Ambassador of Reconciliation
6/29/16 at 11:27 PM 0 Comments

Whose Side Are You on Anyway?

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With six strong-willed, opinionated children in our family, there was never a lack of conflict in our household when the kids were growing up. I once calculated that with six individuals, there are 57 different combinations of two or more, each with its own unique dynamics. Throw in two stubborn parents, all in a small house with one little bathroom, and you have plenty of potential for clashing of the wills.

Sometimes we let the kids battle it out on their own, and sometimes we acted as referees. Since I hate conflict, my tendency was to intervene and attempt to reason with the combatants. I would try to help them see each other’s viewpoint and come to a mutual understanding. I wanted them to learn to listen, compromise, and get along.

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But it often didn’t work that way. If I tried to be a mediator between two warring parties, often I would end up with both of them mad at me. Each one wanted me to be 100% on their side, to see the justice of their cause and the unreasonableness of the other. Each one wanted me to support him or her completely and to punish the other. Their inability or unwillingness to see through the other person’s eyes and to come to a mutual understanding was a reflection of the fact that they were children—immature, self-centered children.

Sadly, the same phenomenon happens with adults. We can be contentious and self-absorbed, unwilling to listen thoughtfully, engage in productive dialog, or make any concessions. We want others to agree with us completely, or else they can’t be trusted. Liberals are often suspicious of anyone who doesn’t buy the entire liberal agenda. Conservatives don’t consider you a “true” conservative if you question any part of their ideology. On any controversial issue, we often act like foolish, self-absorbed, unreasonable children. We ought instead to listen carefully as others express their viewpoints, try to grasp all the nuances of a subject, and be ready to suppress our ego without compromising vital principles.

When my husband and I were in marriage counseling, there was one piece of advice that was particularly useful. Often both parties approach conflict with the goal of winning the battle—getting their own way or proving that they are right. A much more constructive strategy is to bring your ideas to the table and lay them down. Present the situation as you see it currently, but remain open to additional information and different viewpoints. Instead of acting as adversaries, work as a team to try to put together all the facts and come up with a resolution that is better than what either party started with.

 For Christians, the goal is not my will nor the other person’s will, but God’s will. I may be convinced that I know God’s will in a matter, but chances are that the other side in a dispute has something to offer. Godly conflict resolution cannot happen without humility. Paul admonished us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3), following the example of Jesus, who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8).

James also has advice about how to get along with others. For one thing, he says we should be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Js. 1:19). Being “wise and understanding” is shown in “the meekness of wisdom” (Js. 3:13). There is no place for “bitter jealousy” or “selfish ambition” or “boasting” or being “false to the truth” (Js. 3:14). James describes the kind of mature wisdom that is essential for godly relationships and interaction:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (Js. 3:17).

Let us not be foolish, immature children, but rather test all our conversation against this definition of godly wisdom.

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