One of the many faces today’s churches seem to have taken on apart from God’s leading is that of the Stepford wives syndrome – picture perfection, all smiles and saccharine sweetness. To maintain such an image, members of the Church have learned to avoid conflict at all costs.
We sit together on opposite ends of a small rowboat in the midst of a raging storm, refusing to address our differing paddling methods for fear we may rock the boat – never mind that the crashing waves have already rocked the boat to the point of sinking.
Perhaps at first we avoid conflict for the sake of preserving relationship, fearing a friendship cannot weather the storm of contrary thoughts or feelings. Eventually, however, as we watch the friendship die in silence, the truth emerges – what we feared most all along was not losing the friendship, but something else entirely. Perhaps the mirage of a perfectly shaped world, a sense of control, or our pride.
Is this what God asks of us – conflict-free perfection? Is this what He means when His Word says we should not be a house divided, but should be of one mind?
I worked in an organization where sweeping conflict under the rug to remain hidden is precisely what made the house fall again and again. To be a body made of diverse parts inevitably means differences will arise. The mind and feet may want to run while the heart and arms desire embrace.
Such conflict is not bad. How we approach it can be, but the approaching itself is not wrong. There are reasons the parts behave differently – it is good that they do. But we rarely learn what to do with these differences. Many fail to speak the truth while others fail to speak it in love.
Our teachers tend to be parents squashing emotion or exploding in rage;
cultures idealizing happiness as ultimate good, forbidding that any cause discomfort;
churches silencing members for the appearance of kindness, goodness, gentleness – as though God’s Spirit is incapable of producing such fruit;
science informing of only two options – the nerves say flee, so we dare not fight.
But I do not speak of fighting, not with fists or with words. [How ridiculous we inculcate children with rhymes causing wonder at words that cause pain. At least bones broken by sticks and stones can heal with time. The cuts of words run deep and fester.]
We cannot all just get along until we first learn to not get along. It is time for the Church to teach the truth about conflict. We cannot afford to continue running.
The Scriptures present peace as an active concept, one to be pursued, not simply arrived at by placating. Ephesians 4 urges believers to speak truth and be angry, even as it exhorts them to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” [NASB].
Heaven does not forbid that one feels pain. The Bible abounds with angst-ridden conflict: Jacob and Esau, David and Saul, Sarah and Hagar, Jesus and Pharisees, God and humanity. All ultimately lead to God’s purpose and to transformation of man.
Discovering our own way is not the right or the only way threatens our everyday living, drawing us near to hear God’s truth. His truth is enough to overcome, enough to reconcile.
As we paddle along in the storm-tossed dinghy, we can dare to shift forward, to break silence and converse. In so doing, we may find a common stroke that pulls further forward, landing us closer to shore.
By Halley, The Sky Above Us
http://radiance.photoshelter.com/ – rowboat photo courtesy of Kerstin PlessLeave a Comment
The Truth About Conflict: An (in)courage Writing « The Sky Above Us says
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Amen. I’m quick to run from conflict, but that doesn’t do a bit of good. Thanks!
You know, I don’t handle conflict well. It is just me, it is my personality type. My spirit cringes from it. It does not make me a “stepford wife” but a spirit who thrives in peace and harmony. My husband on the other had has no problem with it. He is always up for a good debate or discussion of differing opinions. That is not to say that I let people walk all over me, I am quick to defend myself. But, I hate contention/conflict. It is not who I am.
Thanks for commenting Lisa. I actually hate conflict too. I’ve found if I run from it though, I end up stuffing feelings that later come out in unhealthy ways.
I don’t think the topic at hand is an either-or matter. Different situations call for different responses, and if we brought up every issue every time, we’d be a tiresome lot.
If you’re able to name to yourself the way someone has hurt you and choose to truly let it go, I think that’s incredible grace. It’s something I struggle to do. But if we simply ignore feeling wronged or remain silent because of fear, I think damage is done and an opportunity for iron to sharpen iron is missed.
Linda Stoll says
Thanks, Halley, for addressing an ongoing issue for many churches. Ongoing conflict, endless problems, unresolved situations, unaddressed issues, poor ways of relating are all often swept under the rug, only to emerge sooner or later again.
Same song, different verse.
Sadly, along the way I’ve found that many churches usually have 1 or more bullies in leadership … and we allow these misguided brothers and sisters to call the shots because we are intimidated and unsure of how to respond.
I’ve found Pete Scazzaro’s resources to be absolutely right-on in naming the challenge that today’s church faces – our emotional immaturity even while we’re thinking we’re spiritually mature. Super!
Thank you for allowing me to share these resources with my sisters!
Darcy @ Message in a Mason Jar says
I was on a team overseas for a year and by Christmas tensions were at a breaking point. We finally sat down and hashed it all out and it bonded us and made us feel like a healthy family instead of a group of acquaintances. In so many families and churches, people aren’t brave enough to face conflict head-on and don’t really want to work things out. They’re just content with the coldness. In my church now, the women in my small group are so good about bringing up words they’ve said that might have hurt someone’s feelings. It’s so wonderful to be around such humble, authentic people. I don’t take it for granted.
That’s fantastic your team was able to work through conflict so well, Darcy. Many overseas teams don’t, and I’ve found it to be all the more wounding because those teammates often serve as family, friends, church, and colleagues all at the same time.
