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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Conflict's Nature

Have you ever considered the nature and character of conflict? I think it surrounds us most of the time. But few of us ever really try to understand it. It seems that the character and nature of conflict may be hard to detect, hard to discern. And it strikes me that this is where conflict gets its power.
I met a guy recently who teaches seminars on conflict resolution. He told me there are five ways to handle conflict. (I wasn't particularly enamored with any of them.) I've read books on conflict resolution and conflict management. I took a course once and got certified to be a professional arbitrator. I've also looked at college courses on conflict. But I have to say that I am still amazed at the high level of ignorance mankind seems to have with conflict. The irony is that we can be so ignorant of something that is so central to the human experience.

Conflict has this impact on us. It tends to start our adrenaline pumping. Even when we're right, or have done nothing wrong --- conflict can seize our emotions. It can undo us and make us stutter or stumble for words. Usually after a confrontation we'll walk away, calm down and then think of all the things we should have said, would have said, could have said. Conflict has that way about it. You see, it steals our words right from under our nose. We only find them again when the confrontation is over. How does it do that?

Another thing about conflict is the ability it has to insert itself at the center of your attention. When you're in conflict, you can scarcely think of anything else. There may be many other, more important things to think about. But conflict will take center stage. You can find yourself obsessing about the issues of the conflict - even when you don't want to. I know I can start to pray about a conflict that I'm involved in. The next thing I know, I'm rehearsing the speech I'd like to give the opposing party in that conflict. (Of course, I then have to repent and start praying all over again!)

The thing is that human beings are all different. We have different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, values, beliefs, preferences and even different ways of thinking or looking at things. So conflict is inevitable, even among the most righteous of people. The Bible gives us antidotes for conflict, and they're good ones. There is a God-honoring way to deal with conflict. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to remember when conflict is swirling around us like some sort of smoky haze, blocking our view of reality.

I have a dear friend whom I have turned to often to discuss issues in my life. One of the things that used to trouble me a great deal was the amount of conflict I'd find myself in. He helped me see, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that conflict was part of God's will for my life. It's how I am made. And if I live the live that God has called me to, I am going to encounter conflict. In fact, I could encounter lots of it. Coming to grips with this truth helped me understand that conflict does not mean there is something wrong with me. (I had worried that it was always my character defects that caused conflict in my life.)

Still, I hate conflict. (Doesn't everybody?) I wish everyone could just get along. (They can't.) I want conflict to have easy solutions. (It doesn't.) And I want conflict to end in glory for God. (It can.)

But it seems that conflict can be used for good or for bad. And it is my willingness to pull it out and examine it that starts to make the difference. When I become a better student of conflict and its dynamics, it starts to lose power. When I look for God's approach to conflict - I find that it's bark is much worse than its bite. (Go figure.)

I've often found I had to face the dilemma that I refer to as the battle between the urgent and the important. You see, the urgent is a screaming brat, demanding immediate attention. It's very distracting. It's very exhausting. And it often has little value. But the important ... it will sit quietly, waiting seemingly forever. It never demands anything. And it offers tremendous value. Conflict has this dynamic. It is always urgent, but rarely really important.

As you might guess, I'm finding quite a bit of conflict in my life right now. Lord, help me to keep it in perspective. Help me to put it in its place. Let it not distract me from the
real issues.

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