Monday, October 12, 2009

Dealing with Conflict

Growing up I learned to deal with conflict by avoiding it. More accurately, as I learned later in life, I learned to deal with it by running from it or denying that it exists. At the time I didn't realize that these were unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict (in most cases). I would not have articulated it in these terms at the time, but I believed that living at peace meant simply avoiding all conflict. Therefore, in my mind the more I "avoided" conflict, the more I was living a godly lifestyle.

A couple years ago I read the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande and it radically changed my thinking about conflict. I had received teaching about conflict resolution prior to this, which had helped me make some positive adjustments to dealing with conflict. Being married has also helped, not because my marriage is filled with conflict, but simply because conflict will arise when you merge two lives into one. But reading The Peacemaker helped me to understand that conflict is normal (at least in this life) and that living the life of a peacemaker does not mean avoiding conflict, but rather dealing with it in a healthy manner. I highly recommend the book.

This doesn't mean that I have come to relish conflict. I think Sande would argue that this view is also unhealthy. In fact, I still have a lot of room to grow. Although I understand and accept that conflict naturally happens and I have learned better methods for dealing with it, I still don't like it and must often fight my innate inclination to deal with it by running away. I do better when the conflict arises with a friend or my spouse, because in those situations there is already established relationship and a better ability to communicate. But even then I don't always instinctively choose a healthy response of conflict resolution. When the conflict involves someone with whom my relationship is less personal my instinct to flee becomes even stronger.

I have a lot of room to grow in this area. I find that God regularly gives me opportunity for this growth. Sometimes I succeed, in the sense of making progress in handling conflict well. At other times I fail miserably, resorting to ingrained habits. I find myself in a particular conflict situation right now that is testing me. I pray for wisdom to respond wisely and in a godly manner. One potential solution would require us to withdraw from the conflict--to resolve by removing ourselves from the conflict situation, but I want to do so because God directs us to and not simply because I want to avoid the conflict. On the other hand, if the conflict cannot be resolved I don't want to continue to live in a situation that leaves me stressed and tense on a regular basis. Thus the need for wisdom.

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