What a good reminder. It’s so tempting to run from conflict, but sometimes it’s what we need to grow. And as Darcy mentioned, it often brings people together rather than keeping them “content with the coldness.”
I often take lack of conflict as an indicator that people don’t know each other and don’t want or can’t know each other more because their lives don’t naturally come together (location, time, priorities, etc). Even the bible infers a certain level of “knowing” and commitment of each other in the passages about admonishing each other in love. You can’t confront someone about something when you don’t know them, you don’t walk along side them for any significant amount of time.
Thanks so much for posting Halley. Unfortunately this was very close to the bone, and something we’ve experienced recently. We didn’t want to make a big deal of things, but felt that we couldn’t hide from it either because the truth was being squashed which really grieved us, so we spoke privately to the individual involved. Sadly things didn’t work out, and after this meeting we sought God’s heart and will and the bible verse which kept reoccurring was Matthew 10:14 “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet”. This was a hard word to receive, because we genuinely didn’t want to break fellowship by leaving, but in this case it was what God was asking us to do. We are still processing it, but know that it was the healthy and right choice to make, albeit painful. We’re kind of wandering in the wilderness at the minute, whilst visiting other churches, but God is speaking and it’s exciting.
Cheryl, I’m sorry you have to experience such pain right now. The image of “close to the bone” paints a clear picture of its rawness.
It’s challenging to discern when to overlook the faults of a church, knowing no earthly institution will be perfect, and when to part ways. I’m glad you recognize the importance of both maintaining fellowship and following the Lord, and I hope you have opportunity to reconcile with those involved in the conflict.
It seems Mt 10:14 refers to places/people who have rejected God altogether – my NKJV footnote says the phrase “shake off the dust from your feet” means “a visible protest, signifying that they regarded the place as no better than a pagan land.”
I struggle to know when this verse applies because I can never know the state of someone’s heart. Would you be comfortable sharing how you discerned what to do in your situation? You could contact me through my blog to take the conversation offline if you’re up for it. Either way, thanks for sharing.
That’s so true Mihaela – if we don’t know someone’s heart and experiences, we’re probably not in much of a position to speak truth into his/her life. In such a case, we may simply be casting judgment, which isn’t ours to cast.
On the other hand, I think in some cases God may compel someone to speak truth to someone he/she hardly knows – much like prophets in the Bible. Deep discernment is necessary to distinguish whether God’s voice or my own voice is the one compelling though.
If it is God prompting me, and if the people of the Church truly are one of God’s primary ways of speaking truth and love, then remaining silent when He gives me a word to speak – when He wants to communicate with someone who is perhaps desperate to hear from Him –is potentially quite selfish.
Regrettably, I’ve had such moments when preserving my image and likeability were more important to me than speaking the word God had for someone.
I’ve had other moments when uncertainty of whether a word was actually from God led me to keep my mouth shut. And still other moments when I forced words out of my mouth because I’d rather err on the side of truth than of apathy or political correctness, both already so well represented in America.
I think the best way to discern the fine lines and recognize the Lord’s voice is to be in close relationship with Him – an area I continually struggle with – as well as in close relationship with others.
This is something that is beginning to be a big deal in my marriage. I’ve been very happily married for 8yrs, and not-so-quite happily married for 2yrs – to the same man, in case you were wondering!
I’m an exploder, and he’s a sulker, who retaliates for my explosions with passive-aggressive behaviour, something which we’ve both only just realised. He’s told me that he’s afraid of conflict with me, because I’m so good with words, and he gets overwhelmed and so just doesn’t say anything. There’s also the fear that I’m going to ‘gut him’ (his words) and so he just doesn’t talk about what’s bothering him about me until I sit him down and demand to know what’s going on because his passive-agressive behaviour is driving me crazy! The thing is that 99% of the time I don’t want to hurt him, and that isn’t my intention at all… sigh.
So we have a new agreement. He will tell me when he’s feeling attacked, and I will do my best to not make him feel attacked.
This conflict stuff is hard work!
I agree Donna – this conflict stuff is hard work!
I’ve only been married 2 ½ years, but what you describe is similar to what has been one of our biggest struggles.
I’m having to learn to disarm my language and receive my husband’s words with love and gentleness when he does share his feelings. I’ve also been trying to ask him more questions about what he’s feeling before we reach a hot point, knowing it’s difficult for him to sort out his feelings as quickly or naturally as I do.
When we actually do this well, we often realize fears, insecurities, and past experiences at the root of our actions and words – a realization that helps us better empathize with and understand one another. Gradually, a safe space emerges for both of us to share our feelings.
In case it’s helpful, a couple things that have helped me are…
– learning to speak about emotions, rather than from them (a challenge in the heat of the moment);
– quieting down enough to tune in to what God’s saying;
– digging in to my junk to understand what’s happening inside me when I make my husband feel attacked;
– recognizing that even if I don’t think I’m attacking, I may very well be overlooking something ;
– reading Love & War by John & Stasi Eldredge;
– and participating in Imago Relationships (though I recommend this only if you have a solid biblical foundation you can apply to secular teaching).
Hang in there. God is for your marriage – He really is. It’s painful and tiring now, but I believe God is truly up to something great.
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