How can we handle conflict with people we love without making things worse?
The past year has been full of conflicts for all of us. Family members have disagreed over masks and get-togethers. A grandmother has refused to get vaccinated, and this has alienated her children. Differing political viewpoints have divided friends. Some close friends, on opposing sides of the political spectrum, no longer speak to each other. Strong feelings about racism have split churches. Pastors are criticized because they don’t say or do enough or they say the wrong thing. It’s been an exhausting “no-win” situation for many churches. Pastors are weary and discouraged.
It’s been a very painful season, especially when we find ourselves alienated from those we are closest to. Covid fatigue has infected everyone. We are weary and just want “It” to end. We have become numbed by dissension on so many levels. Daily news feeds thrive on conflict. Political discourse has become political bashing. Civility seems to be dying. Kindness forgotten. Perspective lost.
Our relationships are not meant to be like this. God has something so much better. We need His perspective, His healing.
Four things will help us begin to heal from conflict.
1. Guard against a critical spirit.
How could she say “that?” Why won’t they see us? Their stance is ridiculous. I thought we were friends. I can’t believe this family member is doing this to us.
Most of us have probably had this gut reaction recently to someone. And as we play the hurtful tape over and over in our heads our resentment grows. It’s so easy to nurture a critical spirit. However, that is only going to pollute our souls. Instead, it’s better to share our hurt with our heavenly Father. He knows how we feel anyway so we can be honest with him.
Then ask Him to remove our critical spirit and enable us to give this person to Him to deal with. There may be something else- a fear, past wound, difficult relationship- going on in this person’s life about which we know nothing. But God does. Pray for this person to experience a fresh wind of God’s care and personal love for him or her.
Choose to assume the best. Just because she hasn’t been in touch doesn’t mean she’s “written you off.” She may be struggling with something you know nothing about. Grant grace and take the initiative to reach out to her. You may have to do this over and over again. God takes initiative with his love for us. He does not give up.
If a family member refuses to gather, grant grace. Tell them you are sorry, and you will miss them. Respond with kindness and send them gifts even if they don’t respond.
No matter what a person has done to us we are called to forgive them.
It’s easy to say, ..but you don’t understand my hurt. That’s right I don’t. But God does. His Son Jesus has experienced every kind of hurt, conflict, and betrayal that we have yet without sin. (Hebrews 2:18) He gets it, and He will enable us to forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily make us feel better or fix things. Healing and trust take time to be restored but healing begins with forgiveness. We forgive simply because He has told us to.
2. Adopt a “Love and Let Perspective.”
This is a curious statement. We know we are called to love one another. But what does “let” mean?
I am not a patient person. I want things fixed right away. Many of us are natural problem solvers. We have to be if we are mothers! It’s in our DNA and God can use it for good. However, it can also cause me to try to control or fix a situation or a person. And most often I can’t. What I continue to learn over and over again is that I must trust God to bring about a change. He’s not in a hurry. He will do what is best, not necessarily what is fast.
Paul encourages me in this, “…being confident of this that he who began a good work in you (or this person) will carry it on to completion.”
(Philippians 1:6, emphasis mine).
My job is to love this person and leave the results up to God. It might go like this. Father I choose to love______. And to LET you bring about your perfect will in their life. I relinquish them to you.
And I have to remind myself to rest in the fact that God is at work even if I can’t see how right now. I ask Him to help me grow in patience.
3. Plan get-togethers carefully with fun in mind.
As the holidays approach, you may be planning family gatherings. You may be fearful of how they will turn out or even if they will happen! Here are a few guidelines to help:
Determine to avoid controversial topics. There will be other times to have difficult conversations, but a family gathering is not the best place for this. The goal of a family gathering is to build up family bonds.
Plan some fun activities. Divide into teams and play Pictionary. Put on music and have a dance party. Have each person bring a favorite book (new or used) from the past year and have a book exchange. Have a “cook-off.” The best homemade guacamole, pizza, chili. Act out the Christmas story–complete with costumes found in 10 minutes from around the house.
Take 10 minutes and have each person write down as many things that they can for which they are thankful. (One thanksgiving our 12 -year- old granddaughter came up with 80!). Let each person share some of theirs. You can download my e-book: Camp At Home: 100 practical Ideas For Families here. It’s free!
One of the things we most need during this season is to laugh. Pray for laughter within your family. At any moment choose laughter over frustration.
Most of all, determine to focus on what really matters: Thankful hearts and the birth of Jesus.
4. Ask God for a new vision.
One of my life lessons comes from Jeremiah 33:3:
“Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things that you know not.”
When I feel stuck in a difficult relationship, a conflict, or just in life in general it’s easy to lose perspective. I focus too much on the issue at hand.
What I need is a fresh perspective. I ask God to begin to teach me something new, something “other.” I call this my principle of “the other.” Over and over in my life, I have learned many rich lessons when I go to Him with this request. In this process, He enables me to focus less on whatever conflict is overwhelming me and to wait expectantly for a new thing He might do in my life.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”
Susan Alexander Yates