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Face to Face with Conflict: A Christian Perspective
Here are a few tips on how to embrace conflict.

As Christians, we often shy away from the very mention of the word conflict. However, our lives as Christians are inherently journeys of, and through, conflict. The mark of a mature adult— and indeed a mature Christian—is the ability to embrace conflict, manage disputes and in so doing realize personal growth as we use all the skills, experiences and knowledge we have acquired while leaning on God.

If we truly claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must walk in His footsteps. Fortunately for us, there is no better teacher than Him. There is no other person whose entire life—from conception through to death into resurrection and beyond—has been so distinguished by conflict. To be clear: Christ's resurrection, and therefore His final victory over death—our sustained hope for forgiveness and redemption—is in itself the most important resolution of all conflicts.

How do we stay close to and reflect Jesus in the midst of disappointment, pain, inner conflict, workplace strife, family fights, broken friendships, marital disputes, divorce and ultimately death of a loved one?

We are expected to continue to contribute to God's kingdom when we are depressed, downtrodden and destitute spiritually, materially and emotionally. We have to fight these feelings and commit to rise above the conflictual situations that threaten to keep us unhealthy.

But there are times when no matter how much we fight and struggle, the situation will seem hopeless and in these times we have no choice but to sit through the pain and disappointment of conflict until we are able to set things right. When the time is right and we look back on our experiences we do so knowing that we kept a steady focus on Christ, on trying to come to know and accomplish His will. The experienced and mature Christian knows that they can endure such pain and discomfort through the night because the morning will come. It is with hope as your constant, that we suggest you embrace conflicts as they arise.

So here are a few tips on how to embrace conflict:

Remove the fuel

Conflict is a part of life as much as peace is. So tell yourself that this too shall pass if I deal with it. But, make sure to douse an intensely heated situation. Don't fan the flames.

Don't avoid conflict

Even after coming to an agreement that mitigates hostility and lays the foundation for agreement and peace, other conflicts may arise. In fact, don't be surprised if the same type of conflict recurs. By the third and fourth occurrence it will be much easier to deal with and anticipate conflict. Promise.

Meet face to face

Email and other types of messaging are great. But, they are not the preferred medium to initiate and carry on discussions regarding a delicate situation. Arrange to meet face to face where you can observe each other's expressions while you speak. For the conflict to be resolved, one party has to approach the other party to open the lines of communication. Then, either one or both parties must engage in a process that seeks to identify the source of the conflict. Initiating and enduring such an engaging process takes tact, know-how and grit.

Ask questions; explore all possibilities

The objective of the discussion is to ascertain the answers to questions such as: What are the issues at the core of the conflict? Ask yourselves questions such as why is the other person objecting? Why do I disagree? What identifiable emotions are at play on either or both sides? What are the bases for these emotions? Is this conflict a result of one person's opinion and subsequent action? Are the opinions reasonable or just? What about the needs and underlying interests of both parties currently in opposition? How do these needs and interests converge? Is this situation of God or is it of the devil?

Negotiate, mediate; don't first opt to adjudicate

If the two opposing parties are unable to arrive at a negotiated agreement, and if they need to agree (either to disagree or to concede) before they can both co-exist at work, at church or in the home, for example, it may be time to introduce the services of a trained and experienced mediator. This third party will guide the process using both communication and mediation skills and in so doing help the opposing parties who are at a stalemate to realize agreed-upon outcomes and so resolve their conflict. In a mediated session, the mediator will ask each person questions, or make statements such as: Tell us your version of what happened. What happened next? To understand or further clarify, could you explain what you meant by...? What do you wish to accomplish at the end of this mediation session? Why is it important for you to achieve these things?

The objective of the mediation process is to facilitate greater understanding between the two parties, to broker an agreement that is crafted and owned by the two parties, to give each party a sense of accomplishment and closure with respect to the conflict and to restore or establish a healthy relationship.

Mediation is less expensive and aggressive than adjudication or arbitration, as an alternative to resolving conflict.

Christians are called to be peace-makers. We do so by being light to the world. This light not only transforms darkness but it guides. It goes into the most horrid of situations and leads God's people, saved and unsaved, out of disputes, hostility, and war. We are able to do this because we, ourselves, have been comforted by God's grace; we have a constant hope in Christ and are continually being illuminated and energized by the Holy Spirit—three the hard way.

Put on your armour of Christ, because we are being called to negotiate or mediate a conflict, again.

Jacqueline Get field is the director of communications at Tyndale University College & Seminary.

Originally published in Connection, Summer 2008.

 

 
 
 
 

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