Sunday, April 27, 2014

Resolving Conflict through Prayer

For almost 25 year, I've been meditating on a passage found in in Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Spiritual love will prove successful insofar as it commends Christ to the other in all that is says and does. It will not seek to agitate another by exerting all to personal, direct influence or by crudely interfering in one's life. It will not take pleasure in pious, emotional fervor and excitement. Rather, it will encounter the other with the clear word of God and be prepared to leave the other alone with this word for a long time. It will be willing to release others again so that Christ may deal with them. It will respect the other as the boundary that Christ establishes between us; and it will find full community with the other in the Christ who alone binds us together. This spiritual love will thus speak to Christ about the other Christian more than to the other Christian about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ and that love of the other is completely tied to the truth found in Christ." (44)
These comments are never more appropriate than during times of conflict, whether in a small group, in family situations, at work, or with a friend. When conflict arises, let's assume that we are refusing to give into our "fight" or "flight" mechanism. Let's assume that we are engaged, and we want to work through the situation. In such times, I've found that it is common for people to try to fix the situation, which points us to one of three options:

  1. Fix the other—We love to try and fix the other people with whom we are in conflict. If only they could see things "my" way, which of course is the right way.
  2. Fix self—Then of course there are those who assume that any conflict means that they are in the wrong and they must force themselves to change. 
  3. Fix both self and other—Meet in the middle.
The fix-it options assume that the answer is found in relating directly to the other person. When I try to fix another person, I'm trying to attain unity with the other by bringing them to my side. When I try to fix myself, I try to bring unity by bringing myself to their side. Even with the third option, the goal is to experience direct unity.

Conflict is never resolved when we are trying to find unity by relating directly to each other. One of the many reasons that this does not work is the fact that we tend to project our own experience or perspective on the other(s) when we are in conflict. Our heightened emotional frustration causes us to causes us to read others through our own point of view. But of course, this projection NEVER gets us anywhere close to what's really going on. But this way of relating to others is so common that we don't even recognize what we are doing.

The fact is that we are actually judging when we do this. We are trying to remove the speck in the other's eye when we have a plank in our own. In other words, we jump to conclusions about the other because we assume that we have enough information about the other to come to an accurate assessment. When I put it this way it makes judgement sound absurd. But it's the natural  actually a judgment. 

Only God has enough information to come to an accurate assessment. And the shocker is that his reaction to this information was to become incarnate and go to the cross. Instead of castigating or condemning those with whom he is in conflict he died for their sake (Romans 5:8). 

This is the reason we cannot love people directly. We do not ever naturally think about loving the other at cost to ourselves, especially when we are in conflict. The only way to love another is indirectly. We can only love through Jesus because he is the only one who sees the other properly and the only one who responds by going to the cross for the other.

The most practical way to live this out is to pray for the other. Instead of jumping to conclusions. Instead of going to the other and trying to fix the situation. Instead of acting like nothing has happened. Instead of complaining, or gossiping, or _________ (you fill in the blank with your natural reaction during conflict), live in the ambiguity of prayer for the other. See the other as walking a journey where there is a huge back story about which you know very little. See the other as walking today in the midst of struggles that you have never walked. See the other as moving forward on a path with Jesus walking with them, with a hopeful future that you cannot see.

Is it natural to take this path? No!
Is it easy? Of course not.
But it's a lot easier than the fix-it approach. 

Picture credit:  Arno Meintjes via Compfight

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