As a little girl, I fought a battle.
I, the picture-perfect piano student of several years, threw a tantrum one afternoon at a piano lesson that shocked my unexpecting teacher. Once my outburst of wailing, complaints, and threats quieted down, she calmly said, “Well, Cheryl, if that’s they way you feel, then you don’t have to take piano lessons any more.”
Ahh. Finally . . . or so I thought.
Later that evening during an “emergency” private meeting with my piano teacher, my parents explained, “Cheryl is neither wise enough nor old enough, at ten years of age, to make the decision that she will no longer take piano lessons. It’s not her decision. It’s ours, and she will continue.”
My parents made arrangements for me to take a six-week break from piano. No lessons. No practicing. No mention of music. Nothing. I was now free…or was I? I still remember my conscience gnawing at me–my heart was convicted. I was meant to play piano. I knew it, but I wasn’t going to let anyone else know that I knew.
The day came for me to return to piano lessons with the same teacher. To make a long story short, I refused to go. Stubbornly, I would not leave my bedroom. Somehow my mother coaxed me out of my room, but then I began clinging to the walls of the hallway. My feet would not budge unless my mother methodically placed one in front of the other. The poor woman!
Finally, I defiantly ran down the hallway and crouched in the dining room corner. I still remember my mother looking directly at me from the dining room entry and stating in a firm, even tone, “Cheryl, there is a lot more than piano going on here, and I am going to win.”
My mother wisely knew that piano was not my ultimate problem. She also knew that my behavior could not be blamed on fatigue, allergies, or vitamin deficiencies. I wasn’t under-medicated or over-medicated, bored or overly-stimulated, gifted or not gifted. I didn’t have a syndrome or disorder. She didn’t label me with one of of the plethora of “conditions” now available to explain a child’s lack of obedience and self-control. My mother could have made any sort of excuse for my disobedience and disrespect, but she didn’t. She knew better. She knew where this conflict began. She knew where the battle was raging–in my sinful heart.
Where the Battle Rages
We will not be able to biblically resolve conflicts if we do not first biblically understand the origins of our conflicts. The Bible rhetorically asks these two questions, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” (James 4:1-2). Yes, our conflicts originate in our hearts. Our circumstances merely pull back the veil of what is hidden inside. The English theologian John Owen (1616-1683) referred to this internal battle in Sin and Temptation, ”There are many outward temptations that beset men, exciting and stimulating them to do evil. But the root and spring of all these things lie in the heart. Temptations do not put anything into a man which is not there already“ (9). In The Young Peacemaker, Sande explains, “Most conflicts happen because people make choices to get their own way. These choices usually come from selfish desires that are rooted in their hearts” (47). These selfish root desires include self-pity, greed, pride, fear of others, laziness, envy, jealousy, etc., and these types of sinful desires and motivations lead to sinful choices. We struggle for what we want, and often conflict with others results.
For example, our hearts are like garden beds. The quality of the vegetables grown is directly affected by the quality of the growing conditions in the beds. Good growing conditions produce good vegetables. Mediocre growing conditions produce mediocre vegetables. Likewise, godly desires in our hearts lead to godly choices, and ungodly desires in our hearts lead to ungodly choices. A self-centered person will be filled with pride, envy, selfishness, etc., and their words and actions will actually display these things. On the other hand, a God-centered person will display words and actions that directly result from the fruit of the Spirit in their hearts, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The Battle in My Heart
So, back to my story . . . Did I eventually make it to the piano lesson? Yes. Do I remember anything during the piano lesson? No. Why? Because the lesson I had to learn that day had nothing to do with piano; it had everything to do with my heart. Was my heart going to be ruled by my sinful anger and defiance? Or, was my heart going to be ruled by my Savior? Was I, in humility, even as a child, going to obey His Word? The battle raged in my heart. Ultimately, I did not win–God did. By His grace, He gave me a mother who knew that my struggle was internal, not merely external. By His grace, He used her that day to teach me a very important spiritual lesson for life: Do the godly thing, no matter how I feel. By His grace, I learned to submit my heart to what the Lord had for me that day–obedience and respect for both my mother and my piano teacher. If I had held on to the sin in my heart, the conflict would never have been resolved.
The Battle in Your Heart
The conflicts we experience begin in our hearts. Maybe the other person has a heart problem. But, you probably do, too. Ask God to reveal your sinful desires, attitudes, or motives to you. Confess your sin of the heart to Him and to the other person you have offended. Ask God to teach your heart how to glorify and honor Him in your situation. Pray and meditate on Scripture that pertains to your heart issue. And through it all, cling to His promise that “a broken and contrite heart, He will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
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