What is the first memory that comes to mind when you hear the word conflict? How do you feel after experiencing a major conflict with someone you love? If you were asked to associate the word “good” or “bad” with conflict which would you choose?
For many our first memory of conflict is a negative one. After experiencing a major conflict most people feel hurt, anger and frustration. Conflict can be negative and destructive, and there are clearly unhealthy ways of dealing with it. At the same time there IS such a thing as constructive conflict.
Many people are surprised to learn that conflict is a major theme in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we find people in conflict with God, within themselves and with each other. You may be surprised to learn that conflict is the process we go through and the price we pay for intimacy. Intimacy is always achieved through facing our differences and negative feelings, listening, understanding and resolving them.
Why is there conflict? Because we are all different. Why are we so different? Because God in His infinite wisdom chose to make each one of us different. In I Corinthians 12 – 14 as well as in numerous other passages we learn that differences were designed by God.
In Romans 15 the Bible encourages us to “be of the same mind,” to “accept one another” and to “admonish one another.” As you work on having healthy and intimate relationships you will find that sometimes our differences will produce problems that lead to disagreements which often result in conflict. The closer or more important the relationship, the more likely this is to happen.
Relationships aren't destroyed by differences. They are destroyed by the immature, irresponsible and unhealthy ways many of us view those differences and our unwillingness or inability to take them to God and allow Him to help us understand them and use them for our good.
The real problem isn't that we are different or that we disagree and experience conflict. The real problem is that most of us automatically view conflict as negative rather than as a tool that God can use to help us better understand ourselves and each other.
Conflict means that someone has a different value or opinion than you do. Most of us assume that our position is the correct one and we try hard to help the other person see things our way. Of course the other person does the same thing. So rather than working at listening and understanding, many of us try to change the other person. I've worked with many unhappy couples who weren't too sure what the real issue was but they were sure that their opinion was the right one.
While differences can lead to division they are also essential for unity and harmony. There are few things I enjoy more than a good symphony. In the orchestra there are groups of instruments including woodwind, brass, string and percussion. Within those groups there are many different instruments with different sounds. The individual musicians have spent thousands of hours practicing their instrument. The orchestra has spent many more hours rehearsing for the performance.
Finally on the night of the performance the conductor lifts their baton, the instruments begin to play and it happens. All of those different people playing different notes on their different instruments come together and create one beautiful sound. Out of the diversity comes harmony. The beauty of that symphony lies in the harmony.
Throughout the Bible, but especially in John 17, God makes it clear that one of the greatest things we can do is to love one another and work at living harmoniously. I believe that this unity starts in the home. If there isn't unity in your marriage there won't be unity in your family. If there isn't unity among the individual family units there will never be unity in our churches or in our community.
There is a big difference between families with problems and problem families. All families experience stress and have conflict. Research tells us that healthy families value conflict and have the ability to handle problems in a constructive way. Families that don't face and deal with their problems become problem families. Healthy families understand that conflict is not only a normal part of a relationship, it is essential for the development of understanding and intimacy.
What is your view of conflict? How well do you handle criticism? Do you welcome it? What are some of the differences between you and the significant others in your life? Is it possible that God has brought these individuals into your life for a purpose? How might God want to use these difficult people to teach you?
Throughout this next week choose to consider the potentially positive side of differences. Remember that each conflict provides a unique opportunity to better understand the other person’s opinions and values. When faced with a conflict pause briefly and ask God to help you use it as an opportunity for learning, growth and increased maturity.