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3 Healthy Ways to Handle Conflict

Written by Madeline Twooney, Germany

A few Sundays ago, an acquaintance of mine from church pulled me aside before the morning service to talk to me about a weakness in my character. She thought that l was too occupied with accommodating other’s needs in church, that I neglected my own needs. In her opinion, l could do with standing up for myself more.

l smiled and muttered some vague thanks for her concern.

But in the back of my mind, l was fuming—absolutely fuming. I found her words condescending and her intervention inappropriate. I was not a frightened, insecure person. While I am fallen and flawed like everyone else, l believe that God has gifted me with a kind and generous heart that is always seeking to help others—I’ve always looked at that as an asset.

To this day, my acquaintance doesn’t know how l feel. I opted out of negatively responding to avoid an unnecessary storm.

And yet I wonder. . .was avoiding conflict by ignoring her confrontation the correct thing to do?

As the body of Christ, we need to be able to respond to conflict within the church and in our lives in a healthy way that does the following:

  • Gives us peace as individuals
  • Promotes love
  • Lifts us up as a body of believers that can serve God both in the church and out in the world

So, how do we do that?

The apostle Paul approaches this dilemma in his epistle to the Christians in Colossae. Because of false teachings, the church was suffering from severe division. In Colossians 3:13-15, Paul shows us three principles that we can use today to help us respond to conflict.

 

1. Forgive Others As God Forgives Us

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

The act of forgiveness is of such great importance to Paul, that the word is used three times in this Bible passage. Not only are we called to forgive others, we need to strive to forgive them in the same way God has forgiven us.

This means that whatever harm the other person might have caused us, we do not hold it against them. This also means blotting out any bitterness or anger we may feel towards them. Forgiving as the Lord forgives not only frees the person who wronged us—it liberates us as well.

My acquaintance has an impression of me that may be untrue. But that’s ok. I know who l am, and God knows who l am. Irrespective of what prompted her to push her opinion on me, l am practicing every day to forgive in a way that frees us both.

 

2. Put on Love

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

Jesus commands us to love one another (John 13:34-35). However, how do we love someone we have a conflict with? In that case, we need to make a conscious decision to love them—to accept them for who they are, warts and all, and recognize that they are a work in progress, just like we are. We need to put on love.

Loving someone with whom we are in conflict is easier when we understand the motives for their actions. My acquaintance had good intentions in mind, so showing her anything but love would only promote confusion and hurt in her heart.

That doesn’t mean that l shouldn’t talk to her openly about her actions and their effect on me—l can, and l might at some point in the future. However, if l confront her, l need to do it from a place of love, not from hurt or accusation.

God is love. When we were still His enemy, He loved us (Ephesians 2:4-5). If His love can unify us with Him, shouldn’t we be sharing this love with others?

 

3. Let Peace into Our Hearts

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15)

Being in conflict is stressful and takes up a lot of our mental energy. Why would anyone choose to live that way, when we have the option to receive the peace Christ offers (John 14:27)?

Choosing to accept Jesus’ peace has been a great blessing for me in my situation. It isn’t always easy to apply, but it helps to think of how much inner turmoil and stress l am avoiding in my life by simply trusting Jesus to work things out in His perfect timing. With that in mind, choosing peace is a better option!

The church is of great importance to Jesus. For it to function well, He requires us to be at peace. So, if you are holding tightly to an issue or a conflict today, could you let it go for Jesus’ sake?

 

It would be nice to say that conflict is something that can be avoided. Unfortunately, we are imperfect people living in a broken world—a prime breeding ground for discord and strife.

How comforting it is, then, to know that we have a perfect God who loves us in our brokenness, and guides us to respond or deal with these conflicts in a Christlike manner, through His love and teachings!

The Day I Broke A Promise to My Husband

Written By Dawn Ong, Singapore

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26b).

This verse was close to our hearts as my husband and I went through pre-marital counseling. We promised each other that we would not allow anger to fester overnight, that we would make up and forgive each other before the day was over.

