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5 Lessons from A Family Feud

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Family disputes are common. In fact, I see them happening in my own family all too often, whether it is over minute or important matters. But over the past few weeks, one particular family feud in Singapore has captured the attention of many in my country—and perhaps around the world too.

The conflict, which erupted over social media on June 14, concerns allegations of abuse of power by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, made by his two younger siblings over the fate of their late father’s house at 38 Oxley Road.

Yesterday afternoon (July 3), PM Lee formally addressed this issue in Parliament, where he defended the actions he took following the death of his father, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in March 2015, and allowed Members of Parliament to question him.

Like many Singaporeans, I have been following this saga closely. And I’ve been both shocked and sad to see this happening in a family that I deeply respect and hold in high regard.

Without getting into a debate over who is right or wrong, I can see some personal lessons to be learned from this issue. What this dispute has shown me is that all humans are prone to conflict—regardless of how clever, powerful, or well-regarded we are.

This applies just as much to Christians. Though we all belong to the family of God, we have our fair share of conflict too. When challenged, our natural instinct is to fight back and vindicate ourselves. But most of the time, such encounters don’t end well. In my church, I have seen members leaving as a result; disputes can also lead to a split in the church.

So how should Christians respond when we don’t see eye-to-eye with each other? Here are five ways in which I believe we can respond to conflict within the family of God.

 

1. Recognize the need for resolution

God dislikes conflict. When we were at odds with God because of our sin, He made the first move for us to be reconciled—and He paid a hefty price for it, by sending His own Son Jesus to die on the cross to redeem us.

In the same way, God doesn’t want us to be at odds with anyone in the church. He wants us to be reconciled with others. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Will we make an effort to resolve our differences because it pleases God—even if we don’t feel like it?

 

2. Exhibit self-control

When we feel hurt by others, it is natural to lash back. But we have to be careful not to allow our emotions to get the better of ourselves so that we act on impulse. God calls us to exercise self-control, which is one attribute of the fruit of the Spirit. Practising self-control means taking charge of our thoughts and attitudes so that they do not dictate our actions and lead us to behave in a way that displeases God.

The next time we get into a conflict, will we react calmly (Proverbs 29:11)?

 

3. Have an attitude of humility

Philippians 2:3-4 tells us to “value others above yourselves”. It is a challenging instruction because it means we have to put our pride and our interests aside. But Jesus has shown us examples of humility which we are called to imitate. While He was equal with God, He chose to forsake that privilege by becoming a human, being wronged, and finally dying for us in a humiliating manner. If Jesus cared merely about himself, none of us would ever be reconciled with God.

When we humble ourselves before others, we can take heart that God is pleased, for “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6).

Even though we may look foolish to the world, are we willing to be wronged for the sake of reconciliation?

 

4. Take time to listen and empathize

Taking time to listen and empathize can seem extremely difficult to do in the heat of the moment. But what this simply means is to be willing to understand how the other party has been hurt.

Fools are described as those who “find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). Instead, we are called to listen before answering (Proverbs 18:13).

Will we put aside our prejudices and hurt to truly listen and understand the other party?

 

 5. Show love

Above all, as a family of God, we are commanded by the Lord to love one another as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). It is one of His two greatest commandments.

When we show love to others in times of conflict, we are able to stand united as a family of Christ and show the world that Jesus is a God of love. And we can take heart that God is with us when we gather to resolve the conflict, peaceably in love (Matthew 18:20).

Are others able to see Jesus through the way we respond to conflict?

 

The way to resolve a conflict is not by trying to win the fight or prove that we are right. It’s by responding in love and showing Christ in our response.

One statement that PM Lee made yesterday stood out: “At the end of the day, we are brother and sister, and we are all our parents’ children.”

I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, we are all God’s children, seeking to please the same Father.

Should We Avoid Conflicts in Relationships?

“Do not marry someone you have not had a big fight with.”

The first time I heard this piece of advice, it startled me. It seemed counter-intuitive. Why would anyone want to marry someone with whom they have not merely argued, but even had big fights with?

While most of us do not expect relationships to be smooth-sailing all the time, we do tend to view conflict negatively. Many of us avoid encounters with conflict as much as we can, and are discouraged when we see it in our relationships. We think that fewer conflicts mean that we have grown better at being together.

Do you believe that the less often conflict comes in a relationship, the better it is for us? I urge you to reconsider. Here’s why.

1. Conflict helps us learn more about ourselves.
As we grow closer to a boyfriend or girlfriend, we will eventually end up touching or exposing raw nerves and soft spots. We may never have known that these existed, and they could be surprises even to ourselves. Never knew you were insecure about your identity, personality, or skills? Or that you fear being left out, neglected, or pushed away? Learning more about ourselves in this way can be helpful for us and our relationships too.

As we identify the insecurities and fears we have, God rebukes, encourages, and points us to His Son Jesus, in whom we can be completely safe, secure and complete. For instance, as we realize how insecure we might be about ourselves, or how much we value what our other half thinks of us (or the other way around), we become cognizant of our need for Jesus and the need for us to repent and turn back to Him.

Conflicts reveal what’s in our hearts and how much we can love, trust, and forgive. Through the way we respond, we learn more about ourselves—and about each other.

2. Conflict reveals to us how we respond to God.
Once, I felt I had wronged my boyfriend. Even though he assured me that he did not hold anything against me and that our relationship had not been impacted by how I acted that day, I could not quite believe him. After the hurt I had caused him, how could things go back to the way they were?

As I sat down and listened to his assurances, it occurred to me that that was exactly the way I responded to God each time I felt I had let Him down. I had always believed that I did not deserve to approach God when I disappointed Him. I often felt like I was not good enough for Him, and that He would push me aside when I angered Him.

Our human relationships are small reflections of our relationship with Him—how we respond to our human partners give us a glimpse of how we relate to God. This is especially so in close relationships with friends or family—the words we say and actions we make are tell-tale signs of how we respond to God and what we believe of His character.

3. Conflict forces us to grow.
When our expectations of our partners have not been met, we usually become upset, angry, or even bitter. However, such conflicts give us a chance to test our hearts, to see how far we are willing to place the needs and expectations of others above our own. They provide opportunities for us to practise love, and to show love and care to our loved ones. In this way, we train our humility, meekness, and gentleness.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. In the heat of the moment, when we feel that our rights have been infringed or that we have not been cared for enough, our first and instinctive response is to lash out or protect ourselves. But as conflict and pain reveal more and more of our heart and nature, we will learn to see how self-righteous and self-centered we can be, and allow God to make us more Christ-like.

Having said this, there could be relationships where we find ourselves consistently being betrayed by our boyfriend or girlfriend, or struggle to see eye-to-eye on critical matters like faith and priorities. In those instances, it may be a good idea to find suitable mentors, friends and support groups to help us discern if ending the relationship is the wisest and most loving thing to do. Nevertheless, God can work in the most impossible of situations. And quite frankly, it is often much less about whether we should stay together with our partners, than it is about the willingness of our hearts to put down our egos and submit to Christ in our relationships.

American pastor Timothy Keller once said, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Conflict can push us to understand ourselves better and to grow in maturity, it can also help us know each other more deeply and grow closer in our relationships. Let’s use them to transform the way we relate to each other and to God.