Written By Sarah Tso, Singapore
As I write these words, the dust has just settled from some weekend conflict with family. Don’t get me wrong—my family and I love each other very much, and we all want the best for one another. It’s just that at some moments, pride takes over my heart—and more than wanting family unity, I want my own way. On this particular weekend, I felt that I could do things better than my father.
It was Saturday evening and as usual, my family went out for dinner. After paying for dinner, I made it all about myself—why didn’t my father volunteer to buy the food? Why didn’t he take initiative to get chairs for our table? Most of all, didn’t he remember scolding and spanking me as a child for not doing the same? I felt indignant and made him apologize the same way he made me apologize 20 years ago. We went home in silence.
As a songwriter, I had just written a song to remind myself that I am my Heavenly Father’s child. But before I could record a demo, a thought struck me—what kind of child was I being toward my earthly father? I realized that in this case, it didn’t matter who was in the right. I had taken the moral high ground and thought I was better than him. This judgmental spirit of pride is never one that pleases the Lord.
I was also reminded of Romans 12, which I had recently read during quiet time. In the passage, Paul wrote on church unity, and I found three guidelines for conflict resolution that can be helpful even within family.
1. See others the way God sees me
As God’s children, we are to take our wisdom from God and not from the world. While the world tells us to “care for you and only you”, God expects us to let humility—and not self-preservation—drive our response.
I was reminded of Jesus’ example. Jesus had died for me while I was still rebelling against Him—so who was I to take the moral high ground over my father? Both my father and I are sinners saved by grace, and as Billy Graham puts it, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” This meant I had to see my father also as a work-in-progress with God, and treat him respectfully with the undeserved grace that God has extended to me.
Romans 12:3 sums this up: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” Selfish pride has no place in a renewed mind that pleases God.
2. Cling to what is good
Having a good memory sometimes works against me—as it is hard for me to forget whatever wrong my parents had done against me (and whose parents are perfect anyway?). But Romans 12:9-10 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
In the thick of the situation, it was difficult for me to see the good in my father. But he has done more for me in my life than I will ever know. Just because I couldn’t remember his sacrifices for me doesn’t mean they weren’t significant.
One way to “honor one another above yourselves” was for me to “cling to what is good”—I was called to encourage my father and recognize the good in him, just like how God encourages me by reminding me through others of how my ministry efforts have borne good fruit. The more I let the Spirit remind me of the good in each person and situation, the more gratitude can defeat my critical spirit and bear a harvest of thanksgiving and mutual edification to benefit God’s family. I realized that how I honor my earthly father also reflects how I honor my Heavenly Father. I am called to respect both above myself.
3. Choose reconciliation
Romans 12 ends with, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. . . Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:19a, 21).
Knowing that there was shared blame did not justify my actions since it is never my place to judge. When my father did not follow-up on what he had previously taught me (the evil of having double standards), I was so overcome with frustration and disappointment—almost to the point of anger. I let disrespectful thoughts about my father fester within my mind.
But this goes against God’s way. Instead of letting us deal with evil in our sinful ways (which may wreak even more havoc and lead to further sin), He knows this burden is too much for us. Instead, God asks us to surrender this desire to Him, and allow Him to heal us. He alone knows best how to deal with evil justly. He will empty our hearts of hatred and divisive thoughts—and replace these with a love for others that allows reconciliation. We are to counter evil by doing good to those who wrong us, and let God perfectly deal with evil in His own perfect ways and timing.
I had a choice after dinner last Saturday night. I could either ignore the pain I had caused my father and get on with recording my song demo (feeling like a hypocrite)—or I could take the hard road and apologize to him.
Knowing that everyone would sleep better that night if we resolved the conflict, I chose the second option. I mustered up the courage to sit next to my father on the couch, and was honest with him. I said I was sorry, and shared with him how hard it was for me to forget words he had spoken during my childhood. I then asked him what I could do to make the situation better next time. Thankfully my father accepted my apology, even thanking me for it. I felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders.
Saying sorry was difficult, but so worth it as I knew good relationships with my earthly father and Heavenly Father were so much more important than any misplaced pride or “being right.” I might be good at winning arguments, but I take no confidence in that. Instead, my confidence lies in being the daughter of my earthly father and ultimately, of my Heavenly Father.