Conflict is everywhere. Turn on the tv, open social media or basically go anywhere there are people and it won’t take long for you to find conflict. Religion, politics, healthcare reform, fashion, entertainment – pick any topic and you can instantly find a slew of individuals poised and ready to verbally spar with you. Some people thrive in conflict, others run from it as best as they possibly can.
As Christians, our goal is to live as the scripture suggests in Romans 12:18 where it says:
“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
When Conflict Finds You
But what about when conflict finds you? What about when conflict hits home? You’re going along, minding your own business and out of nowhere you find yourself accused or pulled into a conflict you did not instigate or desire. You find yourself thrown off kilter for sure. “What in the world?!”, you likely ask. And you easily spiral into self defending dialogue in your mind and all the while anger and resentment can begin to grow. The world around you and even those you love will justify your anger and attempts to clear your name. But as a follower of Christ, “we are not conformed to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2a), therefore we are expected to respond differently.
Our family has personally experienced three separate instances of unexplained and unprovoked conflict in the past year. The Lord obviously wanted to teach us something. People we thought were friends, neighbors we don’t even know and even a family member all came out of nowhere to attack, question and accuse. In 15 years of marriage and 13 of those years as parents we have never experienced anything so hurtful and so random. Each attack was so deeply personal and yet we knew they were untruths. These situations forced us to dig deep into our faith and trust in the Lord. We have emerged on the other side of it hopefully better and desiring to share with others what the Lord taught us through it.
So what is the right approach? How do you respond? What do you do? As believers, what are we called to do when conflict finds us?
Don’t fall into the “WHY” pit
If you experience conflict coming to your doorstep from way out in left field, no matter the accusation, this conflict really isn’t about you. Stop for a moment and let that soak in. Camping out in the “why” is quicksand. You know the adage that’s been floating around for a while now: “Hurt people hurt people”? It’s so very true.
There are any number of reasons why someone might choose you as their next “target” for conflict, if you will. And there is no amount of time that will help you to determine that reason. (All you people, like me, who tend to lean more toward the logic side of your brain are just gonna have to let this one go.) Oh sure, there will be a surface level complaint or offense given but people who create conflict carry much deeper reasons for why they choose this behavior. These people are angry or fearful and often times they seek conflict to distract them from dealing with their own feelings, hurts and struggles.
One of my mentors explains it so well. She says, “We all carry ‘stuff’ – past hurts, insecurities and triggers that provoke very unlovable behavior. Any time we interact with others, we bump into their ‘stuff’ and it can fall onto us.”
It’s like a virus. We come into contact with someone carrying hurt that they have chosen to allow to control their behavior. We “bump” into them in some way and their hurt manifests through some unlovable behavior toward us and now we have been infected with their offense. We now have a choice to allow the offensive behavior to infect us and cause us to carry offense to the next person we bump into or we can choose to kill it dead in its tracks. How do we do that?
2. Acknowledge your Hurt but Don’t Stay There
Conflict stinks. Accusations hurt. No one likes having their peace disturbed or their character brought into question. Not one person enjoys feeling betrayed by someone they call friend. It’s not God’s perfect plan that we have these experiences but since we live in a world tainted by sin, these things are inevitably going to happen. We are all in different areas of our spiritual journey. Not one walk with Christ is like the other. The beauty of serving the one true God is that He walks personally in step with you throughout your life and grows and perfects your faith along the way. And sometimes He allows unpleasant situations in our lives to stretch our faith in uncomfortable ways and cause us to lean into Him.
It’s OK to feel. God is not indifferent to your hurt. He doesn’t expect you to be a robot and not feel the effects of this conflict you’ve been thrown into. Scripture says, “The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves he crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) But it also says, “Take up your cross” and “Go and make disciples…” Translation: Get up, dust off your britches and get back to God’s work of reaching souls for Him.
Our spiritual walk does not remain healthy if our focus is on ourselves even in the midst of hurtful situations. Give your pain to God and ask Him what He wants you to do with it. Everything we experience is an opportunity to grow in our spiritual walk and bring others along with us.