I broke that promise not too long ago.

 

The Disagreement

It was a lazy weekend. My husband and I wanted to run some errands without the children. We started to squabble due to a minor dispute—whether or not we should let the kids watch TV while we were out.

I did not want the children glued to the screen. My husband insisted that we needed something to entertain the kids so we could leave in peace, and the helper could have an easier time. I said no. He said yes.

Our voices grew louder and louder, in front of the kids. They were either glued to their program, oblivious to the heated atmosphere, or they did not know who to side with, and kept silent.

I grabbed the remote control and turned the TV off in a huff, with major protest from the kids. My husband and I were still disagreeing as we stepped out of the house together. I was fuming, and wanted to speak up for my cause. He cut me off mid-sentence, not wanting to listen to my rationale. Of course, that left me seething.

I remained indignant throughout the evening and allowed animosity to permeate the air. I made sure he knew I was mad at him—ignoring him when he asked for my opinion, walking far in front of him with a stomp in my steps, making no eye contact, giving one-word answers, and other childish manners imaginable.

I nursed the thought that he should apologize, since he was the one who shut me off in the first place. I continued to sin in anger, with an unforgiving heart.

As we lay in bed that night, I told him I was still annoyed with him, and left it at that, rolling away from him. I did not hear an ounce of apology. I went to bed mad and disappointed. I couldn’t sleep that night and was still grumpy the next morning.

 

The Next Day

Still upset, I raised the issue the next day. My frustration surprised my husband, as he thought we had reached an understanding. Before I had turned away the night before, he had gently told me, “Sleep on it. We will talk about this when you are less angry.”

I fumed over the fact that he did not care to make up—except I learned that he did. In my frustration, I hadn’t heard him, and allowed anger to linger through the night. I had given the devil a foothold.

We had made a promise during marriage counseling, and I broke it.

In the case of what we had argued about, there was no right and wrong. It was simply a matter of different perspectives. But I had allowed harsh words to strain the relationship, and in my anger, I had sinned.

My husband said he was trying to reach out to me the entire evening. He thought he was being extra nice to me, and was gentle with his words. But I was blinded by resentment, and insisted on an apology. When I did not receive one, that’s all I could focus on.

On my part, I assumed my unhappiness was obvious through my actions. But my husband was unaware of my infuriation, and I didn’t voice my concerns to him until the end of the day. It was a matter of communication. We had not let each other in on our respective thoughts and feelings.

 

Moving Forward

When we finally talked things through openly, we realized that we were both wrong. He was annoyed that I had shut off the TV in anger. I was upset that he did not hear me out. But instead of taking necessary steps towards reconciliation, we had allowed our evening to be taken captive by anger.

If I could do this over, I would have taken time to calm down before anger took over. I could have allowed the kids to watch TV, while explaining my rationale calmly to my husband. He, on the other hand, could have listened to my justifications patiently.

I apologized for switching off the TV in a frustrated fit—both to my husband, and my children. My husband shared his regret for not being proactive in listening to me. We made up, in front of the children, as we shared our marriage counselor’s words, and the promise we made to each other.

I am reminded once again, exactly why anger can be so dangerous. If we ignore it, anger can become like a knife—plunging deep into our relationships, cutting the ties that bond us. When unresolved, it consumes us, blinding us to reason and logic. Anger leaves us prone to let hurtful words spew from our lips, and for our hearts to be filled with soreness.

Paul was wise when he gave the Ephesians these words. They have been proven true time and time again.

“’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

Moving From Guilt to Freedom

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

My heart was tense. I kept remembering the recent conversation with my former church leader. I had explained to her my decision to leave for a new church,* and apologized for letting her down.

But she was visibly upset, and directed hurtful, accusing words at me. After that conversation, I tried texting her once a week, but her reply was always short— “I’m fine. Thank you.” The last time I texted her, she stopped replying altogether.

