Avoiding Conflict Can Create More Conflict

My dear friend and mentor Suzanne Stabile reminds me, “Avoiding conflict often creates more conflict.” Some of us are wired to avoid conflict like the plague. Others of us run to it like a flatscreen tv on Black Friday. Still others of us are somewhere between these two poles, living in the tension of wanting to get things out in the open while wanting to keep relationships intact and healthy. Some of us would be peacemakers avoid conflict because we want to be liked, want the relationship or group to stay positive, or because we see validity to multiple sides.

Eugene Peterson says, “Community … means people who have to learn how to care for each other.” And inevitably caring for people means nurturing, encouraging, and challenging people to live into and lean into a truer, realer, more whole reality than they are currently experiencing.

Recently I had dinner with a dear friend. I opened up to this friend about some insecurities and fears through which I was personally struggling. After I was done sharing with my friend how small, unsettled, and scary my world could feel at times, my friend began asking some intentional, open, and honest questions to ensure he understood the situation. Then my friend patiently, humbly, and truthfully began to speak God’s Reality into my life. At the end of the conversation he engulfed me in a hug and spoke identity over me that was truer than the lies to which I had been clinging.

I’m so grateful my friend didn’t just hear me struggling and leave me in my brokenness. Like a faithful shepherd he sought me out, tended to my wounds, and invited me into God’s truth, wholeness, and healing.

We all have messy lives. Each one of us is usually swinging back and forth between two extremes. Sometimes we are  being painfully reminded of our own hang ups, brokenness, frailties, insecurities, and toxic ways of relating to others and coping with reality. At other times we can become quickly fixated on the sins of others.

Yet God doesn’t want us to approach people in a spirit of self-righteousness or condemnation. The purpose is never to shame people or make them feel more separated from God. The purpose is to invite them to live into their truest spiritual identity in Christ. The purpose is to invite them to find their place in the family of God. And to live a fuller life from that place.

The heart of God is the one who seeks not our destruction but our deliverance. Do we share that heart? Are we too eager to set others right? Are we quick to take the role of prophet without weeping over our own brokenness and receiving God’s mercy for ourselves? Do we want to be understood more than we want to understand where they are coming from? These questions will help to check our hearts as we approach others in conflict.

Then Jesus invites us to speak humbly into each other’s lives. We are invited to gently, creatively, and powerfully pursue others in the love of God and to be ready to invite them to live free and forgiven lives.