Dealing with conflict has been a weak spot for the majority of my life. Conflict mostly occurs when my will is called into question. Whether what I want is for the good of others or the good of me; conflict happens when what I want done is questioned or not carried out. Explaining conflict as a proverbial “run in with a bull”, the first two and a half decades of my life could be characterized as “shooting the bull.” My parents were also were bull shooters.* They didn’t just take the bull by the horns; they resorted to shooting the bull; domineering a situation and/or persons until their way or will was the only one present. This was my way.
I do possess Empathy, which doesn’t mean I actually feel the same feelings as someone else, it means I often know what others are thinking and feeling. Not in a creepy mind reader sort of way, but quite practically, when your parents are bull shooters, you learn to read body language, tone of voice, and nuance like reading a book, because in fact you don’t want to be shot. However this “strength” can also be used against people, knowing (or having a pretty good hunch) what other people are thinking or feeling can be used to manipulate for my own good, not the good of another. In my own way I learned to shoot the bull.
In the third decade-ish of my life two things changed my approach. 1. I learned that shooting the bull didn’t exactly work. 2. I began to realize how I had hurt people. I wanted to be like Jesus and I found out I wasn’t. So under the counsel of some well meaning ladies; I was taught that a godly woman always submits in conflict. I call this period, “being run over by the bull.”
I kept my Empathy strength to myself, and avoided conflict like the plague. While for certain Christians are called to submit, this was at the cost of my true self. Total submission in conflict (squashing my true self) was far from peaceful. Resentment and anger were just below the surface, and sometimes would break the surface in a manner unfortunate to behold.
In decade number four-ish, I began to wonder if there was another way.
About seven years ago through some teachings on love and conflict I began to think about the definition of love being “to will the good of another.”(Dallas Willard)
Everyone knows the passages in 1 Cor. 13 and 1 John 4 on love, and of course the fruit (evidence) of the Spirit is love Gal. 5, but I never thought to meditate upon them in light of conflict and with the definition that love is “to will the good of another.” Over the course of a few years I started to reflect on this before responding, when faced with a conflict.
Sometimes the very best good of another is to engage in the conflict in the most loving manner I can.
Sometimes loving another means making space for the will of another, submission.
Conflict is becoming a way to know the will of another (because listening is perhaps the most important step). It is also becoming a practice in discernment (listening to the Spirit), knowing if I am to lay my own will down, or if I should indeed, pick it up. I am learning that even if I have a loving intention doesn’t mean things will work out.
I am learning to accept that I will be misunderstood, Jesus was. I have to let that go. I am not in charge of outcomes.
This process for me is an exercise in the converging of my emotional life (exposed by conflict) and a contemplative (listening, reflecting) approach that is melding into life transformation.
What about you? How do you approach conflict? How we handle conflict in the intimate setting of our families is formational, for good or ill. What does conflict look like in your home?
* I want to add that my parents have also been transformed by a life with Christ and they no longer are “bull shooters.” In fact one reason I believe that we can be changed by Christ is because I have witnessed it in my parents.