Conflict is the “elephant in the room” of all relationships – we either want to ignore it or focus completely on it. Yet as Kingdom people, how do we deal with conflict in ways that reflect Christ on the cross? In the fourth week of our series, “Next Level Relationships,” Osheta Moore shows us how to tell better stories about those who seem like our enemies, while seeing each other as fellow image-bearers of God, and never enemies.
How do we reflect the love of Jesus in our relationships when things get messy instead of running away? How do we follow Jesus to live out the call of peacemakers in our relationships? Conflict makes many of us uncomfortable. One reason for this is because we haven’t been equipped as peacemakers. We can stay rooted in relationships – with God and each other. We need to keep in mind that we are a hot mess. All of us. How do we keep this in mind an navigate conflict in a healthy, Kingdom way? By:
- Accessing our empathy
- Telling better stories of those we are in conflict/at odds with
Our culture’s perspective tells us that when relationships get hard, we should abandon them and move on, because life is short and “we don’t have time for that.” To have this kind of response seems quite natural…but Jesus offers a new, Kingdom-paradigm, that we would hold an ethic of endurance and perseverance in our relationships, one that He modeled this in His death on the cross.
Where the world sees relationships as easily dispensable, the Kingdom perspective sees relationships as the primary crucible by which our characters are formed and shaped into the character of Jesus. Perseverance and commitment in relationships become crucial kingdom qualities that we must cultivate.
Our culture says that over-difficult relationships are toxic and should be exited quickly. But Jesus shows us an alternative vision – a vision of agape love. Love which would rather die than live without us.
We need to see conflict as something we need to stay the course in.
Context: The Church in Rome was made up of 5 different house churches. Many people became skeptical of Paul’s leadership and were outspoken in stirring up conflict against him. Yet they were also the church of Jesus Christ – proclaiming the Reign of God under a brutal empire. The Apostle Paul encourages them to stay the course, and move through their conflict (from without and within), to manifest the work of the Holy Spirit in their homes and communities, and be reshaped from brokenness into wholeness.
Many of us are in this place of intense relationships with friends, or coworkers, or family members, and we don’t know how to live in agape love. Despite our best intentions, we end up getting dragged into the orbit of offenses. And because of differing perspectives, and/or external pressures, we feel rifts that seem deeper than journeying from brokenness into wholeness. Many times, we’re not quite sure how to resist the cultural way of “cutting your losses and running” and instead pivoting to run into the Kingdom. Because if we’re not rooted in the love of Christ, we become quick to end the relationships, and most likely lack a vision of wholeness.
We must begin by asking, “Do we see conflict in relationships as an opportunity to see endurance, and character, and hope flourish…or do we see conflicts in relationships as a problem that we need to fix?” If we see it as a Kingdom opportunity, then we are less likely to give up when things seem difficult. We’ll be willing to stick through the misunderstanding and the tears, be more vulnerable in the midst of that conflict, cease to view others as our enemies and more inclined to be gentle with them, more likely to stick through the hard conversations and more inclined to listen.
Because we’ll have a vision of shalom.
Shalom = the world as it should be; whole (nothing missing, nothing broken)
The main question we need to ask about how to infuse this into our relationships, is to ask, ‘How do I tell better stories about those I’m in conflict with?”
Osheta tells a story about when she began thinking about this. Her son was called a racial slur…by a teacher. She wanted to hate this person and make him feel as small (just like he made her son feel). But she didn’t. She recalled Philippians 4:8, and let that determine her course of action. When she wanted to verbally destroy that person, but instead she chose a Kingdom way – she asked whether it’s lovely, pure, noble, excellent, or praiseworthy. Because if we don’t, we risk leaning into accusations and giving space for bitterness to fester. We become in danger of losing our greatest tool as we partner with the Holy Spirit: our empathy. Our empathy can accomplish wholeness quicker than anger and rage.
People (fellow divine-image-bearers) are never our enemy. But sometimes we forget this. We can remember that our enemy is one whom is just beyond our empathy.
Osheta used the example of Moana, who lived on an island until the island’s resources began to deteriorate. Moana learns of the story of her world and sets out to restore the land and defeat the forces of evil. But when she comes face to face with the enemy, she doesn’t fight it with “power over,” but instead she come under, with love and kindness, and tells her a new story – who she truly is. She saw her true identity, and made it known – and it broke the darkness and made the wholeness through the light. She saw, and told, a better story.
This is exactly what Jesus did on the cross – this is how we can access empathy and take our relationships to the next level. He proclaimed that we are worthy of forgiveness, not punishment.
When He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing,” He was saying:
- You are not the bloodthirsty mob I see before me…you are lost children in need of restoration
- You are not malicious and violent…you are terrified of vulnerability
- You are not scheming and manipulative…you know not what you do.
On the cross, Jesus told a better story about us, and we can tell a better story about others. We can manifest cross–shaped love in our relationships. We can call out the good in those who we are in conflict with and be a part of seeing them flourish.
Osheta told of a time when she made someone upset at her kids’ school, and this person came out and yelled at her. When Osheta’s kids got in the car, she asked them to “help me tell a better story about her
“We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in light of what they suffer.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Give them a backstory. When we’re tempted to assign negative intent to them, either use your holy imagination to assign a positive fictional story to them as an exercise, or seek out to learn their true backstory. Then, ask yourself, “How can I remind this person that they are loved?”
It takes all our energy we have to get fighting others, and turns it into energy to get to loving other fellow image-bearers.
Will we be vulnerable enough to do this?
One Caveat: there are some instances where building the Imago Dei means taking yourself out of the equation, and ceasing to enable their negative behavior. These are truly toxic relationships and the most Kingdom thing to do is to step away and find someone who can help them.
May we our pain and hurt and bitterness to God, so that we can get our sense of worth and identity from Him, and not from the state of the relationship that you’re in – because you’re already beloved…and out of that belovedness, you can go tell a better story about other’s belovedness.
Are you willing to be a better storyteller for others, so that you can take your relationships to the next level?
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