Conflict Avoidance

Last week I had a client’s wife say something very profound.

“The absence of conflict is not connection.”

Dang! I hate that that saying is right. Sometimes I want so badly to just let sleeping dogs lie and not rock the boat. We’re okay if she’s not mad at me, right? Do we have to engage intense fellowship or can we just leave well enough alone?

You know the answer. I do too. Conflict is inevitable. I’ll even go a step farther and say, Conflict is vital.

Conflict is intimacy too, even though it often doesn’t feel like it. If we always agreed, all the time, not only would it be scary, but it would mean there is no diversity, no alternative view. We would remain stuck inside the same patterns of thinking that blew up our lives in the first place!

I love that Shelley challenges my thinking. I highly dislike the conflict, but when it’s there I know we have the opportunity to go deeper in our relationship. Now that’s different for me. I used to think every fight was just the next iteration of a setback; but it doesn’t have to be. We can go through it and grow through it. Here are 3 keys that help me navigate our conflicts for growth, both within myself and our relationship.

  1. Reminding myself that I’m not a monster. Silly as it sounds, when Shelley is mad at me it taps into my shame and within seconds I can feel like a big, dumb, idiot that has no business being in any type of relationship, much less a marriage. She can be mad at me for something innocuous, like not putting my shoes away, and I’ll tie it back to my infidelity and jerkiness (I just made that up) from early on in our marriage. Once that train has left the station, every stop it makes is onboarding more negative self talk. So I cannot allow it to depart. I have to fight the earliest inklings of shame with the truth.
    1. I am not that man anymore. I am a new man.
    2. God is redeeming me and us.
    3. I am dearly loved and infinitely valuable. I am not a monster.
  2. Reminding myself that she’s not a monster. It’s so tempting to make her out to be the villain. Truly, she didn’t wake up this morning to make me feel like an incompetent man or husband; as much as I’d like to assume she did. She didn’t. She isn’t trying to push my buttons (most of the time).
  3. Reminding myself to listen and try to understand. I want to be heard. I want to be understood. I want to feel respected and like my opinion matters. I want to know she actually cares what I have to say and think. I should get a little grace even if I raise my voice and act like a petulant child. I deserve the dignity of having a voice. Newsflash – so does she.  And in my Biblical understanding, I’m called to extend to her what I want and expect. I have to go first. So practically that means not interrupting, correcting, excusing, manipulating, downplaying, blameshifting or going into 50/50 mode. It’s 100/0 at that point. I am 100% responsible for modeling the love of Christ to her by giving her grace, listening and trying to understand. Then I can hope she’ll extend the same in return. Sometimes that happens in a back-and-forth, give and take sort of way. Sometimes that happens in a she-just-has-to-vent-and-I-need-to-zip-it sort of way. No what I mean? Oh and by the way, rarely does she tie something like my misplaced shoes to my infidelity. I do it way more than she does.

Remember, conflict is intimacy too. It doesn’t have to be a setback, in fact it can be a growth moment. I can tell you there have been so many fights that have later resulted in one or both of us saying Thank You to other one, because we saw and experienced such character in the other person, right in the middle of the conflict.

Hey Jesus, your sacrifice was wasted

I’m angry today. I’m frustrated. I’m hurt. I’m feeling overwhelmed and a little beat down. More than all that, I’m feeling a sense of resignation. Like giving up.

On what…you might ask…

On us.

I was on radio yesterday for 3 hours and story after story, caller after caller had the same situation. Someone in their life has basically looked Jesus in the eyes and said, “Hey, Jesus, your sacrifice was wasted on me. That whole ‘full life’ thing you talked about…nah, I’ll pass.”

Rather than resolve to live in humility, under God’s sovereign wing, surrendering to what he may be calling us to, we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into a dull, mediocre life justified with Scripture, rationalized with the realities of life’s difficulties, medicated with sex, money, alcohol, entertainment, sports and even church. We succumb to the gravitational pull towards brokenness, revenge, entitlement, greed, selfishness and perhaps worst of all, mediocrity.

I just can’t get my head around that Jesus came to earth, was beaten, abused, rejected, kicked out of his hometown, insulted, ridiculed and then murdered. For us. How many times during his life, especially in the 3yr period of his main ministry, did he think about cashing it in? So much easier to have been a fisherman. Or a tax collector. Or a pharisee. Anything other than following God’s call. Anything other than the way of pain and persecution.

