. When someone is rooted in Christ, love, joy, kindness, self-control, etc. the result will be an attitude of resolution, forgiveness, apologies, and any other kind of peacemaking.

So what do we do when someone is attacking us? It is a natural tendency to want to lash out, attack, defend, and perhaps even wage our own offensive. But what good is that? Doesn't that just perpetuate and escalate the conflict? I have found that what works best for me personally is to leave the conversation - politely say that now is not a good time for me to continue this discussion as nothing good will come of it... Then walk away, hang up the phone, ask the person to leave, etc. When you are removed from the situation, I would suggest journaling and/or praying. Both will provide an outlet for you to express how you feel without fueling the flame or stooping to a level that is not productive. As you are praying, ask God for direction about how to deal with the situation. I would not advise venting to your friends merely for the sake of venting, as this generally produces more anger on your part. Wise and godly friends can certainly be very helpful!

James 4:6, "He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, 'God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.' So, humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor."

Friends, I am here to tell you that this works! It may seem silly or incredulous to pray to a God that cannot be seen, but you will begin to see Him in your LIFE when you put your trust in Him. When I decided to stop fighting with my mother, I told her that I could not be in relationship with her anymore, at least for the time being. She berated me and told me what a selfish, ungrateful, hateful daughter I was. I explained that I was way too angry to see her or talk to her and needed time away and that I would be praying about our relationship. She replied with, "What kind of church would tell you it's okay for a child to cut her mother off?" I merely said that I needed space to heal and hung up the phone. I didn't see her or talk to her for over a year, but I experienced a great deal of healing in that time. I had to be removed from the constant fighting in order to heal. God showed me the things I was doing wrong, helped me to begin forgiving her, and began to soften my heart so that grace and mercy would replace the bitterness, rage and hatred I felt for her for so long. It is still unsafe to be in a close relationship with her (she is still very unpredictable), but I can honestly say that I do care about her, I hurt for the many ways she has been abused and mistreated throughout her life, and I try to honor her by spending time together every now and then.

In terms of day-t0-day conflicts that don't require stepping far back from a relationship, my advice is the same. Take a breather from the conversation if it's escalating into arguing, name calling, insults, etc. Get your feelings out in prayer or on paper, ask God how to proceed. Ask Him to show you your responsibility in the conflict and to reveal to the other party their responsibility. Ask Him to give you the right words as you go back to the person with an attitude of resolution and peace.

What is very challenging is trying to resolve conflict biblically with someone who is only thinking of their desires, selfish ambitions, vengeance, etc. Sometimes all you can do is the right thing - own your mistakes and offenses, seek forgiveness (from God and the person you hurt), make the necessary changes in your behavior (which will probably require changes in your heart), extend your desires to reconcile and then wait for them to do the same. If they choose not to, the relationship cannot be fully restored and now you're faced with the decision of what you can handle in the relationship. All, part or none? It is not selfish or un-christlike to come to the conclusion that you have to pull out of the relationship completely. Forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Sometimes reconciling a relationship is too dangerous - especially when abuse is involved. A verse I absolutely love for this is Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." We can only do our part - what "depends on us". This does not mean to turn ourselves inside out to to become what others want (I am all too familiar with that behavior), but to have a heart of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In doing that, many of our relationships will fall into place, some will fall by the way-side (because the other party only wants trouble and we do not), and we will experience a peace, joy and depth in our relationships that we've never known before.

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