At the beginning of his book, Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution, Tony Merida says “The goal of having peaceful relationships requires biblical wisdom, prayer, and a heart filled with adoration for Jesus Christ, who has shown us reconciling love.” (6) And just a bit later, he says “I affirm the idea that when superior affection for Christ dominates a person’s heart, it will affect one’s entire life, including one’s relationships.” (8)
That is why I appreciate books like The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, the book we primarily used at the time, and the book that Tony Merida mentions the most in Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution, besides the Bible. I also really appreciate how short this book is.
At only 75 pages, it is short and to the point, making it a good candidate for couples in conflict who also happen to have lives and jobs, children and activities, and little time to spare. Merida takes a position I have found to be true over the years: the more one focuses on Jesus, the less one tends to focus on oneself and how one has been wronged.
We don’t realize there are other options available. We don’t realize that we might feel better and be thinking more clearly in fifteen minutes, or that the other person likely could benefit from a break as well. We don’t realize that we are resorting to the same tools and tactics that caused the last blowup.
When it comes to conflict resolution strategies, we tend to go with what we know. I’ve found that everyone has tools that make some kind of sense. Unfortunately, what we know is often outdated by the time it gets into the marriage. And then we wonder why the other person doesn’t “get it!” The same goes for work relationships and friendships.
Merida states “Cravings underlie conflicts. This is a vitally important principle to recognize.” (11) He goes on to say, speaking on James 4:
Regardless of the particular passion, James makes it clear that the internal war waging within a Christian eventually leads him to wage external war with others in efforts to satisfy his craving. In short, troubled people trouble people. Their internal unrest comes out on others and creates unrest in their relationships. In the end, your relationships are usually in turmoil because you are in turmoil. (13)
Again, the focus is on working on oneself first. Another passage (e.g., Matthew 7:1-5) is often mentioned in the context of how it is always wrong to judge another person. People often take this passage to be saying that it is never right to point out another person’s wrong. However, this is not what the passage says. It says that we are to get the log out of our own eyes “so that we can see clearly to remove” the speck from our neighbor’s eye.
This “so that” is a clear indication that we are meant to approach the other person in the hope of restoration. The order is: 1) we first ask God to reveal our own hearts, so that 2) we can confess our faults and own our own contributions so that 3) we can see clearly to speak the truth in love to the other person in the hope restoration. This is why it is so important to be on the lookout for any attitude of superiority or condemnation in our own hearts. Merida wisely writes:
If you think your sin is less detestable, less significant, or less problematic than the person you are engaged in conflict with, then you are showing how blinded by pride you really are. Overcoming evil with good means abhorring our own sinfulness in the midst of conflict. It means having a desire and willingness to deal with our own sin before we criticize or deal with the sin of others. (42)
Merida states just after this that he often has asked one important question in the work he does with people in conflict: “What are you willing to let stand in the way of a healthy marriage?” Sure, it’s a leading question. And the way it is worded does not give us the ability to just deny it or say no.
But I think if we are all honest, we all have something that we are willing to let stand in the way of a healthy relationship. In other words, the question isn’t “if”, it’s “what.” There is undoubtedly something there. What is it that creeps up and gets in the way when my spouse or partner points out a flaw or expresses a hurt? What am I fighting for under the surface?
Merida is arguing that “the first way God helps you manage conflict in your life is not to change the circumstances or the other person but to change you from the inside out by the power of his Spirit. Conflicts only change as the people involved in them change” (33). Sometimes we get stuck and need someone to walk us through and help us see. Merida speaks often of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus to be with us and guide us as we increase in our ability to love, as Paul puts it in Philippians 1, “in knowledge and depth of insight.”
One of the reasons I have been doing this work for almost a decade it’s because I have seen, time and again, couples on the brink of divorce or ending any contact with one another, giving peacemaking for effective conflict resolution one last chance. They sat down with me or some other coach or counselor, and came out the other end with new hope, new life, and a re-commitment to love one another in such a way that people can look on and tell who they serve (See John 13:34-35).
I long to be able to do the same with you. If you are reading this and are thinking it may be worth a shot to pursue conflict resolution, please reach out to me or one of the other counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling.
“Walking through the Fog,” courtesy of Sebastian Pichler, unsplash.com, Public Domain License “Sparklers”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Old City Alley”, Courtesy of Valentin Lacoste, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reaching for the Sun”, Courtesy of Jules D., Unsplash.com, CC0 License