Thursday, January 7, 2016

How To Deal With Conflict

- (Silly and Serious) Situation-based Tips on How to Deal With Conflict – The Biblical Way

Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

                This particular entry has been inspired by the amount of conflict that I deal with on a regular basis. Conflict can happen anywhere; both internally and externally. I want to provide a few different scenarios and then some possible ways to deal with it according to the Word of God. I’ll be focusing on external conflict with individuals.

Two Important Points of Reference

                But first, I’d like to start out with a verse that coincides with the focus verse and has been my point of reference no matter what type of conflict I’ve ever encountered.
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18).
The first thing that we have to set our hearts to do when it comes to scripture is to BELIEVE IT. If you’ve never struggled accepting any scripture, it might not be because naturally you just accept it, but rather that you aren’t taking it that seriously. (This last point is for some folks, certainly not everyone.)

So looking again at the afore mentioned scripture, I want to focus on “as much as lieth in you.” The NLT (New Living’s Translation) reads as “Do all that you can…” So in other words, as much as humanly possible for you PERSONALLY, try to live at peace with absolutely EVERYONE. Do you know what that really means?

Exhausting every possible way IN YOU (not like Brother Bitter and Sister Vengance who are known to have short tempers and hold grudges for everything) to live peaceably with everyone. EVERY POSSIBLE WAY, METHOD, TECHNIQUE, MEANS, APPROACH, TACTIC. ANYTHING at all to live at peace with absolutely everyone you may come across, know or run into.

So naturally, we know what it does not mean. It does not mean encountering conflict with an individual and then immediately going straight for their jugular. It certainly does not mean trying one approach to peace with a person and then giving up. It also does not mean trying two ways to live at peace with an individual and then throwing in the towel because you simply WILL NOT put that much effort into keeping the peace—at this point you have HAD IT and they’re about to CATCH THESE HANDS.

I’ve been guilty myself of this type of foolish behavior for a really long time. I didn’t choose my battles because I felt that people needed to know that they have wronged me.  My motto was:

“I didn’t ask for him/her to mess with me so they don’t deserve the opportunity to choose how I’m about to deal with them in return!”

I’m jacked up. I know. Throw the stones. I’ll give you a minute here. But after you’re done I need you to help me back up and let me share this next point with you. Kewl beans?

I’m hurting a little bit, thanks.

This fact actually leads me to my next point. Many times the reasoning behind our bad behavior are strongholds based on hurt. It wasn’t until recently when I heard a great definition of what a stronghold really is and just put it in my own words:
“A lie that the enemy has told us that we believe and live/model our lives according to. It occurs many times after an event in our lives. Then, based on that, a lie develops from our understanding or interpretation of the event. Last, we build up a flesh-rooted/ungodly defense or try to comfort ourselves outside of God to cope with that lie. If not through our personal lives, strongholds come in through our cultures and even by our families through generational curses we are not free from.”     (Israel & Sonia Piotter, “Boundaries” Meet Me At The Altar Series, April 2015 – Victory World Church, Norcross, GA)
I’ll use my personal life to illustrate this definition.

As a kid, I was always picked on and bullied for various reasons.

- I had severe acne as a child while no one else around me did.
- I was very skinny and shapeless compared to many of my female classmates.
- I was quiet and shy and always had my head in a book.
- I spoke very properly. Too properly I guess.
- I got straight A’s and always received special recognition for this in front of my peers.
- I was slightly a teacher’s pet (slightly because I didn’t force it, it just happened with certain teachers I really liked) and sometimes received special treatment from teachers because of that.
I wore big clothes that didn’t really fit and a lot of layers with a vest every day because I was self-conscious of my small frame.
- I was always compared to my identical twin sister who was more outgoing than I was and more proud of her figure. 
- I had to cut all my hair off in middle school for the health of it and was one of the only natural heads in school at the time. I also dyed it blonde, auburn, brown, etc. to get past the “awkward stage,” so I really stood out, ha!
- Everyone thought I was “the little innocent Christian girl.” And I kinda was, I was very sheltered, which made me fit in even less.

I mean, just pick one. I just didn’t have a chance ha! But I feel that most who are reading this can relate to being bullied or picked on to some extent in school, right?

So I internalized much of this hurt. I thought something was wrong with me and in my efforts to reject these thoughts I became a very angry person. I felt like I needed to start defending myself in the most radical ways. I mean, I didn’t walk around angry or anything, ready to shoot someone. The anger was disguised very well by my natural compassion, humor and my growing religious curiosity. But if and when you crossed me I LET YOU HAVE IT. ALL OF IT. WITH NOTHING TO SPARE.

And I was relentless. I made up in my mind that NO ONE would ever threaten me or make me feel like I was beneath them any longer. And this started with my family. They knew my rage all too well.
I completely ignored this fact:
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
My anger was not a righteous one that was FULL OF LOVE still and not lacking in any way like my God’s was. My anger was a hurt and bitter one that was laced with hatred and violence at times. And after it was over I always regretted it and felt even more unsettled, no matter how much I believed that the individual truly deserved it. So what was to gain from it exactly?

