Category Archives: conflict

Some good magic for all us valentines

This week romance and love are taking on a redder hue than usual! Hallmark and the local florist appreciate it. So do all of us valentines.

Showing that we like each other fuels our relationships. Instead of taking the other for granted, we take the effort to be aware of the other, to notice. (Ever watch the eyes of a couple in love? They’re always looking at each other!) We listen, we touch. We give flowers, chocolates.

Don’t follow the husband who told his wife: valentine roses “I said I loved you the day we got married, and if I change my mind I’ll tell you.” Compliment each other—the more specific the better. Recount some strength or typical act in the other that is satisfying, that makes you want to be with him or her.

Much good magic happens when we affirm someone and tell them we like them. First, they like us more. All of us enjoy being around those who like us, who appreciate us. Second, when we affirm another, now we like them more. We live with whichever aspect of the people around us we choose to emphasize. Third, when we affirm another, they tend to repeat the behavior we affirmed!

Not all days, though, is the red glow in relationships from valentines and roses. Sometimes it’s anger. What about the days when the warmth of love is replaced with feelings of frustration or bitterness?

Loss of closeness is a signal that there is something in the relationship that needs attention. Give it attention. Be assertive; tell the other what your needs are. As Jesus instructed, “if your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matt. 18:15).

Often when we try to be assertive, we demand that the other change their actions. Or we make statements judging their motives and personality traits. Both of those tend to provoke argument or defensiveness in the other.

But there is a way to be assertive that does not provoke a negative response: we can describe our feelings and pain at the other’s behavior. “When you do…, this is what happens to me.” “I feel… when you… because….” Look at the good magic that happens when we describe our feelings. First, the other can’t argue about our description of our feelings because we are the expert on that. Second, we have given the other an opportunity to feel our pain, to empathize with us. Third, often when we ask or demand that a person change their behavior, they resist; whereas when they see why they should change, they do. And we’ve weathered another crisis on our way to being valentines forever.

In this fallen world, some relationships are so stuck in destructive responses to each other that the above practices of affirming the other or describing our pain fail to work their magic. But in most relationships the magic can be there for the trying. It sure has in mine! valentine roses Here’s to you, Karen: my favorite person to be with and favorite consultant. One loved by our kids, grand-kids, the Sunday School children, the women’s groups you lead—and most of all by me.

Jesus’ way to deal with insult and criticism

Here’s a personal story from when I worked as a substitute rural mail carrier many years ago. I ran across it while preparing for a sermon in a series on the impact God’s love has as it fully sinks into our mind and heart. It’s adapted from my journal.

     Mail volume ebbs and flows. One day we rural carriers got a lot of mail and got it late. Back then (before automation) we had to put every piece of mail into delivery sequence before leaving the post office for the route. The more mail, the more sorting, and the later we started delivery. Toward the end of the route that day, I was running about two hours behind normal schedule and Mr. Green was waiting for me at his mail box. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but it sure as @#$! wasn’t delivering mail.” He thought I had been goofing off! And I had worked harder that day than for a while.rural
     I’m a people-pleaser. And was also sensitive to running late on the route, feeling that my brain ran a few megahertz slower than other carriers’. So his criticism went deep and kept replaying through my mind the next weeks. I found myself a little tense and edgy every time I came to his mail box. And getting a little jolt each time I saw one of his letters while sorting.
     Finally I decided that this had gone on too long. I gave myself an assignment, a simple spiritual discipline: every time I thought of Mr. Green and his comment, I would tell myself: God loves me and was pleased with my hard work that day. Initially that truth didn’t have as much energy and emotional grip as my frustration and anxiety did. But as I continued to feed my faith in God’s love, I soon could think about Mr. Green with inner calm and compassion. I was following Jesus’ strategy: “He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly” (1 Peter 2:23).
     We mail carriers sometimes share war stories. I told another carrier about Mr. Green and how I dealt with it: by telling myself that God was pleased with me even if Mr. Green wasn’t. She responded by telling me of a time that a trucker honked and yelled at her because he thought she pulled out in front of him. She too had left it bother her a while, letting his anger toward her replay in her mind. But then she dealt with it, she said, by telling herself that she doesn’t care what he thinks.

Which strategy should we use when unfairly accused: rest in God’s love and let his assessment matter most? or tell ourselves that the other person doesn’t matter?

Following Jesus’ way—letting our case in the hands of God who always judges fairly—is far healthier. Both my strategy and my coworker’s strategy allowed us to let go of anxiety over an insult. But only the approach that Jesus modeled enables us to give the angry person “the gift of non-anxious presence”—to both let go of the other’s anger and yet be fully engaged with them.

Relational conflict can be God’s rescuing grace

Do you have a relationship that is filled with tension and broken expectations and conflict? If not, celebrate! If you do, view it as an opportunity — a chance to learn, a place to grow. Doesn’t sound like something fun. But it can be something good, something you might celebrate down the road.

Maybe you are going through a rocky season with your Valentine or a coworker or a (former) close friend. Maybe disappointment has turned to anger and now despair. Here’s a word of hope from a profound article by Paul Tripp: conflict might be “an act of God’s rescuing grace.” When we bump into a relationship that we cannot fix with our intelligence, communication skills, or tactics of manipulation, it forces us to look to Something beyond ourselves. Like the kingdom of God.

The focus of the New Testament is the kingdom of God — from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:15) to the end of Paul’s (Acts 28:31). Our focus instead tends to be the kingdom of self where “our decisions, thoughts, plans, actions, and words are directed by personal desire” and we “seek to surround ourselves with people who will serve our kingdom purposes.”

Of course it’s only a matter of time before a kingdom of self collides with another’s kingdom. But the resulting conflict can actually be good for us! It can prod us “to exit the small space of the kingdom of self and to begin to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the kingdom of God.” Relational conflict makes me restless until I begin to serve the One who guides me into what is ultimately best for me and for the one next to me.

How do I grow in serving God?! Well, the concept is quite simple: grow in these attitudes: brokenness and humility before God through surrender to Jesus as Lord; inner peace and freedom through healing and forgiveness from Jesus as Savior; submission (not having to get our own way) through commitment to the body of Christ. And in these actions: discipline through giving up natural desires for the sake of loving God and neighbor; and worship, prayer, bible study, fellowship, accountability, and celebration. Easier said than done, of course!