November 24, 2015

How Not to Deal with Conflict in Relationships

Since it's only been 6 months since my last post and a lot has happened (like, hi, I'm almost 34 weeks pregnant with #5, our baby girl Eden Hope), I thought I would ease back into writing with a fresh, light post. On conflict. In relationships. Amongst people who profess to be Christians.

Because it's Tuesday and it's snowing outside and I don't need a nap.

I've had this post swirling in my head for awhile now and, as it always seems to go, everything in my life seems to keep finding its way back to this topic. Relationships. Having them, fighting for them, displaying Jesus through them.

It's no secret that I'm a big people-person. Sometimes I even load us all up and go to the mall just to be around people. (Every introvert in the room is holding their heart in horror. That's ok. I've made peace with myself. I yam who I yam.)

And as such, I also spend a lot of my time observing people. And as a tried-and-true optimist by nature, I find that there's a lot of good to be seen, even in the midst of a lot of evil. Doesn't light always shine brightest in the darkness? But there's something I've seen for a long time now (and I've kind of written about these things before) that just simply grieves my heart. And it's the way we can treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ when it comes to conflict.

Here's how I've seen conflict dealt with amongst people who are professing Christians in the last 6 months alone:

1) Passive aggressively. I'm mad at you/you've offended me/I don't like something you said or did but I lack the courage to tell you so instead I'm going to punish you in subtle ways. When you say hi I'm going to give an imperceptible head nod and keep walking. If you're in the same room I'm going to work very hard to ignore you and/or pretend not to notice you. You will know I'm not happy with you, even though I'm not brave enough to tell you why I'm not happy with you.

2) Avoidance. Similar to above except contact with that person is avoided AT ALL COSTS. Will they be at the same event/party/celebration/church service??? Make for sure that you know so you don't actually end up at the same place (horrors!). Will our spouses/children/friends be affected because everybody else has to ensure avoidance happens too? Probably. But that's not my problem. (Even though it totally and completely is.)

3) Pretending. Oh, HI, HOW ARE YOU! I am SO HAPPY to see you! How's life? Did I tell you about the latest funny story/my kids/that football team/the weather/the wilting lettuce I saw at the store??? Anything but the obvious tension and conflict that exists between us and needs desperately to be brought out into the light and talked about so that we can have ACTUAL, REAL, AUTHENTIC relationship with one another! Heaven forbid.

4) Outright ugliness. Sides. Divisions. Factions. Slandering. Gossip. Nastiness. Judgment. More negative words.

And this would be no surprise if I said I was talking about the Kardashians, bless their hearts. But I'm not. I'm talking to those who say, "I'm a Christian. I believe the Bible is true. Jesus is real. He's coming back. He's given us all a mission to glorify him with our lives. I go to church. I raise my kids to believe the Bible is true. I serve in a ministry. I'm a Christian."

Today in my Bible reading time, my reading plan had me in Ezekiel 35-37. In a nutshell, these chapters talk about how intensely concerned God is with his Name amongst his people; which is to say he's intensely concerned with how his people reflect his character, the very essence of who he is, to unbelieving people and nations. In fact, in the famous Ezekiel 36 chapter that speaks to him giving us a new heart and a new spirit, and replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, both before and after he says he's doing it for his name's sake. Because the nation of Israel at that time had repeatedly defamed his name with an abundance of injustice and wrongdoing and wrong-dealing and religious pride and blasphemy and lots more negative things.

And he had had enough. He made clear that he was tired of his name being defamed and he was going to make things right.

It would be one thing if it were reserved to the Old Testament. Except that the New Testament is full of this idea too. In John 17 alone Jesus tells his followers that just as the Father and he are one, so his followers are to be one so that the world will know and see and believe that Jesus was sent by God and God loves the world as he loves Jesus.

Can you even believe that? 

Jesus is saying that the unity we have with one another and the love we display towards each other will cause people to know and believe that he is who he says he is and that God loves us profoundly as he loves Jesus, as seen through Jesus' life and subsequently ours.

Do you know what that means?

It means the reverse is also true. That a lack of unity and love will cause people to disbelieve that Jesus is who he says he is and that God loves us profoundly as he loves Jesus, as seen through Jesus' life and subsequently ours.

Does that mean Jesus isn't who he says he is? No. Does that mean God doesn't love us profoundly? No.

It means that when we don't strive for peace with one another (Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14, lots of other verses), when we don't fight for love and unity amongst one another, the witness of Jesus in our lives is diminished and his Name is defamed.

There's honestly so much that could be said about this, but I want to wrap it up with a few parting thoughts.

Do you strive (fight for) unity and peace and love with others? And as Ravi Zacharias always says, "Unity doesn't mean uniformity." It doesn't mean we agree about everything. It doesn't mean we're always Pollyannas with one another. It doesn't mean we don't broach the hard things.

It means we forgive, not avoid. It means we believe the best about others, not assume the worst. It means we have honest, open conversations with others, not one-sided condemnation conversations in our head. It means when someone hurts us, we approach them honestly in a kind and gracious way (Ephesians 4). It means if we think someone has an offense against us, we pursue them (Matthew 18).

We should be marked by kindness, graciousness, inclusiveness, forgiveness, openness, and a lot of other positive words.

And I say this just as much to myself. I've had experiences even recently where I've had to be the one to ask forgiveness because I'd judged wrongly, been jealous, envied, reacted from a place of hurt (hello, hurting people hurt people), and a lot of other negative things. And I've had to be the one to approach someone and say the hard things - It seems like I've done something to offend you, when you said this, it really hurt my feelings, etc.

I have to regularly pray that the Lord would help me to love others like he does because I desperately need his help. One of the most common verses I pray for myself and Matt is from 1st Timothy 1:5, that the goal of our instruction would be love from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith. I regularly need the Holy Spirit searching my heart, sanctifying me in his truth which is his Word (John 17:17), giving me a pure heart.

But people are worth it.

And about a majillion times more than that, the renown of Jesus' Name is worth it.

"Your name and renown are the desire of our souls." Isaiah 26:8

The fact that people will actually come to know and believe him because of our love for one another is astounding and wonderful. And possible because of his Holy Spirit living in and through us.

Thanks for bearing with me friends, and thanks for reading again. I've sure missed this. And missed you.

And because I want to wrap up this fresh, light post with some fresh, light pictures of life lately.

This picture is a few weeks old but I'm currently almost 34 weeks pregnant with #5. Our baby girl, Eden Hope, is due the beginning of the year.

If this doesn't sum up brotherhood, I don't know what does.

Luke is almost 18 months (!) and just such a joy to all of us. And he's deliciously chubby. 

Asher turned 4 in August and started preschool this year. He loves it and is doing great and has the best teacher.

Micah is almost 6 and started kindergarten this year. He's turning into such a little individual person, it's so fun to see. He loves school and learning and has started reading (!), which makes me so happy. He's growing up so fast!

These two have always had a special bond.

Matt finished his Master's program last January and started his first job as a Family Nurse Practitioner in April. He's since transitioned within the same hospital to a family practice clinic, which was a huge answer to prayer. He works with a great team of people and is learning a TON. 
So there you have it. Life lately. Conflict. Pregnancy. We'll just mash it all together and call it good, yes?