3. Focus on your Opportunity
Your response to your accuser is everything. Your response reveals your heart and its focus. In fact, we fail immediately if we choose a mindset of self defense, justification or irrevocable anger. We allow ourselves to be derailed from our purpose and mission. Remember, your purpose as a follower of Christ is to point others to Him in every aspect of your life here on earth. You have been given the opportunity to point your accuser to Jesus by how you choose to react. The tiniest of seeds planted have the potential to come to the fruition of relationship with Christ for that person. This is the most important thing to remember above all.
4. Remember who you are battling
In the heat of the moment and shock of the accusation, our natural human response is to defend. Our reaction can easily bend toward fight rather than flight. After all, you didn’t ask for this and you certainly didn’t do anything wrong. It can be extremely easy to fall into the justification that you have to fight to defend your character or that of your loved ones. Right? Well, no.
Here’s where this can become dangerous because Mama Bear or Papa Bear should never override the Holy Spirit in us. You have to be able to discern where this is actually coming from. As hard as this may be to hear and accept, the person accusing you is not actually your enemy. Your enemy is and always will be the great accuser himself. The enemy of our souls is in constant war mode. He is tirelessly setting up battle camp ground around your life and the life of your family and scheming his next move to try and infiltrate.
One method he uses is the attacks or accusations of others against us. He’s sly and assumes you won’t recognize his foul play at work if he can redirect your focus on a person. He wants you to engage in battle with another person and he revels in getting to sit back and watch the destruction. But don’t be fooled. The enemy of your soul loves to use the wounds and offenses of others to create more wounds and offense. His delight is to create an army of angry people just poised and ready to lash out and hurt anyone they come in contact with, especially believers. He may not be able to claim your soul but he will still stop at nothing to trip you up and distract you so that you might fall into the trap of spending your days focused on your self and your hurt rather than your mission – to share the love of Christ with others that they may be added to the Kingdom.
So practically speaking, how do you need to respond?
- First and foremost, pause and pray before you react. This takes complete self discipline and the Holy Spirit living inside you. You may not be experiencing conflict today but at some point you will, so start praying NOW that God will give you the wisdom to pause and seek Him before you respond.
“Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)
“I will guard my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle as long as the wicked are in my presence.” (Psalm 39:1)
- Pray for the person sincerely and fervently. Pray for their heart. Pray that they will soften and allow God to redeem their story. Pray and ask God to help you see the person through His eyes. Choose to see them as an individual whose wounds you will likely never understand. See them as loved and forgiven by God just as you are loved and forgiven by God. Instead of receiving the “stuff” from others and choosing to carry and hurt others with it, stop and realize that it is their “stuff” you are experiencing. There is a very wounded person on the other side of that behavior you have encountered. You might not go around starting fights with people but your sin is just as ugly and needs a loving Savior to forgive you just as much as they do. God saw you both as worthy enough to send His only Son to die for your sins and that is enough to lay down any offense.
- Respond biblically. “Be angry and do not sin; on your bed reflect in your heart and be still.” (Psalm 4:4) The less said in response, the better. You may not be at fault but engaging in a battle of you-said/I-say will not resolve anything. Instead, it will make things worse and rob you of the opportunity to share the most important message your accuser will ever hear. God knows conflict is everywhere and He does not leave us to navigate it without instruction. He gives us a straight forward road map to follow in Ephesians 4:31-5:1:
“Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering.”
What the enemy uses to attempt to destroy, God can take and turn it around for good and we have the potential to take part in that good. We have the opportunity to show God’s love to someone in a way that could completely change their life. Those seeking conflict will not know what to do when you choose not to engage in their conflict, especially when they are met with a godly response. It’s the idea of heaping burning coals onto their head but only for the sake of purifying them that they may come to the Father. The best thing about God’s instructions in dealing with this issue is the advantage of peace.
You don’t have to stay awake at night rehearsing your next verbal sparring. You don’t have to worry about the damage this person has inflicted because you have the knowledge that your God fights for you and works all things for your good. It might not seem like it, but even when conflict finds you, be confident and assured that God is with you, He wants to walk alongside you and grow you as you take each step and prove His goodness even through the challenge of unexpected and unwelcome conflict.