Handling Conflict :: What is More Important? The Issue or The Relationship.

Human conflict is found everywhere.  It has existed since the fall of man and rises up in every facet of the universe.  We see conflict with our very young children, in marriages, friendships, the workplace, sports, in our spiritual lives, and within our own mind, battling itself.

Although conflict is nothing new, it seems in the last few years, the rising polarization of our political parties has bred a new and particularly more vicious type of conflict.  One plagued with strangers hiding behind computer screens, spewing venom at anyone who disagrees with them.  The words that Americans used against each other last November were nothing short of vitriolic. And truth be told, my tongue was tested many, many times.

While conflict can be evil, some of the world's greatest success comes from conflict.  Relationships can be strengthened through conflict, hearts brought to the Lord through painstaking struggles that lead to powerful reconciliation.  Cutting out life's conflict is unreasonable and unrealistic.  Why?

Because conflict exposes our inner need, our desire for peace, it opens up the opportunity for us to become peacemakers and allows us to spread goodness despite differences. 

Years ago in my past life, I was no stranger to conflict.  There were times I actively sought conflict with family members over issues that were completely irrelevant to righteous living.  The problem with me was that if I felt strongly about something and I thought that I could help someone, I went gun's-a-blazing with my thought process, my ways, my views.  The goal was never to hurt; it was always to help, but my approach was simply terrible and I ended up leaving loved ones bitterly hurt.  Peacemaker, I was not.  Conflict seeker, I was.

Admittedly I am still not a person who bats an eye to conflict, however, I have been humbled through several eye-opening experiences that have taught me how to handle conflict when it arises.  November's election was one giant test to how I was going to show up to the battlefield:  as a peacemaker or as a conflict-seeker.

In Matthew 5, Jesus began his famous Sermon on the Mount by teaching the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are characteristics manifested by his disciples and the citizens of His kingdom.  In Matthew 5:9, Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God."

That is who I want to be.  A child of God. I don't want to be the faded girl who stirred up controversy because she was sure her opinions were right or because she wanted to declare herself more righteous than the next person.  Sure, Christians are called into conflict to help one another, call for accountability, and there is a place for conflict when helping friends, or sharing hard truths to those who may be blinded, but I never want to be the person who allows the desire for what I want, my mission, my vision, to become more important than peace.  

When I look back at my life in my twenties, it was marked with conflict with others.  Whether I was the one who initiated it, or it was thrown onto me, I was never quick to seek a peaceful end.  I sought to come out on top, to be right, to have the upper hand, no matter what it did to the relationship.  How absolutely self-centered my heart was. 

It is no secret that I am passionate.  I am opiniative.  I am intense.   Those characteristics do not just die the moment you are humbled.  I still struggle with conflict from time to time, but since my relationship with Christ has deepened, the pattern of this conflict decreases more and more.  Years ago, my pastor said something that I have yet to forget and that completely changed my approach to my bold personality: 

"We need to get off of the issue {we are arguing about} and remember the relationship."  

Think about this for a moment....let it marinate.  Imagine if we handled all conflict with our spouse, with our children, with our insanely politically opposite friend without forgetting the relationship at hand.  Folks, this isn't just something for Christians to live by.  This is for ALL of us to remember.  Evil wants to destroy peace and will take every opportunity to do so. 

Throwing it back to the election this past year, I saw so many people end friendships over who someone voted for or what they shared on Facebook about candidates.  Yes, was it all annoying?  Absolutely.  Did I see character in friends that surprised me or disappointed me?  Yes.  It wasn't about who they voted for, but how they handled themselves in this time of conflict.  Everywhere I turned, people were putting the issue ahead of the relationship.  Even if it was an old high school friend on Facebook that hadn't been seen in ten years, I still valued them as people and the relationship that we once had over the issue, but sadly, so many Americans did not see it that way.  Quite frankly, this isn't a reflection on Christians, this is a reflection on humanity and how it exposed our nation's ugly selfishness. 

This concept isn't reserved only for the hotly debated subjects.  

After discussing this with my friends one commented that this concept need not only apply to fundamental disagreements but rather the mundane as well.  She cited the example of her daughter coming downstairs dressed for school in yoga pants, a button-down dress shirt, and unmatching bow. As mom's our first response is to typically encourage our child to change into something that maybe, eh, looked bit more put together {to say it nicely}.  Sometimes, our children agree, but others, things don't go quite as smoothly and before we know it, the peace between us is stripped--all over an unmatching outfit.  

But what if we stopped for a minute and thought, is this conflict worth a disruption of peace in the relationship with my daughter?  If it is, how can I approach this with our relationship coming out peace-filled versus conflict-filled? 

This is how we should respond to all conflict.  Even the painful.  Even the messy.  Even the dark.

Conflict is inevitable, friends.  Regardless of the situation, we must work as hard as we can to seek peace even in conflict.  This doesn't mean we are to be a doormat or to continue in toxic relationships, it means to characterize ourselves by our actions, to pursue peace with God through our interactions with others.

We should actively seek to resolve conflict, never living in consistent patterns of strife with others. We should not sustain, ignore, or tolerate conflict amongst fellow believers as well, nor should we stir it up and let it stew.

We should aim to always create peace where peace is lacking.  It isn't always easy, but it is always fruitful.

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