On Conflict and Commitments
So, you've come to the point in your conflicted relationship that you've either A) already begun the counseling process, or B) you're ready to pick up the phone and call. Whatever you do, don't walk away now in defeat. The truth of the matter is, there are two kinds of people, A) those who've had relational conflict, and B) those who will. A third category could be "those who are in conflict at this very moment."
Robert Jones, professor of biblical counseling at SBTS and author of "Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Our Conflicts," writes that none of us should be surprised when relational strife comes to our doorstep. He invites us to simply embrace the obvious when he says, "Are you surprised that you face relational tensions? Don’t be. In this life, count on conflicts. Why? Because we are fallen sinners living with fallen sinners in a fallen world" (Kindle 485).
If you're willing to acknowledge these simple truths, that's a good first step. It means we can dispense with the handwringing that declares, "I can't believe we're in this mess! We're supposed to be better than this!" The truth often hurts when it comes home to roost--especially when that truth is the fruit of your own sinful nature.
Whatever the nature of your conflict happens to be, whether marital, familial, friendship, or other, a helpful preface to all the dialogue we will have in the days ahead (and that we should carry with us throughout), is an awareness of common temptations toward a priori commitments that are not in keeping with Scripture, and that do not, as a result, serve us well in our efforts toward peace and reconciliation.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive by any stretch. It's intended to get you thinking about how you've arrived at the point of conflict counseling with ideas that may well reveal a heart of judgment toward neighbor, and unwarranted self-righteousness. Said more succinctly, hear the instruction of Paul, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5).
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
To help prime the pump, here are three common commitments encountered at the start of many conflict counseling scenarios. They may or may not describe a struggle you're currently having, or perhaps the truth is a matter of degree. They often sound something like this:
1. My neighbor has offended me, and I'm angry about the circumstances. Fortunately, God is on my side.
2. I'm not sure what my neighbor's problem is, or how they can maintain their opposition to me. The logic of what I have to say is self-evident.
3. My neighbor refuses to apologize. I already did, even though I'm the not guilty party.
One of the difficulties in assessing these heart attitudes is that oftentimes they're not utterly untrue, but a mixture of truth and error. It takes wisdom and discernment to spot the inconsistencies, but humility and courage to confess and repent of them.
Here are some counter-offerings to give you an idea of what the above might sound like, were they biblically oriented.
1. My neighbor has offended me, and I'm struggling with what may be sinful anger or bitterness over the circumstances. I want to honor the Lord with my emotions and responses, but I'm not sure I know how right now (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 4:26).
2. I know that I need to try to see things from my neighbor's perspective, if I'm to love them well. I don't necessarily have to agree with or adopt their every position, but I also recognize that I may have my own blind spots. Maybe the truth in somewhere in the middle (Mark 12:31; 1 Cor. 13:12).
3. If I'm honest, my own disposition toward my neighbor in all this may be a stumbling block to their own confession of sin. What I offered previously may not have been offered with a sincere heart before the Lord, either. Maybe I wasn't very specific, but overly generalized, too, so as to asuage my own guilty conscience (Rom. 14:13; Rom. 3:23).
The Humility to Change
The opposing triad of commitments hopefully give you a sense of what is common coming in to many conflict counseling scenarios, followed by what we're actually hoping and praying for in the pursuit of true reconciliation and peace.
As you survey these example commitments, what would you identify as a key, biblical ingredient that's absent from the former, but much more prevalent in the latter? This ingredient is so important, that without it, the entire process of conflict counseling will remain in jeopardy. It is, in fact, a mark of the Christian life.
As you pray over these issues in consideration of your own counseling process, think about these words from Jones:
Our God is the God of peace. He has made saving peace with us through Jesus Christ, he pours out his inner peace on us and into us, he promises future global peace, and he calls and enables us to pursue relational peace with others. There is not a person on the planet—including your spouse, child, parents, or business partner—with whom you cannot pursue peace. (Kindle 406)
In light of all this, what commitments are you holding today that need Gospel-driven, Christ-exalting, neighbor-loving refinement for the glory of God?
Disclaimer: We recognize that not all cases of conflict are the same, even though they share a common root, namely, human sin. Having said that, the points offered in this post are general in nature, and may not be fully and equally applied in each and every instance. Wisdom and discernement are always required.