Conflict

since our time together a week ago, a few of you have reached out to chat about something I said: “the love of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is by its nature divisive. This is what the prophetic witness of scripture and the life and death of Jesus show us. In this sense, “divisive” or “potentially divisive issues” are not by nature wrong because they are divisive. Such is the hard and courageous work of the Church when following Jesus.” I’m grateful for the conversation!

My pre-marital counseling plan with couples includes something called “the pre-marriage awareness inventory.” It’s 125 rather simple questions that each person responds to on their own, and then gathering back together we have conversation about important aspects of a marriage: Expectations, Communication, Sharing Feelings, Relating styles, Family and Friends, Faith, Sexuality, Finances, and last, but not least, Conflict Resolution.

One of the first questions they respond to is this: Conflict is not a good thing in marriage. Agree or disagree? How do you answer? What do you think? We go on to reflect on how conflict is a natural and necessary part of married life (or if a life-long relationship is going to continue on). We must have freedom and space to share our hurts, disappointments, and differences. There is not something wrong when conflict comes; the key, of course, is how we move through it; how we acknowledge and address it. How do we resolve it? There are those helpful guidelines we’ve heard before:

Try to win an agreement, not an argument. Look at what you’re saying from the other’s point of view. Spend as much time listening actively as you do making your own case. Recognize and acknowledge the significance of the other’s position. Lose your temper and you lose your point. The list goes on. All Good and important stuff.

The point is movement — a commitment to work through it in as healthy a way as possible. In her book High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, Amanda Ripley reflects on common human behaviors when faced with conflict: Running Away, Fighting, or Staying Silent. I’ve had experiences with all of these! And the sad truth, she says, is that any one of them just turns conflict into “an us-versus-them” conflicted that is perpetuated instead of resolved. Ripley’s central thought is what she calls the fourth way, which is “Leaning into the conflict.” As uncomfortable as it feels, to actually move further into conflict with the hope of coming out the other side. Ripley calls this “Good Conflict”, which is friction that can be serious and intense but leads somewhere useful. This conflict does not collapse into dehumanization.”I believe this is what we are attempting to do together in this season of speaking and listening, praying, and continuing to live together.

The Church is very much like a marriage we commit ourselves to. We’re interested in settling down into life together over the long haul, for years and decades, hopefully for a life-time! And if we’re in touch with the life and ministry of Christ, there will be tension in the church and outside of it, as we seek to wrestle with the call he gave his disciples: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Conflict has the potential to divide us, and divorce us from one another. But if we are willing to lean into it, to commit ourselves to each other as loved ones and the process of discerning the way through it, we can grow closer to one another and to Christ, the Lord. The key to the process we have now is not running away, making it a fight, or staying silent, but moving through it with love and respect for each other, as we seek to do what God wills.

Love from here, and the coffee’s always on!

Peter Hawkinson

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