This leader had been a great help to me during my discipleship journey. I remember when she first brought me to the church five years ago. I was facing some complex family issues then, and she was one of the persons who directed me to God and showered me with love.

I grew spiritually in that church. I was grateful for the comfort they provided, and I made a promise to stay faithful to the church and to eventually bring my family there for worship. But that never happened, and now with my departure, it won’t be happening at all.

I felt helpless, and God seemed so far away. I was so consumed by that feeling of helplessness that I woke up one Sunday morning, and didn’t feel like worshipping God. But I figured I should at least go to church and listen to the sermon, so I eventually dragged myself out of bed.

 

The Bondage That Held Me

As the worship leader led us to begin singing the song “No Longer Slaves,” I remember praying, “Lord, show me what is hindering me. I just want to worship you.”

God brought to light my guilt over leaving my previous church. While it was not necessarily wrong for me to leave, I felt guilty for not fulfilling my promise to my former church leader.

I had also raised my voice during the discussion with my church leader. I was defensive and somewhat bitter as I explained my reasons for leaving. Hence, I was guilty also for taking offense instead of seeking peace (1 Peter 3:11, Matthew 5:9). I should have answered with gentleness and respect (Proverbs 15:1), thus keeping a clear conscience. Instead, I sinned, and in turn, led my church leader further into sin also.

As we continued singing, I became immersed in the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage, we are the sons and daughters, let us sing our freedom. . .

I found myself lifting up my hands as we sang. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how the Lord had rescued me again and again in the past. Though I have faced many tough situations, the Lord has always carried me and walked me through my darkest moments.

At the end of the song, I felt as if God were speaking into my heart, “Don’t hold onto the guilt of leaving anymore. Look at My redemptive work on the cross. Lay down your burden; I will carry it. You are no longer a slave. You are mine. Be set free.”

 

Where Freedom Is Found

As I shared my worship experience with a trusted friend, she pointed me to Romans 8:1-4. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation; the Spirit is life-giving and sets us free from the power of sin and death. No matter what mistake we have made, Christ has died to set us free from condemnation. As long as we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross justifies us. No human work can do or undo this justification.

When we live according to the Spirit by faith, we can repent, experience Christ’s forgiveness, and move on by His grace even if the person we have wounded has not yet forgiven us. Our flesh is weak. We do things we should not. But there is power at the cross. At the same place where God freely offers forgiveness when we ask, there is a redemptive work that empowers us to live differently—to let go of guilt, and focus on leading a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way and bearing fruit in His kingdom (Colossians 1:10-12).

Through the worship on Sunday morning, God taught me to focus on the power of His cross—even in our confusion and brokenness, it brings both healing and direction for a way forward.

Though my former church leader has yet to forgive me, I know that God already has. Because I am set free from the guilt, I can now pray without hindrance for my church leader to also find healing at the redemptive work on the cross. I continue to pray for the eventual reconciliation of our relationship.

 

* I do not encourage changing churches lightly. No church is perfect, and generally we should remain in our home church and seek to grow spiritually there, encouraging and supporting one another to grow in Christ. However, if you do feel led to move on to a new church, it should be done only after careful consideration, a period of prayer, seeking the Lord through reading His Word, and counsel from mature Christian mentors or church elders.

3 Tips for Handling Conflicts from the Trump-Kim Summit

Editor’s Note: This is a tongue-in-cheek take on the Trump-Kim Summit.

So, it finally happened. Yesterday (12 June) the world stopped as US president Donald J Trump met with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un to hash out their plans for world peace.

There was a big build-up since the summit was first announced months ago, and the Donald and Kim kept us in suspense about whether it would go through. Will they or won’t they? The summit was on and off again, going through more cycles of uncertainty than my church repeating the chorus of Chris Tomlin’s masterpiece “How Great is Our God”.

At the end of it, we got a nice autographed joint declaration which reaffirmed the US and North Korea’s commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as genuine hope for world peace. All a bit of an anti-climax, if you ask me.

