“I am at peace with God. My conflict is with Man.” It is likely most of us understand both the joy and the tension of Charlie Chaplin’s statement. Chaplin’s declaration became real to me when I was just nine years old. The memory is so vivid, so locked in my memory, that I could take you to the very spot – about a block from the public school that I attended in London, ON. It was the first and the last physical altercation that I have been in. It all started so innocently. I got into a disagreement with my best friend Jim, who was a year older and considerably stronger than me. Apparently I said something he didn’t like. The next thing I knew, I had been punched a number of times and was lying on the asphalt, while Jim sauntered towards the school. I was hurting both outwardly and inwardly. I remember picking myself up off the pavement and vowing that day, “I will never say anything or do anything that starts another fight. I will do everything I can to avoid conflict.”
Well, the years slipped by, I got married, had children and went into the ministry. I became a peacemaker. Keeping the peace was my goal. It seemed like a noble cause, but it didn’t work. Not in any area.
The truth was, I was finding my goal to avoid conflict was actually creating conflict. It’s likely I’m not alone in this.
When we always frame conflict in a negative context, it’s not surprising that we try to avoid it at all costs. The solution, then, is to reframe it. Here’s what research is showing:
Relationships with frequent conflict may be healthier than those with no observable conflict if the conflict is resolved constructively because this often builds increased trust.
Conflict provides numerous opportunities for growth through improved understanding and insight for all parties involved.
When we work to understand and resolve conflict effectively, we can improve both the satisfaction and productivity of our social relationships.
Canadian human resources professionals report the following in a study on conflict in the Canadian workplace: “Conflict can lead to better solutions, major innovations, increased motivation, a better understanding of others and a higher team performance.”
Scientific Research Publishing in April 2016 notes: “Conflict does not damage relationships, poor resolution of conflict does.”
That’s good news! Why then, even with this research, are some of us still hesitant to address those things we know need addressing?
Here are a few reasons:
People feel inadequate to approach a situation in a healthy way.
People may never have seen a conflict end in a win-win situation.
People have difficulty in positively asserting themselves.
People think the hostility or resentment which may result will be greater than the present issue.
Carey Nieuwhof, the founding pastor of Connexus Community Church near Toronto, suggests the following four reasons why conflict isn’t dealt with, especially in church settings:
In the name of grace, we feel the need to sacrifice truth.
When we speak truth, we often don’t know how to speak it with grace.
We worry about hurting other people’s feelings when one of the best things we can do is offer honest feedback.
We’re not sure how to support someone we genuinely disagree with.
So how can conflict be handled in a way that is both life-giving and God-honouring?
Seek to reduce tunnel vision in yourself and others. Refuse to hold tightly to your own viewpoint.
Provide an opportunity for the expression of feelings so others feel heard.
Ask, “Help me understand why you believe that and/or feel that?”
Encourage the principle of love being expressed in honest confrontation.
Allow for differing points of view, as you may likely learn something of value.
Look at the alternatives and discover the best course of action.
Understand it may take a couple of attempts to work through the conflict.
Ask the Holy Spirit for discernment and direction.
Make no mistake conflict resolution takes time and energy, but the benefits are far-reaching. Take, for instance, Luke’s account in Acts 15. The Jewish and Gentile believers were in conflict. And it got nasty.
It boiled over to the point where an urgent meeting was convened in Jerusalem to try and deal with the impasse. The result was the drafting of the Jerusalem Decree. As you read through Acts 15, you will see that many of the above points are clearly seen. As the disciples worked through the conflict in a healthy manner, it produced a positive, long-lasting outcome. It can, believe it or not, work the same for you.
Conflict doesn’t have to leave you and those in involved all tied up in knots. You don’t have to be conflicted by conflict. Be encouraged! Conflict can be the impetus for providing clarity, building a stronger team, and providing a clearer sense of purpose and vision for the days ahead.