Last weekend, we continued our series through James by considering the root causes of conflict. I don’t know anyone who is immune from relational conflict. Broken relationships affect all of us.
James gives us the anatomy of quarrels and fights – our passions that are at war within us. These are selfish pleasures, desires that we seek to fulfill in any given relationship. Desires turn into expectations, and when those expectations are inevitable unfulfilled, we experience disappointment expressed through some form of punishment (withdrawal, irritability, anger, the silent treatment, the list goes on…)
It’s an inconvenient truth that no matter how grievous the wrong done, there is always a mutual ownership that needs to take place if conflict is to be resolved. Before God, I can and must own that which I can own in any given conflict. This ownership needs to happen at the level of our desires/passions.
Jesus illustrates as much in Matt 7:3-5:
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
What a vivid picture. Imagine pointing out a stain on someone’s shirt while your clothes are completely covered in mud. Pretty foolish. While it’s easy to see the wisdom of Jesus’ illustration, it’s much harder to consider logs when we’re in the midst of a conflict. Emotions run high. Defensiveness blinds us. Words cut deep. All we can think of is what the other person did/didn’t do, said/didn’t say. And when we’re the one hurt, it’s even more difficult to examine our own log. Frankly, I’d rather just swing that log around and take someone’s head off.
So how do we examine the log in our eye? How do we do it at the level of our desires? Way too many years ago, I read a now out-of-print book by Joyce Huggett called, “Conflict: Friend or Foe?” She was the first person to suggest that maybe I had more responsibility for a conflict than I wanted to admit. She lists a set of questions to consider about my own desires. I have found them so helpful for all sorts of conflicts and uncomfortable situations.
In thinking about the person you’re in conflict with:
- What are my expectations/desires?
- Are they realistic?
- What do I appreciate about the person with whom I am in conflict?
- What is it about me that refuses to acknowledge the good?
- Are we for each other or against each other?
- What is it about me that does not want to support him/her?
- What is it about me that needs to change?
These are not easy questions, but if you’ll take a step of meekness and courage to do some reflection and praying, I think you’ll begin to experience a new way to approach and resolve conflict.