I wish I never had to deal with conflict. I am a card-carrying conflict avoider. Whatever the reason (character, context, sin, etc.) I would rather run away from conflict than take it head on. It wasn’t until I began my training as a counselor at nearly thirty-years-old that someone explained conflict didn’t always have to do damage. In fact, it was possible to have conflict with a person and to feel closer to them in the wake of it.
This was a revolutionary idea to me. However, skilled conflict doesn’t come easy. It requires dedication, persistence and the willingness to forgive when things go poorly. In other words, it mirrors the rest of our Christian walk.
Scripture has something to say to us in this regard. While studying Colossians 3:12–17, I was taken by the fact that these attributes — which we are to cultivate in our lives as Christians — should be exercised both externally (to the world) and internally (to our Christian brothers and sisters). I think Colossians 3:12 specifically helps us to get a bit of a roadmap for what it looks like for Christians to struggle alongside and with one another:
It is no surprise that compassion is the first attribute listed for Paul. Compassion is the emotion most often ascribed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; Lk. 8:13; Matthew 9:38, 14:14, 15:82; Mark 6:34, 8:2).
To be compassionate means to be moved, deeply, by the state of another. In order to be moved by someone’s condition, we must struggle to understand his or her condition. It means rushing to hear rather than to speak (Proverbs 18:13). It means being willing to understand how they’ve been hurt, even when you are the one who has done the wounding. This is especially difficult when both parties feel that they’ve been wronged. However, it is a sign of spiritual maturity to be the first one to lay aside (if only temporarily) one’s own feelings in order to listen to someone else’s.
Kindness is compassion in action. Be willing to show through your actions that even in the midst of conflict you still love and care for one another. Nothing can escalate a conflict more quickly than a poorly placed eye roll, shrug, or sigh. Body language and tone of voice are crucial to communicating care in tense times. Being kind also means guarding your thoughts and your words. Constructive communication is so often times scuttled in advance as both parties stew in their own thoughts and feelings of hurt and anger.
Confront those thoughts. Remind yourself that you, too, are a sinner who desperately needs grace (Romans 3:23). Pray prayers of thanksgiving for God’s provision of forgiveness in your life and beseech the Lord that you would reflect some of that back to the person with whom you are in conflict (Colossians 3:13).