Speaking of deserving it, this leads me to one more reference verse I like to check myself with when it comes to conflict:
 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Straight up.

There’s no symbolism here. If you choose not to forgive, just forget about asking the Lord to forgive your sins. And if you essentially chose not to be forgiven of your sins, it seems to me that you are disqualified:
“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:12-16)
It seems that this act of forgiveness towards others is a natural inclination of a child of God…sooooooo, who are YOU? Look again at the focus scripture. Are you a child of God or not? You better work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… 

Quick Review

So now, who’s ready to get started?!! (*crazy, excited, psycho face*)

I know. I’m like that one preacher that you thought was already half way through the sermon but really just started with some background info, ha! But bear with me, okay? Touch your neighbor and say, “Take yo time sistah!”

So in light of everything I’ve already said, two self-checks that I use as reference in any conflict I encounter is First to make sure that whatever I do, I PURSUE PEACE TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY. Cool. Secondly, I realize that I don’t have a choice but to forgive the other person whether they deserve it or not or whether they ask for forgiveness or not. If I don’t, the most essential part of my salvation will not be accessible to me – forgiveness from the Father. Yes, Jesus died to free us from sin, but essentially if I am not forgiving others, then I am not allowing Jesus’ perfect sacrifice to reach me and therefore I disqualify myself from receiving this gift of Grace all because I won’t extend it to another. This is not comely of a believer in the first place; so who do I really serve? 

Depending on that answer, I will know what my inheritance will be. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

See that wasn’t too bad for a review, huh? Moving on!

Scenario Time!

Scenario 1:
You’ve asked your sister not to borrow anymore of your clothing without your permission but find that one of your favorite (and most expensive) blouses is missing from your closet. She never told you, or even gave you any warning of this. This is about the umpteenth time you’ve found this and every time you’ve communicated to her that all she needs to do is ask your permission, especially since some of your garments are off limits and this one in particular was one of them. As a matter of fact she ended up ruining one of your other expensive pieces just for not laundering it properly, which you let her keep! To add insult to injury, you’ve found that several other pieces have remained missing in your closet and are yet to be returned also.  What do you do?

Ask yourself these questions first:

     1.  Is it worth confronting her about?

a.       Is the confrontation necessary to promote change?
b.      Or is it just to “put her in her place” about this continuous problem?

     2.  What would be the most peaceable way to confront her if it is necessary?

My answer:

To start, these are the scriptures that come to mind for this particular situation:

 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”(Matthew 18:15)
 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

So, I see first that sometimes it is necessary to confront individuals, especially about something that is a continuous bother or a sin against you. In this case, your sister sinned against you by borrowing your things without your permission – again. This can become more and more frustrating especially if is not addressed and it happens to be important to you. To some, it may not be that important. This is important to mention because honestly, if it really doesn’t bother you much you shouldn’t allow it to cause unnecessary conflict. Forgive her for it and move on. Don’t choose this battle.  

But if you’re anything like me, your belongings are important to you and while you are always gracious in giving you do have a few stipulations in regards to your things, and many times specific stipulations geared toward specific others because of their history in matters like this. And that’s okay, it’s all for wisdom’s sake. It would be good to confront her, or bring this concern to her so that you can either establish more boundaries with her, or even restrict her access so that she’d understand the importance of your guidelines regarding her borrowing your things.

Now, if you do choose to bring the matter to her, remember who you are dealing with. Since you know your sister pretty well, you know her trigger points and the things that may truly offend her. This is where you choose to live peaceably, in spite of how upset you may be. Try not to use words or a tone that may produce a defensive reaction from her. Sometimes it’s as simple as not using words or phrases like “you” or “you always” because it naturally sounds like you’re accusing her. Try to use “I” and “I feel”.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)

“Sis, when I ask for my things not to be borrowed without my permission, I just want it to be respected, that’s all. I feel like I’m not being taken seriously when that request isn’t honored.”

That’s a good start. You haven’t accused her of anything and you are being honest about your feelings.

Now depending on your sister’s receptivity, this may or may not go so well. If it does go well, then forgive your sister and don’t be afraid to establish more boundaries about your belongings, even if you have to completely revoke her access to your belongings all together for a time. Just let her know in a calm and peaceful way. In the case that things escalate, maintain your cool. And think on this scripture:

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

The point here is that while you should rightfully be upset about things, and she may not have a right to be upset, you don’t react the way the world would or your natural inclinations would dictate to you. You gave up your “rights” especially to vengeance when Jesus saved you. So, live peaceable as much as is within you to do so.

Don’t get beside yourself here. Before you behave in a manner that does not honor God or reflect Him, stop the argument immediately, whatever that may look like in the moment. If you need to abruptly walk away, do so. If you need to just stop speaking, do so. Don’t become rude, violent, and hateful in speech or anything close to any of these. Resist. And don’t give in to the temptation to carry yourself in a way that is unseemly for a believer. 

Scenario 2
You’ve just found that a new friend has been talking behind your back and disclosing information about you on social media. You didn’t expect it, especially since there hasn’t been any conflict between the two of you. At least not any that you are aware of. How do you deal with this?

