How do you handle conflict?

We are called to love one another deeply (1 Peter 4:8), but what happens when conflict arises?

Conflict is a dreaded word in my vocabulary.

In younger years, conflict meant withdrawal, tears, and insecurity. I was passive in every way, avoiding conflict initiation and conceding in situations involving dispute.

Amidst adult age, upon revelation that conflict was healthy and necessary, I wrongfully and pridefully sought out to admonish others who I felt needed counsel. Lacking grace, I felt satisfaction after harsh words that stem from truth were twisted and perversed by me to prompt guilt and condemnation of others.

Both of these scenarios fall short of what God has called us to pursue in terms of conflict approach and resolution. One is rooted in passivity-the other in aggression; neither is rooted in love.

I am learning that true relationship with others will involve conflict at one point or another. We are called to hold each other accountable. (Proverbs 27:17; James 5:16; Galatians 6:1-2)

Conflict can’t always be avoided; however, conflict doesn’t have to be negative. It is not wrong for me to feel anger; anger is an emotion, just like love. What is wrong of me is to let anger fester inside my heart. What is wrong of me is reacting out of anger, instead of responding despite anger.

There are a few things I have been learning recently about conflict:

Speaking truth is not the same as speaking truth in love. Even if I have great points and insight, the message is rarely received if I don’t center what I say on the Gospel. If I fail to wrap my words with love and grace, I often come across arrogant and haughty. I am learning to humble myself and make time to pray about a situation before I interact in conflict with others. This helps me to remember the next point I am learning about conflict.

Ephesians 4:29-30- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Colossians 3:13-14- Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

I am not perfect. Weird how this is something I am still having to remind myself- but in light of the Gospel I am reminded that I am naturally a sinner and deserve God’s wrath. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. I am no better than anyone else. We are all humans who have fallen short of perfection, leading me to the next point I am learning.

Ephesians 4:31-32 – Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

John 13:34- A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Conflict is a natural process of life. If I have a relationship with someone and never have conflict, how deep is that relationship? Every relationship has growing pains, but how I respond to conflict is most important. If every time conflict arises, I run away, shut down, or lash out, I need to check my heart. There are healthy ways to address conflict, and conflict can look different to everyone. It’s hard for me to understand someone’s perspective if I am so busy finding fault or feeling defensive. Sub-surface level relationship will consist of people hurting me, or me hurting people- we are human. This doesn’t mean that I should throw in the towel after an argument, and by the grace of others around me, I have been learning to love through conflict instead of against it. This helps when I remember the following and final point.

Ephesians 4:2-3 – Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I need to be held accountable during conflict. When in conflict, I often begin to let my pride take control. A way to reduce this haughtiness is for me to go to a spiritually mature friend to seek counsel. This doesn’t necessarily mean I sit on her couch and vent about my life (sometimes it does look like that); sometimes it’s a simple text to someone I trust to tell me the Gospel-centered truth to make sure I am not overreacting, or that I am responding in midst of conflict in an appropriate way. Often when I don’t seek counsel from another person, my arguments become more heated, more about placing blame, and less about resolving the conflict itself. Finding people I can talk with who will tell me when I’m handling a situation wrong, or even encouraging me if I am doing something right, is one of the most valuable assets I have found on my Christian walk. 

Ephesians 4:25 – Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

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