Conflict, Forgiveness, and Speaking the Truth in Love

Sometimes I’m wrong and sometimes I’m right.

And sometimes I want others to know that I think I am right.

And sometimes it doesn’t matter whether I am wrong or right.

Because when it comes to a disagreement or conflict, there’s more at stake than whether one is wrong or right. There is also the relationship between the people who disagree. There is the effect their disagreement has on others. Conflict between two parties can often have a powerful gravitational pull that draws others into its orbit.

That, and conflicts consist of a great deal more than reasons and arguments and opinions. Being the whole creatures that we are, emotions play a huge role in disagreements too. While someone once said, and I think it’s true, that “facts don’t care about your feelings,” the opposite is also true in personal conflict. Feelings also don’t care about your facts. It’s not always what we say but how we say it. And even whether we choose to say it now or later or at all. Maybe some things don’t need to be said.

But even when something has to be said, we need to take much more into consideration than our reasons for believing we’re right and the other person is wrong. How will our words land when we say them? Are we saying them just to prove a point? And if we’re all worked up over the issue, are we speaking simply to vent and express our emotions?

Ephesians 4:15 tells us that followers of Jesus ought to be people who practice speaking the truth in love. Practice, indeed. Because I can do neither of these things perfectly. I don’t have exclusive rights to the truth. Others have their perspective on the issue causing conflict. Nor am I capable of speaking anything true in a 100% loving way. Pride and self-centredness infiltrate every word I try to speak in love.

Paul’s words, though, at the very least make one thing clear. Always avoiding conflict to preserve relationships and to keep the peace isn’t the answer either. I grew up with that idea, however. I know what it’s like to be in an environment where people swept hard feelings under the living room rug. It could make for an uncomfortable situation where I was made to feel like I was in the wrong simply for disagreeing or being critical. I learned to avoid conflict, to push emotions away, and even as an adult I can find it very hard to have difficult conversations. Confrontations are not my favourite thing. On the flight or fight spectrum, I am on the far end of the flight side. That’s not always a good thing.

Yet I also understand. I get why people don’t want to face conflict. Words can wound. Even when that’s not our intention. We don’t always mean to say hurtful things. Funny that as kids we were taught to say “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well, let’s call that what it is: a lie.

Even Scripture knows this is a lie. In James 3:5–6 it says How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. Later in verses 9–10 it says this of the tongue: With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. James is speaking to Christians here, not non-Christians. Believers do this sometimes.

Conflicts and disagreements are not centrally about issues but about people. And people–you and me–are messy. Sometimes we want our way. Sometimes we argue out of spite or out of a sense of self-righteousness. We want to be right, believe ourselves to be right, and we want the other person to accept that we’re right. And sometimes when someone speaks hard words to us–even if we know those words are true–we don’t want to admit it. We dig in our heels. Our defenses go up. Maybe we say things we regret. In the worst of conflicts, bridges are burned and relationships rent asunder. When this happens, who cares if we’re right? Not if we end up hurting and being hurt. Not if homes end up broken and churches end up split. No one wins when this happens.

What answers do I have? Can I pass on 3 easy steps to prevent disagreements and confrontations? You know, to make sure we never get ourselves into such a mess?

Unfortunately, no. I think we will often get these things at least a little wrong. Indeed, sometimes we handle them very poorly.

And when this happens, as it inevitably will, what will we do? Paul, in Colossians 3:13 says that disciples of Jesus ought to make a habit of forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. True, we could spend hours talking about forgiveness, what it means, and how to practice it in the church and in our lives.

But in the context of conflict, I think it can mean that even if we’re right, we might have to ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness for how we handled a conversation. Forgiveness for the way we tried to get our point across. Forgiveness for ignoring how someone else feels.

We all need to give and receive forgiveness for how we use our words and for how we misunderstand the words of others.

If we’re Christians, we don’t really have a choice. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven–not just by other sinful people, but by God himself. To live into the forgiveness we have received through our Lord, we need to become forgiving people.

In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12), Jesus teaches us to pray these words:

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Is Jesus making our forgiveness conditional on our forgiving others? Perhaps see it this way. If we refuse to forgive, do we really understand what it means that Jesus forgives us of our sins? If we have received forgiveness from Jesus, won’t we become the sort of people who are willing to extend forgiveness to others who hurt us? Didn’t we hurt Jesus with our sin profoundly more than anyone has ever hurt us?

How good is Jesus to give us such words to pray? Don’t we all need them as a regular reminder?

Sometimes I’m wrong and sometimes I’m right. But whichever is the case, a conflict is not primarily about winning the argument but winning the relationship. When we speak the truth, we ought to do so in love. And when we or someone else fails to do one or the other, forgiveness ought to follow close behind.

Lord, have mercy.

A Profound Statement on Grief

What is grief, if not love persevering?

Vision, “WandaVision”

One of the things my son Eli (12 years old) and I love doing together is watching Marvel movies and now TV shows. One of the new Marvel TV shows is called WandaVision, and it follows what happens to the character of Wanda Maximoff after the events of Avengers: Endgame.

While movies and TV shows about super-heroes are not the most meaningful form of art, there are times when they tap into our hopes, fears, and longings quite effectively. WandaVision, while not a perfectly executed story, is largely about grief–and, in particular, how Wanda is processing her grief over a deeply wounding loss.

