Very early on in this pandemic, I was reading an article that suggested that a year from now, we will either see a spike in the divorce rate, or a spike in new births. That kind of thinking says a lot. On the one hand, if you have a great relationship with your spouse, having so much free time and being forced into close quarters may prove to be a blessing for your relationship. Sadly, this is not the case for everyone. In fact what I am hearing is that a number of people are experiencing increased levels of tension in their relationships.
While I often speak of growing up in a “Christian” home, I have to admit that my upbringing was far from simple. I witnessed a great deal of conflict in my childhood home. I was witness to, and at times a victim to, a great deal of yelling and verbal abuse, as well as physical violence. I raise this, because I can share with you from first hand experience that conflict in the home is not pleasant. But home life doesn’t have to be that way. So…if it doesn’t have to be this way, what can we do to fix things? What can we do so that our relationships are not as stressful?
In order to reduce the amount of tension in our relationships, we would all do well to consider some very important things:
1. For issues that impact us – distinguish if they are issues of preference or issues of sin
2. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
3. Communicate objectively, with gentleness and kindness
Let’s look at each of these in order. The first thing that we all need to do when an issue impacts us is to distinguish if it is an issue of preference or an issue of sin. All too often we get these mixed up. For example your thoughts on how I walk, how I hang the hand towels in the bathroom, the kinds of tires I put on my car, these are matters of preference. If someone in authority over me or working with me makes a decision that I don’t like or agree with, that also is a matter of preference, however I might interpret it. Some might argue that these actions might show laziness, a lack of love, or some other tendency, but now we have made some assumptions. On the other hand, if someone says something and it is proven to be false, then they have lied; and that is a sin. If someone says something offensive or derogatory about someone else either to their face or behind their backs, then they have gossiped, and that is also a sin. In his book “If You Bite And Devour One Another”, Alex Strauch makes a very helpful statement in light of James 4:11-12:
“Like Jesus and Paul, James does not forbid ‘right judgment.’ He sternly denounces sinful behavior and calls his readers to repent. At the same time, he forbids slander, abusive speech, and judgmental statements that are not rightfully ours to make against a brother or sister” (p. 82–Alexander Strauch)
Having figured out if the issue is sin or preference will help towards the second goal. The goal: show mercy as often as we possibly can. For most matters of preference, mercy is probably the best response. In fact nothing may need to be said at all (Proverbs 19:11). This would hold true for some sins as well. Not every sin needs or requires a confrontation. The Holy spirit may convict us of our every sin, but God does not reach out and execute judgment every time. In fact, it is His mercy (the fact that He doesn’t condemn us each time we sin) that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4). We need to remember that we are human and that we should be very careful to not play the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others.
This all leads to the third and final thing. We need to learn how to communicate more effectively. With regards to issues of preference, in many cases nothing needs to be said or done at all. We should just move on. Some issues are just not worth fighting over. Yet if the issue of preference is something that is causing great frustration and may lead to potential harm, then a conversation may be required. Here we need to be very careful to speak objectively about the issue and to be compassionate and patient as we work towards a solution. More significant issues of preference should be handled with gentleness and with an understanding that you may never win. There are some things we just need to accept.
The same principals of communication apply to matters of sin. If you have really wrestled with the issue, and you are sure that the sin is real and in fact has taken place, then again an objective conversation with lots of compassion may be called for. Regardless, if the issue is a preference or a sin, if you choose to move towards having a conversation, then remember the conversation needs to be bathed in love (patience, kindness, gentleness, etc). I once heard it said that if you love the person enough to confront them, then you will love them enough to walk through the repentance and healing and sanctification process with them as well. Remember, if you don’t handle the initial conversation well, you won’t be able to walk with them though the rest.
Probably the most crucial piece that has helped me in situations of conflict is to remember that I am a sinner saved by grace. Being a sinner, I most likely have contributed to the problem, at least to some degree. Some of us are very quick to evade blame. Our tendency should be the opposite. We should ask the question, “what have I contributed to the problem?”. Being saved by grace is a reminder to me of what I need and receive daily. I should give the same to others.
May God grant us all mercy and grace in our relationships.