“As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their "right" place.”
Henri J.M. Nouen
From the first chapters of the Bible, we see conflict--between Adam and Eve, as she wants to lead him astray. Between Satan and God over the loyalty of hearts of the first children He made. Cain and Abel. And it goes on from there.
Sometimes Hollywood makes us think that it is possible to be married to a perfectly compatible partner. Formulaic parenting books suggest that if you just follow the right rules, or formula, children will quit fussing and be kind the rest of their lives. What about supposed Christians in your church who are quick to criticize? Your family arguments at Christmas? That friend you have loved, but there has been a break? The person at the driver's liscence bureau? Your neighbor? Your neighbor's dog? A Christian leader? Your siblings?
And what about the conflict you have with the children you love with all of your heart but for some reason or another, drive you crazy--personality, disability, illness, too loud, too quiet? And then you condemn yourself for being a bad mom--cause if you really loved your children, you would always be patient, right?
I could write a whole book about what it looks like to love well, and quote scripture and give you insight to grow in maturity in relationships, because I have had to learn soooo much in this area--and I have learned so much through my failures.
But, this article is about dealing with the reality--conflict is a normal part of life in a fallen world where everyone you meet is in need of Christ's grace. Everyone you meet, no matter how spiritual, will be tempted by selfishness, pettiness, sexual thoughts, greed, envy, insecurity, anger, and more.
However, I do have a few thoughts that have helped me go forward in regards to this whole mysterious issue of conflict management--especially amongst Christians, family and people you expected to get along with.
1. You will never be perfect. Accept your limitations in this fallen world. Jesus is never biting his nails over your imperfection, nor is He surprised by it. Scripture tells us that he did not trust himself to men because He knew what was in their hearts. John 2:24
He was discerning and used self-control even in relationships.
Consequently, He understood the fallen nature of our hearts and that all of us are prone to transgress in relationships.
If you live in constant condemnation for raising your voice, getting impatient, being petty, being tempted, and promise yourself you will never do it again, you will be in constant disappointment with yourself. (Paul tells us, "I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate." Romans 7:15)
2. Be humble and recognize your frailty. Let your sin and immaturity lead your heart to gratefulness that Jesus died for you.
First, Jesus says, "God gives grace to the humble, but is opposed to the proud."
Jesus said, "I am humble and meek. Learn from me."
Humble people who can admit they are immature are more likely to give grace, kindness, compassion to others who also fail. And when they give love from a grateful heart to others, there is naturally more reconciliation and more harmony. We all sin, we all need to forgive, we will all do it again--but Hallelujah, we are all forgiven.
Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Let it lead you to celebrate His love, His goodness, His generosity. Get over yourself--you are just a person with feet of clay. He is mindful that we are but dust.
3. Be shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves.
Unfortunately, several in our family have had to learn this the hard way. Sometimes as Christians we think we are supposed to "be kind to all people, accept all people and give them grace no matter what." Yet, to be shrewd means to have deep insight, vast understanding, and Proverbs is full of admonitions not to companion ourselves to fools. We are called to accept all people as those receiving the grace of Christ, but we are not called to engage our hearts to those who are foolish, unwise, immature, or who would engage our hearts in constant conflict.
Learn to discern the character of people. Are they gracious? Do they seek to serve, encourage? Or are they competing to be the center of attention? Do they say, "You hurt my feelings," a lot? Do they react easily, get offended easily--then they do not have the strength of character or heart to be a loyal, devoted, unconditionally loving friend. Perhaps we are called to minister to such in our lives, but we are not called to entrust ourselves to them. Proverbs says, "He who walks with the wise will be wise, but a companion to fools suffers harm."
Many people have had such destructive backgrounds that they manipulate emotionally as a way of life. As we mature, we are called to love all people, to forgive those who have wronged us, but we cannot make immature, destructive, controlling or manipulative people behave in a mature way.
But we can be healthy and learn to mature, ourselves.
Remember, maturity is a process of growing stronger and more like Jesus one day at a time. It is not instant. Practice love and you will become more loving.
But, we do not have to carry the burden of someone else's irrationality or criticism. Don't take it into your body, your stomach, give it to God and move on. We can live in grace, accept our limitations and reject the criticism of others. Then we can walk in graciousness as we follow the One who defined "graciousness."
There are some people I waited most of my life to love me and affirm me--and they never did. But I learned to love them by faith and not give them power over how I felt about myself. I learned to lean into God's sweet love for me and love who He made me, warts and all--this made me free to love others more generously.
Some of these irrational relationships will be with us our whole lives because they are family members or connected to us for good. But we do not have to take on their accusations, neurosis, unjust condemnation. We are responsible for our own sense of well being. Don't compare with others, like who you are and accept the great love and freedom that comes from pleasing only One--and that is by faith in His ability to save you and help you grow.
There are some relationships that may never be healthy or whole--but you can be healthy and whole if you walk in Biblical patterns.
4. Beware of the Pharisees--those who pride themselves in knowing all the rules, thinking they are capable of keeping all the rules, and condemn all who are less than they are.
Beware of Gossips
When I notice that new friends criticize others a lot or gossip or are condescending towards others, I know that wisdom would teach me not to trust my heart to them. A gossip or critical person will gossip or criticize you behind your back. It has happened to me several times in my life and I have had to learn from failing rather than being wise as I faced new relationships.
And don't you be a pharisee by peer pressure--You can't please Jesus and condemn others and other groups as a habit. He who loved the prostitute, the tax collectors, the outcasts is the one who wants you to be just in your relationship to others.
Don't join the peer pressure of others to ostracize certain groups--if you want to please Jesus, sometimes you have to walk alone to do what is right.
Most of all, grow--grow in learning little by little how to love well, learn how to forgive, learn how to overcome, learn how to be at peace and learn how to walk in the grace and forgiveness He generously gives every day.
So much more to be said, but this year, give the difficult and destructive and hurtful relationships into the file drawers of heaven. Let God take them. Get rid of unnecessary guilt. Live in freedom. Biblically, own your relationships.
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