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So, you’re in a conflict? Join the club. Ordinary people have ordinary conflicts on ordinary days. They have them often, so much so that we grow accustomed to it. (Just to be clear, I work to mediate ordinary conflicts. Abuse, violence, or other criminal activity is not resolved by mediation).
But it hurts, doesn’t it? You are more than hurt. You may be angry. Maybe you are losing sleep over it. Maybe, whenever you have an idle moment, you think about how wrong the other person is.
Maybe you are confused? Most people I help vacillate between wanting to win the argument and wanting to run from it. So what are you to do?
Let me assure you, most of your instincts about what to do are wrong. They are wrong because they are motivated by a desire to end the pain as quickly as possible. Ending the pain quickly may not mend the wounds.
Ordinary conflicts are about disagreement. In the face of ordinary conflict. People ask: What do I need to do? They want quick steps toward resolution. Quick steps usually focus on the “issue” – the point of disagreement. We disagree about many things: when to take vacation, how to spend the money, what to watch on Netflix, or how to discipline the kids. Resolution means coming to agreement, or compromise. Compromise means no one gets their way. In some cases this can be helpful But in many others, the compromise is like a splinter in their minds. It continues to irritate. And such a quick fix ignores the angry words spoken, the slammed doors, and the long silence unresolved.
Others deploy the strategy of “talking it out.” Communication, they assume, is the problem. When they call me for help they say something like, “We need a third party to come into the room with us, to help us resolve this, to make sure they do not raise their voices too loudly.”
All of this can lead to despair. After repeated quick-fix or communication failures, they accept the pain of it all, shrug their shoulders, and give up hope that it will ever change. They conclude that they must accept relational distance.
We Need a Step-by-Step Process
When I work with people, I tell them we will proceed slowly. For a time they have to live with the pain. If everyone agrees to this, we have the possibility of teamwork in resolution, even while living with the pain.
In some cases, unpacking the cause of conflict and broken relationships can be slow. It requires a patient method and process. I call it untangling a bowl of spaghetti one strand at a time.
The Truth that Gives Hope
People will not enter this process without hope. Hope means they have some assurance that the future result will be worth the effort. Even with hope, they will still do a cost-benefit analysis: is freedom from the pain worth the price of a process for resolution? Or can I live with the pain?
Here is the reason for hope. It is based on truths God has revealed in the Bible. It assures us that our life is not out of control, even if it is out of our control.
God designs and brings us into conflict for our good and his glory.
“You Have Got to be Kidding Me”
That is what I may hear in response. When people have been deeply harmed by another, it seems delusional to think that God has a good purpose in it. But that is what God tells us about himself and his ways.
Where do I get that idea? For the Christian, I take them to these words in the New Testament:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3)
These words inform us that God has a purpose in the various trials he sends to us. God has something good in mind in walking us into pressure or pain. It is like a good physician. They know that sometimes painful treatment or surgery is the only way to cure the disease.
What an audacious thing to say to people who are suffering! It could not be said without the assurance that God is good and wise, that he is in control, and that he uses painful things to accomplish good. For the Christian, we are certain of this because it rests in the center of the Good News about Jesus. God turned the slander and hatred and injustice of Jesus’ enemies, leading to his murder, into a salvation of billions from judgment.
The Good Purpose of God
Stop to a second to think about this with me. If conflict and relational friction is one of the trials God sends, then we can be assured that God sends it to produce something good in us. Notice, it does not say he sends it to produce something in the other person. Our focus must be on what he is doing in me. I have seen conflicts not resolved but one person, believing God to have a good purpose for them, benefited immensely. They were able to gain because they trusted their God to be a faithful Father through Christ.
Unless people understand this, they will turn all their focus to fixing the other person. Unless they understand it, they will either walk away or lash out. But if this is true, it gives us reason to walk into the process of resolution, expecting God will do something good for us in it.
But I am not a religious person . . . .
I understand. You may not be, but know this: many leaders among religious and irreligious persons believe that some of the greatest lessons we learn in life come through suffering. And by that they do not mean it happens automatically. Pain must do its work in us as we respond to it.
Tale a look at your conflict. Can you believe that there is a good to be gained in it? What might that good be?
Next Page: Anatomy of Conflict