Search This Blog

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Handling Conflict

Someone was reported to have said about me this week something that I found a little odd. "You know, Larry thrives in conflict." I wasn't sure if that was meant as an insult or a compliment. Ironically, I had an opportunity to speak with that individual thereafter in another context. It turned out that it had indeed been intended as a compliment. The individual told me that he loved and admired me for my supposed skills in this area.

I find this odd because I wouldn't describe myself that way at all. To be sure, I've had my share of conflicts in life. Relationships are hard and challenging. Sometimes I wonder what God might have been thinking of when He made us relational beings. But then I remember, "Oh yeah, He made us in His own image --- and He's a relational being Himself." So this relational being (hereafter known as God) creates more relational beings and leaves the aspect of conflict right there in the middle of it all for all of time.

I encountered conflict when I was a young child. My mother had her challenges in life and the battles would ensue from about the time I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. I was stubborn and willful, and so was she. We would be at loggerheads often over things I mostly can't remember today. The only things I probably do remember were the conflicts that never got resolved or handled well. You know, they're the ones where we just wound each other and walk away. (That's how conflict gets handled sometimes.) At any rate, it seems I became a student of conflict. I did this not so much that I was interested in conflict --- but more so because I've always been interested in answers and truth. So whenever presented with conflict, it has never seemed to make sense to me. Conflict has always left me wondering why? What is the root cause? What is the real solution here? Is there a real solution here?

The Bible is replete with wisdom about conflict. There has been conflict with God even. (Usually God wins those conflicts hands down too!) A lot of the conflict we see in the Bible gets handled poorly. People get wounded (or even killed) and the parties walk away, licking their wounds. Sometimes they rise above the conflict and are even later thankful for it, like, for example, Joseph and his multi-colored coat. But through it all, this Bible study I mean, and my own personal experiences, I've learned a thing or two about conflict. No, it's stronger than that. I guess I've formed some beliefs about conflict.

First of all, God is love. And He made us in His own image. So we should be love. What is love? I Corinthians 13 gives us a very comprehensive definition of love. It says in verses 1-3 that love is unmatched by any other gifts or talents or qualities we could have. In fact, it says that that anything else that defines us fails against the standard of love. But then it goes on in verses 4-12 to tell us what love is. Let's take a look.

I Corinthians 13:4-12 says, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ... but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

So what can we make of this? Quite a bit actually! Look at that last part, and see that love is not childish. We put away the ways that we thought about things when we were a child --- and we think about them in new ways, love's ways. When I was a child and my mother offended me or I disagreed with her, I had one way of thinking about that. As an adult, I am supposed to have a new way ... love's way ... of thinking about that.

Love is patient and kind. Love is slow to anger. Love is full of forgiveness. Love looks for the benefit of the doubt so it can give it to you. Love never keeps track of how wrong you are. Love doesn't count the times you've disappointed it. We say that love is a verb. I disagree with that, because I think love is a definition. It's supposed to be anyway. It is supposed to define us.

Go back and read that Scripture again. Notice that it doesn't say anything about love drawing firm boundaries or holding someone accountable. The Bible is also replete with lots of instruction about how we are to draw firm boundaries, serve one another, hold each other accountable, confess our sins to each other, etc. So, for example, if I'm a boss in a company, I am to love my staff. But that doesn't mean I can't fire them for not doing their jobs. In fact, I can fully love them --- and still fire them.

So what does all this love have to do with conflict? Well, the second major belief I've come to is that conflict is not God's way. I don't believe that God is the author of conflict. So whenever I encounter conflict, I look for sin ... and usually find some! But more often than not, the sin that I can find is the failure on the part of one or more of the participants in the conflict to love. Make no mistake, we are commanded to love each other. That's clear. But when we fail to do so, conflict erupts. Love doesn't mean that we cannot disagree. Love doesn't mean that we cannot have issues to wrestle with. But without love, it degenerates into conflict.

So what's the solution? Focus on love. Make the conflict about me. Find my part in it and see if love can't help me move through it. I don't know if I "shine in conflict" or not. But I do know that conflict doesn't master me any more. It distresses and hurts me. But I can honestly say that even when I'm in conflict, I'm focused on love. And inevitably, that requires me to walk away from the conflict, pray for my enemies and move on. The end result is that some of the greatest conflicts I've ever been in have also resulted in some of the most enduring friendships. So it would seem that, in the end, love also pays off. Go figure!

No comments:

Post a Comment