Coping With Conflict
It’s a part of life. It divides nations and splits churches. It disrupts families and creates chaos for all of us at times. It can lead to anger, mistrust, even war. It might be the devil’s most common and effective tool for creating turmoil in our lives. It’s conflict.
Most often we think of conflict as something that divides individuals or groups. A husband and wife with strong differing opinions are individuals in conflict. Labor/management disputes over wages or international disputes between countries are examples of group conflict.
But conflict can also be internal – within you or me. The person who struggles between entering the ministry or going into business has inner conflict. So does the young person torn between living a life of purity and joining his or her friends in lustful or potentially addictive activities.
The Impact of Conflict
Most people have experienced conflict. It can range from mild disagreement that is easily resolved to intense confrontation. People with strong differences of opinion can become rigid and critical. Sometimes each side becomes so concerned with winning the battle that compromise is perceived as backing down or an admission of weakness. The resulting battles can leave scars of anger, bitterness, hurt, and depression.
A different kind of conflict happens in our minds when inner forces pull us in different directions. Should I leave a difficult job or stay, tell somebody about a sin or keep quiet, get married or wait until later, assert myself to advance my career or be more passive and humble?
Another conflict is war between good and evil. Satan, the father of lies, creates and stirs up conflict. Tension between individuals and nations ultimately reflects Satan’s opposition to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. According to the Bible, each of us is in a personal battle with the forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). Christ, who lives in and strengthens the Christian, is greater than the devil, who is in the world (1 John 4:4). But even so, we all give in to temptation at times. This can lead to guilt, further internal conflicts, and sometimes interpersonal tension.
World statesmen deal with conflict between nations, but most of us deal with conflict that is more personal. It helps to recognize that such conflict is a normal, expected part of life. And it doesn’t have to be destructive or permanent.
When you have conflict, try to understand the issues that are at stake. When two people are in conflict, each needs to listen carefully to the other and attempt to clear up misunderstandings. When there is inner conflict, it helps to get a clear perspective on the alternatives you face, the issues that are creating the tension, or the reasons for the struggles within. Often this self-evaluation is best done with the help of a counselor or another objective person.
Then, decide what can be done to resolve the conflict. List alternatives that might bring a resolution of the differences. Try these, one at a time. Sometimes, gentle talk will bring an acceptable resolution, but other situations may need more active confrontation, including a willingness to challenge and be challenged. It can be helpful to recognize that conflict resolution may not come for a long time and sometimes won’t come at all, despite your best efforts. Some differences are irreconcilable.
Experts in conflict resolution suggest that the two sides should work toward a “double win.” Instead of one side winning while the other loses, both sides should attempt to help each other win. A good example concerns two children dividing a piece of cake. If one cuts and the other chooses, they both get a fair choice – and both win.
When conflict is within yourself, like when you are struggling to make a decision, it helps to list alternatives in two columns on paper. Then write down the good and bad points of each. This can clarify issues to help you decide what to do. If the inner conflict involves two conflicting forces – to be assertive or passive, for example – it may be wise to discuss these with a counselor who can help you get a clearer, and sometimes a changed, perspective on the situation.
Conflict, the Bible, and You
The Bible is filled with examples of conflict and with models for conflict resolution. In Matthew 18:15-17, for example, we read guidelines for handling disputes with a fellow believer. In Proverbs, we are given guidelines for interpersonal behavior, including instructions to use control in what we say (Prov. 11:12, see also James 3:1-10), to respond to wrath with a “gentle answer” (Prov. 15:1), to live in ways that please God (Prov. 16:7), and to develop patience (Prov. 25:15).
A clear example of inner conflict is recorded in Romans 7:15-24. Here the writer is torn between inner struggles to do good and to give in to temptations. These are struggles that yield only to the powerful influence of Jesus Christ. Conflict and the turmoil it produces can be very disruptive, but conflict can also help us grow. And it is great to reach a conflict resolution where everybody is at peace. - Gary R. Collins
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