That’s how a good friend confesses how he can generate unwarranted conflict. And that “thing” is the root of how I can get so tied up in knots, and often the reason we all explode in angry declarations or in icy silences when conflict erupts. And many of us – even in the church -- go to great lengths to control people, places and things. Such methods demonstrate a hard heart, and an unsoundness of mind; this type of control can generate needless conflict.
Not all conflict is bad – great solutions are often forged from opposing points of view. Frank A. Clark, a newspaper writer known as "The Country Parson," wrote, "We find comfort among those who agree with us - growth among those who don't. "
Humans disagree; we take different positions because we are many and varied. Conflict is part of life – it shouldn’t be surprise me. (John 16:33) But it always does.
Recently, I’ve experienced two painful examples of folks going to great lengths to get their way. In both cases the folks who asserted control inflamed a smoldering conflict and my feelings were singed because of how both chose to express their frustrations. (So also, others’ feelings were hurt.)
One person with “a control thing” kept a fight going after her death – using her will to pronounce judgment in a conflict that started fifty-four years ago. Another person immortalized her displeasure with me in a public e-mail; when she hit “send,” she communicated the same kind of public condemnation as the will. Both people had conflicts they sought to control instead of resolve. Both people wounded others who read their words.
But will their angry words gain them the desired control over the people and situations? Did they “win” the conflicts because they got the last word?
The person who chose to get the last word in the will is beyond all that now, and I can’t be a part of resolving a conflict taken to the grave. How she did what she did, though, changed how I will remember her – robbing me of the assurance she was a friend. Painful as this is, her method of control reminds me, if I can’t overlook an offense, go to the person and talk it out. If that doesn’t work out, remember what Thumper’s mom advised: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Now, the author of the very public e-mail achieved a measure of control – public scolding stings. And I hope God will use what was written in anger, for good. Though she insisted I never contact her again, I hope I have the courage, when God makes a way, to reconcile this painful breech.
Letting go of resentment is a first step. A quote from a children’s classic wisely counsels how to let go of people, places and things:
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget!"
"You will, though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it.
~Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1872
A bigger step is remembering I don’t control other people.
- People are different and want different things. That’s the SPARK of conflict.
- Differences get worse when sinful selfishness and pride drive our actions. That’s the GASOLINE of conflict.
- Destruction results when we . . . allow our sinful desires [to drive] our words and actions. That’s the FIRE of conflict. (Ken Sande, Resolving Everyday Conflict, pp 11-12)
I say I am a follower of Christ – that means I know He did not die and leave me in charge. (Matthew 6:25-34) Therefore, let go of anger! “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret." (Ambrose Bierce) And being willing to let go and let God act, listening before I speak – or write -- might dampen the embers of resentment and fireproof a few of our more combustible relationships.
"O that you would be completely silent, And that it would become your wisdom!" (Job 13:5)