Conflict happens. It happens often. Some people seem to thrive on it and probably like it a little too much. Others do not voice their concerns and frustrations because they want to avoid conflict. They may unhealthily avoid conflict.
But inevitably, conflict comes. Some conflict happens cleanly. People disagree, but they keep their disagreement from getting personal. They do not attack each other, but they hammer out their differences in ideas or in course of action. In the end, they do not hold a grudge. If a decision needs to be made, it is made by those in authority and accepted by the party that loses.
When conflict happens in this way, it can be very healthy and beneficial. If those who disagree keep silent, the rest of those involved may miss out on important insights. Still more, sometimes new and better ideas emerge in the give and take of disagreement. If those who disagree are silent, they may find their concerns overlooked. Similarly, those making the decisions will usually make a better and more informed decision if all voices are heard.
The problem is that conflict often happens in a way that is hurtful. To some extent, it doesn’t matter whether the hurt was intended or not. If a person feels hurt, the hurt is real. Friendships end this way. Enemies develop this way. The easy way is to let the divide take over, to avoid the other person indefinitely and carry a grudge.
This is the human way, but it is not the Jesus way. No matter how hard it is, as Jesus-followers, God calls us to do the hard work of reconciliation. And what is impossible in our fallen humanness, God can give us the spiritual power to do.
1. Reconciliation is the Jesus outcome.
It takes two parties to have reconciliation. Sometimes one half of a conflict is willing to work to be reconciled but the other isn’t. In such cases we can only do our best and leave the rest to God. It may take a while to heal from conflict. Especially if we are the one by whom the other party felt injured, we should not expect immediate reconciliation always to be possible.
But reconciliation is the goal. In our humanness, God will give us some time to say, “Not now,” but he never gives us the space to say, “Not ever.” In Matthew 18, Jesus tells Peter that we must forgive our brothers and sisters seventy times seven. He tells one of the scarier parables, one in which the debts the master has already forgiven are unforgiven because a servant refuses to forgive someone else. Scripture gives no promise of forgiveness to the person who refuses to forgive others.
Reconciliation is always God’s preferred outcome, even though it is usually the hardest outcome.
2. Motion brings emotion.
We can do the loving thing even when we do not feel very loving toward another person. We know what we want to do, what we feel like doing. But we should also know what we should do, what Jesus would do. We may want to avoid the other person and perhaps we should for a while. We may want to hurt the other person one way or another–which we should never do.
By God’s grace, we can still “love our enemy” in our actions even if we do not feel like it. We can kill them with kindness. We can heap coals of fire on their heads (although we must be careful not to be passive-aggressive here, sneaking in hate in the guise of doing good). Just because we do not feel loving toward them does not mean that we cannot act lovingly toward them. And the more we act lovingly toward others the more we will feel forgiving of them.
3. Stay away from bad situations.
If we know that we will not be able to control our tongue in a certain situation, then we should avoid it. If we know we will not be able to be loving around someone, we should stay away for a while. Again, no one said reconciliation is easy. At some point we have to jump into contact or else it will never take place. But we should be wise about the time and the place that we work for reconciliation.
The best way to be reconciled is of course not to become alienated in the first place. And here, following the basic rules of respect comes in very handy. We can disagree agreeably.