Grace in Conflict

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One of the greatest weaknesses within the body of Christ
is our paranoia when it comes to handling conflict. Regardless of how
many Scripture verses we learn about addressing it, we still treat it
like the plague.

Why don’t we deal with discord truthfully and without
fear? Jesus taught us “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9, NKJV),
but we seem to have translated His words this way: “Blessed are the
doormats.” However, the truth is, peacemakers clearly practice the skill
of negotiation during conflict.

For most of our married life, even though my husband and I
were home-group leaders and active in the church, we had no idea how to
constructively address conflict. Outside the home we worked hard to
create the illusion that we were happy and carefree. But behind closed
doors we were miserable.

My husband, Jim, had his way to deal with offenses: He
perfected the art of intimidation. To keep me from penetrating his own
deep sorrows, Jim withheld approval and affection. When my husband’s
behavior alternated between cold silences and outbursts of anger, I held
my tongue.

Although my lips might not have expressed my pain over
Jim’s behavior, my heart grew weary under the weight of unresolved
conflict. Instead of following the instructions of Matthew 18:15 and
speaking openly to Jim after each series of offenses, I’d think, How
peaceful life would be if he were simply gone.

Some days, my dread of him was so complete I secretly
hoped that he would have a fatal accident coming home from work during
one of our wild Pennsylvania snowstorms. No more walking on eggshells
and complying out of fear! But at the end of the day, his car always
pulled into the driveway, and I returned to my agonizing role as the
people-pleaser—hoping to win his kindness.

We were locked in a solitary world of fear where no one
would tell the truth. As a result, reality was never discussed. Although
we knew that God wanted something better for us, we felt powerless to
change. The hopelessness of our situation loomed large, and we were
ready to call it quits.

But God had a different plan in the works.

True Grace

If the truth be told, many of us don’t believe that God
loves us unconditionally. Since the day of our salvation we have been
collecting and harboring a secret list of behavioral law we feel we must
obey to gain His approval.

We struggle to be worthy but never feel secure, never
certain we have the validity to act on God’s Word and expect the
promised results. Since it takes confidence and a strong sense of our
personal value to God to address conflict, we are unable to bring true
healing into tense situations. Instead, we use fleshly behaviors to

Murder (imagining our “adversaries” dead, wishing
something awful would happen to them to take them out of our lives)

Compensation and compliance (turning ourselves
inside out trying to please and bring peace)

Intimidation (alternating between the silent
treatment and outbursts of anger)

Avoidance or denial (pretending everything is all
right, tiptoeing around the problems, purposely staying away from the
person, living in emotional isolation)

Character assassination (disclosing our
adversaries’ faults, often in an exaggerated way, to others; attempting
to build our own credibility by destroying theirs).

It wasn’t until Jim and I met with a team of counselors
trained in inner healing that we learned how to grab hold of grace and
resolve the conflict in our lives. Amazingly, when I finally
acknowledged my own unfulfilled needs, gave up my self-righteous
compliance and told Jim that I would no longer take responsibility for
his anger, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. 

He showed me the truth: The sins of my heart were as
hellish as the sins of my husband’s temper. I had to embrace His grace
for my own inadequacies and sins.-

Jim encountered the true target of his anger: God. As he
began to forgive his parents, other authority figures, himself and
ultimately God for allowing his pain, the love of God penetrated his
heart and changed it forever. Met with forgiveness, truth was no longer a
thing to fear.

Jim needed God’s grace, too.

How we learn to deal with conflict as children affects how
we respond to one another as adults—in our homes, at church or in the
workplace. Although I loved God deeply, I was always unsure of His
approval. I knew I wasn’t perfect, so I lacked confidence when it came
to addressing unfairness or sin against me. Perhaps I believed I
deserved it.

I had learned compensation and avoidance behaviors in
tense situations, mistaking them for humility and peacemaking. I carried
those behaviors from childhood into marriage. For many years I also
engaged in them to deal with conflict in the ministry.

When I forgave my parents for portraying me to the world
as a model of perfection and myself for hiding my true feelings and
needs in order to protect God’s reputation, I realized God was more
interested in my being authentic in my relationships with Him and
others. I began to sense God’s complete acceptance whether I played the
“Christian role” correctly or not.

We must grasp the reality of grace. It provides a release
from thinking we have to be perfect in order to be loved. We have too
narrowly defined the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

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