Friday, October 17, 2014

Teamwork: Dealing with Conflict (Part 2)

"If you're not fighting, you're not trying hard enough."

I have met couples who claim to have never had a fight. Usually the woman is gushing about how wonderful her man is, as he stands silent nearby. I've known the woman for less than 1 minute and already she is driving me crazy, and I wonder "How does he stand this?" I don't believe it. The lack of conflict doesn't represent true happiness (the present of constant conflict doesn't either).  The truth is: Every couple, every team has conflict. Handling conflict well is a skill that we all should learn. There are times when even mature Christians need help resolving conflicts. Godly skillful marriage counsellors have been a great blessing to my wife and I. They helped us deal with hurts and issues that we didn't know how to handle. 

When I read Paul's letter to the Christians at Philippi I was surprised that he mentioned an interpersonal conflict between 2 church members. Can you imagine Pastor Jorge writing a letter to Jubilee Church, a letter that will be read out loud to the whole congregration, and near the end of the letter, the person who is reading the letter stops. Their face turns red, they clear their throat several times, then continue "Please tell Shirley and Ailyn to stop fighting." What would you think? Yet that is what Paul does. Here is what he said:

"So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends! I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:1-9
I'm not sure I would have wanted Paul for my marriage counselor, but his letter to Philippi gives some valuable advice on helping people resolve conflicts. Notice how he handles things:

  1. He AFFIRMS the VALUE of those involved in conflict calling them "my joy and crown", "dear friends", "coworkers, whose names are in the book of life." Paul reminds them of their true identity as children of God and of their destiny - eternal life in the kingdom of God.

    Conflicts often arise because one party or the other feels "slighted" or "de-valued". It is almost always unintentional, but is often the root of many conflicts. If you're called to be a mediator, it might be good to start by affirming both parties.
  2. He brings in a MEDIATOR. Paul recruits a 3rd party to counsel and help these two sisters. When we get stuck, we need someone to help us get unstuck. Assuming that these ladies would like to experience healing in their relationship, a 3rd party can help. BTW, I would be willing to bet that they were, at one time, best friends.
  3. He REMINDS them of their GOOD PAST. They had a history and much of it was good. At one time in the past they had beautiful teamwork and along with Paul helped start the church at Philippi. Remember the good times. Remember that vacation when we drove our little car hundreds of miles into the wilderness looking for hot springs. We drove down roads that were closed for the winter and when we finally  arrived we found the hot springs were closed for the winter too. To stay warm we huddled under thin blankets together and drove back the next morning, joyful and laughing at how crazy we were. The car was covered in mud from tire to top, we were exhausted, yet happy. Remember those times... Good memories help bring healing.
  4. He ROOTS them in JESUS. "Rejoice in the LORD." It's a command, not a suggestion. My life is to be so rooted in Christ, that whatever slight I think life has thrown my way, it doesn't matter. I rejoice in the Lord. "The Lord is near!" - Many take this as a reference to the 2nd coming of Christ, but it can just as easily mean "the Lord is here. He is with you. He will supply all you needs and give you grace and help. Call on him!" When I have a conflict with another person, I am not helpless, I am not a victim. I have the resources of my heavenly Father to help me. When I no longer have love or patience to deal with a difficult person or situation, God will supply me with the love and patience I need. 

  5. He tells them to PRAY. When I'm angry at someone, I DO NOT want to pray. I want to stay angry, so I want to stay away from God. I don't want to talk to them, and I don't want to talk to God. I know if I talk to God, that if I listen to God then He will tell me to talk to them. So I hide. Paul challenges them to pray. If you begin talking to God about the conflict, then God will show you what to do. If you obey you will experience personal peace in your soul, and interpersonal peace in your relationship. It might take time for the other party to forgive you and reconcile with you, but you will be at peace.
  6. Finally he tells them to FOCUS on the POSITIVE.
    whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
    When someone makes us angry we focus solely on their weaknesses and overlook all their good points. "My employer called me "stupid" when I ruined her favorite dress, so i want to resign." "Oh, okay. Does she make you work on your days off? "Oh no, I get every holiday off with pay and every Sunday too." Oh, okay. Does she cheat you on your pay? "Oh no, she pays more than the minimum and at Chinese New Year they gave me a big bonus." Oh, okay. Is she usually unkind? "Oh no. She has given me clothes and presents for my kids. She let me go home for my daughter's graduation." So you still want to resign? "Well she called me 'stupid' and I can't stand that."

    The person you are angry with is probably has some good points also. Instead of focusing on their flaws and weaknesses, why not focus on their strengths? Focusing on their strengths instead of their flaws and your heart attitudes toward them will begin to change. You will begin seeing their value and God given uniqueness.  

Conflict is messy. It brings out the worst in us and in the ones we love. It can also help us deal with our sins and weakness and grow stronger as Christians. Strong teams know how to fight well. It's a skill we all we need to learn.