Breathing Grace Through Inevitable Conflict
Alongside death and taxes, conflict is an inevitable experience for every human being. As a son, little brother, husband, father, grandfather, son-in-law, father-in-law, friend, customer, pastor, employee, co-worker, taxpayer, pastor, neighbor, citizen, church member, and Christian; I can confidently say that sooner or later, conflict will find its way into every role and every relationship. The reason: we are sinners. We sin against God and we sin against each other. As James reminds us,
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2).
I was not surprised when I witnessed conflict in the Church growing up, as my dad often reminded me, “where there are people there are problems.” What did surprise me was that I had very little instruction at home or in the church about how to biblically respond to conflict when it happens.
Forty-two years passed before I encountered the ministry of Ken Sande. His book, The Peacemaker, and the wealth of tools and resources he provides have since helped me and others navigate the storms of conflict in a Christlike way that glorifies God and serves others. To this day, there is no other training that has been more beneficial and broadly applicable to my life, my family, and my ministry.
The Young Peacemaker, written by Ken’s wife, provided us with a practical tool for instructing our daughters, and the principles we learned are still serving them (and us!) in the various roles and relationships they now have as adult women. As a family, we studied how to:
1. Avoid “peace-faking” and “peace-breaking” to embrace God’s way of “peace-making”
There is a tendency to either pretend that conflict doesn’t exist and run away from it, or—in our pride—lash out in anger and attack to get our own way. The biblical way to deal with conflict sees conflict as an opportunity for God to work, willingly embraces it, and responds in love.
2. Confront another person and to take responsibility for our own sin in conflict
Confrontation, if not handled properly, can make a difficult situation worse. A key biblical principle is to first “take the log out of your own eye” (Mt. 7:5). I will never forget the moment when two brothers came together after not speaking for seven years to the place where they could each admit their sin and be reconciled.
3. Ask forgiveness
The biblical admonition to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32) means that we can both seek forgiveness from those we have sinned against us and grant forgiveness to those who have hurt or offended us.
4. Make a “respectful appeal”
My oldest daughter remembered and applied this as we were preparing for her wedding. As the major funder of this significant event, I had one opinion and desire. My daughter was feeling some pressure from me but had a different desire and opinion. She paused and asked, “Daddy, may I make a respectful appeal?” and this dad’s heart melted with thanksgiving to God for my teachable “little girl.”
I encourage you to learn from the wisdom of The Peacemaker and The Young Peacemaker. I also recommend that parents read Peacemaking for Families, check out Ken’s new ministry, RW360, and subscribe to his weekly blog.
“Peacemakers are people who breathe grace. Inspired by the gospel, they draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then they bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life.”
May God make us grace-breathing people as we anticipate another year of life on this side of that great day when conflict will be no more.