None of us feel comfortable in conflict situations. Sure, there are people who provoke conflict and run toward it head on. But even they are not exactly happy in the heat of conflict. Equally likely, they will later regret at least some of what they said.
Then, there are others who avoid or ignore even the hint of a disagreement or conflict for as long as they possibly can. But eventually, they will also very likely regret what they left unsaid.
Whether you are like a rhinoceros, charging into conflict, or you are like a hedgehog withdrawing and curling up to hurt anyone who comes near, conflict often does get the better of all of us.
And so, quite often in life, we find ourselves reflecting on how we could have handled conflict in better way. This is a good and useful question to engage with. But this is not enough.
First, we need to truly understand how our hearts feel during conflict. And second, we need to unravel why our hearts feel this way.
There is a deeper question that needs greater attention: How do we manage our souls in conflict situations?
This question goes way past conflict management skills. First, we need to truly understand how our hearts feel during conflict. And second, we need to unravel why our hearts feel this way. What are the affections that lie beneath the whirlwind of emotions we experience during conflict?
I recently spent about 90 minutes with a small group of close friends. All of them are pastors like myself. And unsurprisingly, all of them struggle in conflict, just like I do.
My greatest takeaway from this conversation was if we are willing to reflect humbly and talk with friends vulnerably, previous conflicts can serve as gifts, like a window through which we can gaze deeper at the true and deep affections of our hearts.
Sometimes it takes nothing less than a conflict to bring us this clarity. If we are humble and vulnerable, conflicts often help us see what we were previously unable to see.
In my conversation with these friends, we used a few reflective questions through which we helped each other look deeper into our own hearts. You may find these questions helpful. If you do, please do consider finding your band of sisters or brothers with whom you can process this for the shalom of your own heart.
- Take a few minutes to humbly and prayerfully look back and reflect on the last 3-4 conflict situations you have experienced.
- What was your general posture in this conflict — to engage or to avoid?
- How did you engage in conflict in a good way? Or how did you delay (or better put, wait for a wise time) conflict in a good way?
- How did you engage in conflict in a sinful way? How did you avoid conflict in a sinful way?
- Did you ever ‘lose it’ in your last 3-4 conflict situations? In other words, did you experience extreme, disproportionately intense or even uncontrollable emotions like anger (even rage), or sadness or fear?
- What triggered these extreme emotions? Deep inside your heart, what was it that was threatened leading to this explosion of emotion?
- How differently would those emotions have played out if you were more secure in Christ and more trusting in God’s sovereignty?
- Lastly, how do you need to repent for this lack of security and trust? How can you grow in experiencing the sufficiency of Christ by faith?
Go ahead and find your friends with whom you can reflect on these questions. And if you find it helpful, share it with others.