As you are reading this post . . . is your blood starting to boil as you hear your kids bickering in the other room? Are you checking caller ID each time the phone rings, not wanting to talk to a frustrating family member or friend? Are you having difficulty sleeping at night, wondering how to handle a strained relationship at work? Are you dreading seeing a difficult person at church on Sunday? Or, what about your marriage–is there a small, or large, conflict that is causing you to lose that lovin’ feelin’?
Where’s the conflict? I know it’s there somewhere. Believe me . . . I know.
A couple years ago, I read The Young Peacemaker by Corlette Sande (available from Shepherd Press). I was first interested in the book because of the tools it offers children and youth to help them resolve conflict biblically. But as I studied the book, taught it to my children, and then taught it to other children and mothers, I have recognized how valuable the principles of The Young Peacemaker are to help me resolve conflict in my own life according to God’s word. (For adults, see also Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker by Baker Books.)
In The Young Peacemaker, Corlette Sande covers biblical conflict resolution in three parts: “Understanding Conflict,” “Responding to Conflict,” and “Preventing Conflict.” Each part consists of four chapters that include true-to-life scenarios, practical how-tos, activities and personal applications, and biblical explanations, examples, and memory verses. Much of what I share in the next few posts will be based upon what my children and I have learned from The Young Peacemaker. I am indebted to Sande for her godly wisdom.
So, let’s get back to the issue at hand: your conflict . . . today. When friends ask me where to start in handling a conflict with another person, I almost always begin by sharing the verse, “As far as it depends on YOU, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) Interestingly, Sande begins the first chapter of The Young Peacemakers with this same verse. According to Sande, “conflict is a slippery slope” and YOU have three basic options for how YOU will RESPOND to conflicts when they arise. In other words, when you find yourself in a conflict, you can “slip” into the two sinful responses of “attack” and “escape,” or you can stand firm in the God-honoring, peaceful response of “working it out” (22).
“The attack responses are used to put pressure on others to get our own way. These responses usually damage relationships and often result in anger and hatred” (24). When faced with conflict, the ways we “attack” may be through verbal put downs (harsh and unkind words), gossip (talking about others so that reputations are damaged and we gain support for our position; with our children, this is “tattling”), or fighting (physical force to hurt another or to get our way). These verbal and physical attacks compound our conflicts and do not enable us to resolve our conflicts peacefully; these break the peace. In response to conflict, are you an attacker?
“The escape responses are used to get away from conflict instead of trying to resolve it. They often prolong conflict and can result in bitterness and unforgiveness” (23). Instead of attacking, some of us resort to escaping from our conflicts through denial (pretending a conflict is nonexistent or refusing to work it out), blame-shifting (blaming others or lying about/covering up our wrong-doing), or running away (avoiding the person with whom we have a conflict). These forms of escape are used to pretend that there is peace with another when really there is not; these promote fake peace. In response to conflict, are you an escaper?
Work it Out
“These responses usually lead to constructive solutions to conflicts and help to preserve relationships” (26). There are better, God-honoring ways to handle conflict other than attacking and escaping. First, you can overlook an offense. “You deal with the offense by yourself. You simply decide to forgive a wrong action against you and walk away from a conflict” (26). As it says in Proverbs 19:11, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Sometimes, a conflict is significant enough that overlooking is not sufficient and the problem continues to hinder your relationship. Then, it may be necessary to talk it out . . . “by going directly to the other person to talk it out together. This can include confession of your own wrongs and confronting the other person’s wrongs in a kind and respectful way” (26). Keep in mind what Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering before at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Finally, after seeking to overlook an offense, and talking it out has not resolved the conflict, the situation may require that you get help from others. Get help from a godly, wise person to learn what you should say if you try to talk it out once again (Ephesians 4:29). Or, get help from a trustworthy third party who will meet with both of you to mediate and to suggest solutions to your problem (Matthew 18:15-16). If mediation does not resolve a conflict, it may be necessary to get help from a person in authority who will actually arbitrate, or hear both sides of the conflict and decide on a solution (Exodus 18:13-27).
The attack and escape responses to conflict never achieve peaceful reconciliation. There is only one way that does: working it out. At this point we may want to argue, “But, SHE always does this-or-that,” or “Well, HE did such-and-such,”‘ or “It’s all THEIR fault–they’ll never change anyways.” Stop. Consider again the inspired Word of God, “As far as it depends on YOU, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) Personal responsibility–YOUR personal responsibility for the conflict and how you will respond to it–kicks in now. You are not responsible for the other person’s response to you or to the conflict. You are responsible before your Lord and God for YOUR response. He will give you the grace and wisdom to know exactly what to do and how to do it. And, whatever you do must be done with godliness. Tough? Yes. Impossible? No. “No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man. And God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)
Like me, you may regularly find yourself on top of conflict’s slippery slope (or you are helping others who are, such as your children). Are you going to slip off into the murky waters of attacking and escaping? Or, are you going to stand firm on top of the mountain and work it out? I encourage you to memorize Romans 12:18 and two simple questions to ask yourself in the midst of conflict, “Am I attacking, escaping, or working it out? Do I need to overlook, talk it out, or get help?”
God is with you in your conflict, and as you seek His wisdom in prayer and His Word, He will enable you to make the choices that glorify Him. Even on the slippery slope of conflict, you can stand firm.
To purchase The Young Peacemaker by Corlette Sande, visit www.shepherdpress.com.
To learn how the Gospel is the foundation for biblical conflict resolution, see in this blog “Resolving Conflict, Part 1: The Best Place to Start.”