Instead, it is this writer’s opinion that the real triumph of the summit was the progress they made in their friendship. I mean, did you see the warmth that the leaders displayed when they locked eyes and shook hands for the first time? What a moment.

How about when they sat side by side, tenderly signing their joint declaration? And don’t forget the earnest ‘working lunch’ they had where they were found staring kindly across the table at each other as they enjoyed their beef short rib confit.

It wasn’t just peace between nations that was forged that day; in the words of Trump, the duo “developed a very special bond”.

So, with all this bonding and friendship-making going on, wouldn’t it be a shame if the only takeaway from the summit was mere world peace? Instead, here are three things we learned about handling relationship conflicts from Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un:

1. Sometimes we just need to put away the technology and talk face-to-face

Did someone say “covfefe”? Nobody can deny that @realDonaldTrump is a prolific social media maven. But it was also social media that almost cost us this beautiful friendship. In the midst of their constant bickering through official state press releases, Trump helped to fight fire the only way he knew how—with fire—through his Twitter account. Some choice tweets include calling Kim the “little rocket man” as well as reminding the world about the big functioning nuclear button on his desk.

But look what happened when the Leader of the Free World put down his smartphone and met his North Korean counterpart in person.

Similarly, when we find ourselves in a conflict with someone, we might need to put down that phone and resolve things face-to-face. While technology has made things easier and communication faster, there’s nothing like a good ol’ man-to-man conversation. No harm opening in prayer and breaking some bread too—just look at the effectiveness of Trump and Kim’s working lunch. And to close, it would only be polite to bid each other farewell with a customary “the peace of the Lord be with you”.

 

2. When hashing out a conflict, find a neutral spot

Contrary to popular belief, Singapore isn’t in China. In fact, a quick Google search confirmed that Singapore is over 2,175 miles (or 3,500 km)  away from North Korea’s traditional ally; it’s actually a sovereign state all on its own. And as a sovereign state, Singapore has maintained diplomatic ties with both North Korea and the US—making it the perfect neutral spot for the summit to take place.

The same applies to us: it’s always helpful to find a neutral space to meet to resolve a conflict. Find a spot where neither you nor your friend feels threatened, where the both of you can relax and let your hair down. For the best results, ensure that you call the church keyboardist to play softly in the background. As he ushers in a time of quieting our souls, even the hardest of hearts will be softened.

 

3. It might help to get a third party involved

Having made considerable progress in diplomacy with North Korea, South Korea was trusted by Kim to deliver an invitation for the summit to Trump. On  8 March, when Trump accepted the invitation, the world rejoiced at the prospects of finally seeing a beautiful friendship blossom.

However, earlier last month when Trump called the summit off in retaliation to what he described as “tremendous anger and open hostility” from North Korea, many feared that our chances of seeing the Donald and the Supreme Leader together were over.

Enter South Korea. Their President, Moon Jae-in, helped to smooth things over between the two dignified statesmen and ensured that the summit would go ahead.

When it comes to our relationships, we can learn much from Trump and Kim’s nuanced approach. Look at Matthew 18:15-16, which highlights the usefulness of having an impartial go-between to mediate the disagreement. A helpful suggestion might be to get your youth pastor to serve as the third party. If he’s not too busy checking out the latest place to get artisan roasted coffee, it’s very likely that he’ll be available to referee the dispute.

If all else fails, and your friend is being particularly difficult, it might be time to follow what Jesus says in Matthew 18:17 and get the whole church involved. Hopefully then, the conflict will be resolved peaceably and we can all continue to co-exist as a big, happy family.

So, there we have it, this whole summit wasn’t a waste after all. Not only did we get that joint declaration, but we learned a lot about ourselves and how to handle relationships. I think we can echo Trump in saying it was “a tremendous success”.

 

For a more serious take on the Trump-Kim Summit, please read this article.