There was one quiet, character moment that struck me. I thought what the character of Vision said in that scene was so perceptive I made sure to remember it. He posed it as a question: “What is grief, but love persevering?”

Wow. That’s a profound statement.

Think about grief for a moment. It is something we all know and experience. Some more than others. None of us can escape having to deal with it. And we experience grief because we experience loss, most significantly the loss of someone we love. Our grief in the present is love on the other side of loss. Simply because someone we love has died doesn’t mean our love ends. For grief, like Vision says so insightfully, is simply love persevering.

Without giving spoilers, I will say that WandaVision ended on a note of hope that perhaps our grief will one day be undone. I don’t know what that means for the Marvel universe of super-heroes, but I do know that for those who believe in Jesus and his resurrection, such hope needn’t be mere fantasy but can be clung to like reality. So even though we grieve, we do not do so in despair. Instead, we cling to the words of the apostle Paul:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

My Story Part 17: Fatherhood

Sometimes even if I can’t recall all the details of a dream, I can remember the way the dream made me feel. And years ago I had a dream in which I had a little boy, a son–I was a father! I don’t remember much else, whether in the dream I was also married or even whether I had adopted him or was his biological dad. But I woke up that day with a deep sense of joy and longing. Like I had experienced something wonderful but that was now slipping away.

When I had that dream, I was single. I could only imagine experiencing fatherhood. It felt a world away. But it was only a few years later when I was standing in a delivery room as my wife was giving birth to our firstborn, our daughter. That moment is etched in my memory. It was October 7, 2004, 11:42pm. Our little girl emerged into the world eyes wide open, curious and beautiful, changing our lives forever.

That was more than 16 years ago now. Less than 5 years after her arrival, our twin sons came along; and ever since our family life has been filled with ups, downs, unexpected twists and turns, tears and laughter.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s truly amazing is how different our kids are from one another. Each has their own beautiful uniqueness that has stamped itself on our hearts. Watching them grow, learn, deal with life, and learning as parents how to navigate it with them, is indeed the highest calling I have ever had. Not that I always do this well or am a fount of wisdom in every moment. Even they have seen me make mistakes. But what a joy and privilege it continues to be to have these young souls in my life.

Yet, even though I am their father, their Dad, Papa, Daddy, I can’t control them or determine how their lives will go in the years ahead. Not that I want to do this. But don’t all parents want to help their kids avoid pitfalls and struggles, to ensure their greatest possible happiness in this life? Yet, they will have to make choices, sometimes hard ones. Our kids will make poor choices. And we will have to watch. They will have to take what we’ve been able to give them as parents and figure out how to navigate the waters they find themselves sailing.

No wonder parenting is a bittersweet joy, one tinged with sadness and unfulfilled longing. Because even now I can look back and wish some things had been different for them. I wish my daughter never had to deal with mental health issues. I wish all of them still had both of their grandmothers around. I wish that one of our sons and our daughter didn’t have some of the difficulties they do in getting along more consistently. I wish they didn’t have to experience disappointment, rejection, fear, and pain.

Of course, now is the time when I ponder the parallels between me being a Dad and what it must be like for our heavenly Father. He sees our individual uniqueness and beauty. He sees our failings and brokenness. Seeing all of this, his love for us exceeds every conceivable boundary. And he longs for us to know this love, to rest in this love, to find in his love peace, solace, comfort, and joy. When we fall short, he remains there. His love for us is undeterred by our straying hearts and lives. He waits to embrace us once again. We are always welcome home.

I want to be this kind of father for my children.

Not having had a father growing up, not having known father love during my most formative years, I repeatedly, frequently, insistently, and annoyingly tell each of my kids I love them. All. The. Time. I want my love for them to be bedrock in a world where there’s so little upon which they can rely. And I want, more than anything, for my love to point them, to open their hearts and lives up, to the love of their heavenly Father. Where I fail them, he will not. When I cannot protect them, he can be their refuge and strength. And when I am no longer a part of their lives because I have gone on to my eternal rest, he will still be with them. There’s nothing I want more for them than to know this love, to receive it, and to live and die being held by it.

Much like in that dream years ago, being a father brings me great joy. There are moments when I almost can’t believe how blessed I am. I look at my kids and I feel wonder. Indeed, what strange, wondrous creatures they are! Surely, this is an imperfect joy, one which includes its measure of sadness and longing, but for all that fills me with a gladness I thought I would never know.

Except perhaps in a dream.

“Banks”

“I wanna hold you close but never hold you back, just like the banks to the river

And if you ever feel like you are not enough, I’m gonna break all your mirrors

I wanna be there when the darkness closes in to make the truth a little clearer

I wanna hold you close but never hold you back, I’ll be the banks for your river.”

Need To Breathe, “Banks”

So today I was listening to the most recent Need to Breathe album, Out of Body, and I got to the song, “Banks.” And when I heard the words of the chorus, my heart broke and I found myself crying.

So, yes, real men cry.

Let’s get that out of the way.

I don’t know why I had such a powerful emotional response right away. But then it hit me. Hard.

Isn’t it funny and profound how a simple song can do that?

We all have someone in our lives that we love more than words can say, and when this person is hurting we hurt too.

For me, these words are about how I feel for my 16 year old teenage daughter. For you, they may resonate deeply because of a spouse or friend. Only you know.

I guess what it comes down to is that at different points in our lives, we both need “banks” for ourselves and to be “banks” for someone else. Being in either situation pretty much is what life is often about.

Just wanted to share that.