My answer:

Ask yourself the same two questions that were asked in the first scenario. After that, determine if you will bring this concern to your friend.

If you choose to bring the issue to your friend, apply the same concepts from the answer in the first scenario.

Your reason for the confrontation may possibly be then that you just want to know what the underlying issue is between you and your friend and simply reconcile. I want to introduce another perspective here that is sometimes ignored in situations where you feel hurt. But look at this:

 “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:4)

My point in mentioning this scripture is to show that perhaps there is another issue going on with this individual. The issue may not be you at all. And perhaps if you seek to dig into what the real problem with this person is, you can reconcile and possibly gain a deeper friendship with them as a result. So instead of focusing on how hurt you may be to discover this information, perhaps you can focus on the reason why he/she would do this and perhaps seek to help him/her with it. My mother used to pray this particular thing in her prayer based on an old song we sang growing up that I think should be applied to others too:

“Lord, please look past my faults and see my needs.”

Try looking past your friend’s fault against you and try to discern where she might be in need. I believe the Holy Spirit will lead you in this.

Now, alternatively, you can choose not to address this situation altogether. However, if ever you choose not to confront an individual – which you certainly do not always need to do – make sure that your heart is good towards them. This simply means that you aren’t holding any anger or a grudge against them. It may prompt you to make certain choices in your interaction with them, which is only wise to do at times, but you should be in a place heart-wise that still is gracious towards them. This means helping them if they need it, being compassionate and kind towards them, etc. Read this to see how you can check yourself to see if your heart is in the right place towards them. 

Scenario 3
You pull up to your favorite fast food chain and place an order for one of them famous “Fat Burgers” and some “Greasy Fries” along with a large “Dizzy Fizzy” to wash all that grease down. As you place your order, the drive-through attendant rushes you and meets you with a less-than-pleasant tone and snaps at you to hurry up with your order! Once you get to the window, the rudeness doesn’t cease. She snatches your payment from you, almost leaving a flesh wound, and rolls her eyes, and doesn’t even have the decency to run your order back to you! What do you do?

My Answer:

Okay so start by asking yourself the first two questions again.

Here is why I would choose not to confront the attendant. First of all, I’m already wrong for going to this restaurant in the first place to fill my body up with all that garbage. The Lord is probably trying to show me a sign to high-tail it out of there! But seriously though, this is for somebody. Ha!

First, I know that this is not personal. I’ve never seen this lady in my entire life, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t steal her man, but I may have cut her off while driving, I dunno! But either way, she doesn’t know me from the next stranger and neither do I know her. There is a high possibility that she is just taking out her personal frustrations on me. I just happen to be the next customer after the one who just insulted her new nail design and now she’s just waiting for her shift to be over!

In light of realizing that her unpleasantness is not personal, I would use the opportunity to glorify the Lord. Why not show the love of Christ? It may even brighten up her day and even renew her faith in good customers (and even help her to check her deficient customer service skills too!). This may or may not help, but the point is to bring the Lord glory by showing love and grace. This is great to remember in dealing with similar situations with strangers and people who are just passing through. This is one of those times where you wouldn’t choose this battle. It isn’t at all necessary.

“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

Let’s Wrap This Up

So this is already a super long post; it’s time to wrap this thing up saints! Somebody touch your neighbor and say, “She’s about to close!”

While I provided a few imaginary (and silly!) scenarios of things that might happen, I know sometimes that things tend to get REAL in these streets. So they are only formulas that you can apply to solve many different equations/problems that you’re given (any math fanatics out there??).

Here are a few important things to remember based on the scriptures that I’ve already provided:
  • Choose your battles wisely; sometimes it’s just not worth the conflict.
  • In all you encounter, ALWAYS try to be peaceable as much as is humanly possible in those particular situations. You are a representative of a pretty important person.
  • If you must bring a fault to someone, make sure that you choose your words wisely so as not to offend the person and cause more trouble.
  • If the situation escalates in spite of your efforts, leave it alone at this point. Run away from the temptation to be a bad representative of God. That’s all satan needs you to do is ruin your witness.
  • If you choose not to address the person/situations, just make sure that your heart is in the right place towards them. Sometimes you just can’t address it. Rely on the Lord to bring you to a place where you can truly forgive the person in your heart even if you can’t confront them directly.
  • It’s okay to be upset about a situation; it’s not okay to react in a way that is not becoming of a believer.  
  • Every conflict should end in forgiveness, whether it is communicated or not. Don’t harbor bitterness or unforgiveness in your heart. It is neither good for the person you’re harboring it against nor for you.
  • The previous being stated, some relationships may need to be severed for wisdom’s sake. Read this. And this.

Hey guys, I’m a work in progress when it comes to conflict too, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t mastered it just yet. But I have decided that I would no longer be bound to unforgiveness and hurt in my life towards others any longer. I hope that you have made the same declaration in your heart and I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to work on you and through you whenever conflict arises. From glory to glory, right? 

Additional Scriptures for Meditation

“Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24)
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

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