I hate conflicts and difficult meetings – like 99% of the other leaders I know. My first reaction is to ignore, distract, rationalize, or blame someone – anything to avoid investing the necessary time and energy required to remove this “roadblock.”
Over the years, however, I have discovered deep gifts hidden in conflicts – provided we allow Jesus into the inner closets of old hurts, sealed-off infections, fear, and shame this new relational tension may touch inside us.
Consider Jacob. As a young man, he uses deceit to steal the birthright and blessing that rightfully belonged to his older brother, Esau. After 25 years with no contact between them, Jacob begins a journey back home. He decides to face the conflict head on and reconcile with Esau – if he can. In the midst of his fears about what might happen, a man, probably the pre-incarnate Jesus, wrestles with Jacob and strikes his hip out of joint (See Gen.32:22-31).
Here is how author John Paul Lederach describes it:
And the promise of God was not that all would be fine, or that all would be taken care of well ahead of his arrival. The promise was a simple “I will be with you.” … God promises to accompany him, to be present… The pathway through conflict toward reconciliation is filled with God-encounters, if we have the eyes to see… Conflict opens a path, a holy path, toward revelation and reconciliation.
Conflicts do offer us revelation about God and ourselves. But they also leave us limping—that is more broken and humble. God uses them to purge us of our pride, impatience, envy, and judgmentalism. It is part of his way to mature us into mothers and fathers of the faith.
Our problem is that this requires prayer, reflection, and feedback (often painful) from wise mentors and counselors. It requires time to grow in wisdom as we examine issues in all their complexity. It requires time to examine ourselves. And time, we don’t have. But if we don’t stay with God at this Wall and give it the time he asks, we will bounce off it and return to a similar, but different Wall of conflict later.
So let me ask you: What might be God’s invitation to you through a relationship difficulty that you are experiencing today?
Here is a prayer to consider: Lord, I long for the courage of Jacob—to move toward rather than away from those with whom I have conflict. The uncertainty scares me. But I also believe the promise that you will be with me. I ask that this journey in which I find myself becomes a path of revelation—a place in which I encounter you and myself— in a new way. In Jesus’ name, amen.
P.S. Let me invite you to pre-order the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship Courses Leaders’ Kit, which will be available to ship in just a few weeks. This will help you on this journey of meeting God and yourself in your conflicts.