But he didn’t give up. He didn’t resign. He didn’t give excuses for why it was too hard. He didn’t sit around pointing the finger at others, complaining about Peter being a hothead or Thomas being a whiner. He didn’t spend his time playing the victim card, trying to make some psychobabble justification for a mediocre life today based upon the fact that his parents forgot about him as a kid. He just, as best I can tell, woke up each day, looked it in the face, and adopted a posture of willingness to be led by the Spirit and committment to faithfully following the Father. He didn’t give up on me. Or you.

So I can’t resign or give up either. Because He didn’t. Hopefully, if you’re struggling with resignation, you won’t let it win the day. If nothing else, as an act of worship and a response to the model before us. Maybe today you decide to stop letting the past define your present, and ripoff your future. Perhaps today you decide to own your junk, and apologize to the people whom you love and have hurt the most. Maybe today you decide that it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, but you’ll be the one to take the first step towards fixing it. I hope so.

**UPDATE**

Strangely enough, after I sat down to write today, I saw Shelley’s latest post. I wanted you to see it too. Turns out we’re channeling the same wavelength – https://rlforwomen.com/whats-breaking-my-heart-today/

The Conclusion of Love

I’m glad to be wrapping this up! Let’s jump right in.

Love does not delight in evil. The verse characterizes evil as unrighteousness of heart and life. It means that true love does not delight in someone’s misfortune or disgrace. You ever have those moments where you hear, perhaps even second-hand, about someone’s misfortune and there’s a sick little enjoyment that you get out of it? No? Oh, me neither.

Loving well means taking no pleasure in someone else’s difficulties. Further, love rejoices with the truth. It is to be delighted when truth is spoken, even sometimes when the truth hurts.

Here’s how this plays out at my house. Shelley is pretty meticulous, and manages life by files. I, on the other hand, manage life by piles. I forget things, misplace things, and often my mistakes will negatively impact her. She has become TREMENDOUSLY gracious about these things, yet sometimes still gets pretty frustrated with me. When she gets this way, I feel stupid because I’ve made a mistake, and incompetent because I can’t seem to stop making silly mistakes. Here’s the catch; every once in a while Shelley makes a silly mistake too. Minor things, you know, like forgetting to pick up a neighbor’s 2nd grader after school. Then I’m faced with a choice. I can rub it in and remind her that she’s not perfect, so she shouldn’t expect me to be perfect. Or I can engage empathy and help her navigate the embarrassment and shame of her mistake. Pretty clear at this point what Love does, right?

This leads to the first of the “all” or “always” verses depending on translation. In effect, these ‘always’ statements are summaries of what has already been said. I wonder why Paul felt it important to restate them in this way?

Love always protects tops the list. In the scenario above, to love Shelley would be to protect her from further embarrassment, to empathize with her out of my own mistakes, and to shield her from any ongoing shame from someone else or even from herself.

Next, love always trusts. The connotation here is, in an ethical sense, to have confidence in the goodness of man. I appreciate this. My friend Paul was recently talking about this and it rang true for me. He said sometimes when he sees people driving crazy and being dangerous in traffic, rather than write them off and label them as reckless, he assumes they have a good reason for it. Maybe they are late for a funeral or their wife is going into labor. Perhaps they’re trying to get to the most important job interview of their life. Love, always trusting, assumes the best, not the worst in people.

Love always hopes and endures or perseveres. To always hope means to hold out for the best possible to outcome. It means not jumping to conclusions but instead waiting for the final verdict. Innocent until proven guilty. And to endure simply means to be patient and longsuffering, especially under pressure. This circles back directly to the opening statement in Paul’s passage – Love is Patient.

Finally, closing out the whole thing, love never fails. The term used here means to perish or fall. So, the verse is saying love never perishes, or never falls. Love will survive any war waged against it, will make way through any obstacle, will move mountains if it has to, all in maintaining its existence. Love isn’t going away.

It is fitting that in 1 John 4:8 we see that God is Love. The Greek word used in that verse is agape’; in other words, God embodies all that we’ve been describing love to be.

So where does this leave us? What difference does all this make?

Love isn’t one action, isn’t a feeling, isn’t a just mindset. It’s more than just being nice. Love is a way of life, brought about by the Holy Spirit in us. It is the byproduct of a mysterious interaction between our intentions and God’s intentions, between our will to live well and God’s sanctifying work in us. It isn’t simply there; it is developed. It has to be honed, crafted, and practiced. By God’s grace we learn to follow his prompts, to behave differently, to be different. Living in a loving way is worshipful, delighting a father watching his kids honor himself.

My big takeaway from all this is simply: One of the highest forms of worship is Loving my wife well.