Conflict seems to be as common to human life as breathing. Whether in marriages, families, friendships, the church, or social settings—we have conflict. My concern is not so much how to prevent it, but how to mitigate its storm and lessen its wounding.
The Bible asks and answers a very appropriate question:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:1-2)
What’s Who’s the Problem?
The primary source of our conflict is within us. We crave something often times from someone. When we do not get it then we get very upset. Our passions or desires are at war within us. We are not getting what we want (usually under the headings of honor, comfort, or control) so we lash out. We then try to manipulate the other person actively by doing things like yelling or even physical aggression or we do it passively by ignoring them with the silent treatment. Whatever extreme we are on we can be sure that it is our unmet cravings of our heart that are fueling this conflict.
We all know that women are very different then men. However, we don’t always appreciate it.
Over the last several years I have watched my wife prepare for birthday parties, holiday seasons, or other special events. She, like many women, gives considerable time and attention to the details. In particular she works to ensure that the colors, design, and even the most minute matters are covered. I’ve seen gum balls color-coded, paper cut outs, cup cakes and napkins match, balloons, sparkly soda, snow sprinkles on a red table cloth, swirly straws, and even a big metal bucket filled with ice to so people will feel “festive” when they get their drink. This is what women do. Men on the other hand, we think function. We reuse our forks, wipe our chin on our sleeves, and pass on the straws. We skim past the details without noticing.
In the past I have noticed the details and asked, “why?” My wife lovingly instructed me that it is an expression of creativity, joy, and love. It is festive.
While struggling to pull this type of thing off my self, I have come to appreciate it. What’s more, I’ve come to baptize it into the spiritual realm so as to love my wife more, appreciate our differentness, and marvel at God’s design.
If you were to comb through your Old Testament you would find that God is a God of detail. You have chapters and chapters of detail about the tabernacle in Exodus. We have dimensions, colors, types, …
One of the troubling, but nonetheless fascinating realizations of the moral revolution has been the number of professing Christians who deviate from traditional and clear biblical teaching on sexuality and gender. It seems like we steadily see new groups, leaders, and people come out of their theological closets to declare their support for such things as same-sex marriage. Myself, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback via this blog, social media, and even in person of people who try to persuade me away from being such a theological dinosaur.
Our Thirst for Respectability and Relevance
In thinking about this quite a bit over the last several months it occurs to me how gripped Americans, particularly religious Americans are by honor and acceptance. I live in Omaha, Nebraska. The slogan for the state is “Nebraska Nice”. Did you catch that? We are nice here. I grew up in Massachusetts. I am not going to say that people in New England are mean, but they are, in the words of Megamind “less nice”. We didn’t exactly take pride in our niceness. If someone complained about people being rude we would generally think you were a bit too sensitive. But here, if you say that Nebraskans are not nice it is like you said something about their mom. It is one of the worst things you can say to a native Nebraskan. It seems to me that one of the worst things you can say to American Christian, whether in academia, church leadership, the pew, …
Marriage is all over the news today and we as Christians are cringing. And this shows how much things have changed. All of the marriage chatter, in previous generations, would have been a reason for celebration, but is now an occasion for face-palming. Of course, we know this is not because Christians have fundamentaly changed in our understanding of marriage but because the cultural stream is rushing ahead at white-water speed in its redefinition of marriage.
Who has Authority to Regulate Marriage?
When marriage is discussed in the public square there is a question that routinely gets bypassed. “Who has the right and authority over it? —Who is in charge of it?”
The assumption with marriage, as with the rest of our lives, is that, well, we are! Whatever makes us happy and whatever the majority or the most influential people want to do…this is who has the right to authoritatively speak about marriage. It really is this question of authority that has paved the way for the present moral revolution. Even if it is rarely noticed or acknowledged, authority, like rebar on a highway road, undergirds all of this contemporary debate about marriage. The authoritative answer today is: We have the authority to regulate marriage.
But, this is fraught with a number of problems; I’ll highlight two.
Regrettably, this scene has been repeated many times in pastoral counseling. The husband and wife come in to talk about their marriage. As they sit down the wife positions herself with her back slightly turned away from her husband. The husband responds by inching away from her to increase the standard buffer zone between seats. I am writing a couple of things down in my notebook while looking up to observe. They are both looking away from each other, avoiding any interaction.
“What is going on guys?” I ask. “We are having issues.” The wife says, as the husband lets out a sigh like air from a slashed tire. The room gets increasingly tense as they both get louder and more defensive. In time I ask some simple questions and find out that this couple hasn’t spoken in weeks, they don’t sleep in the same room (let alone the same bed), and neither seem willing to make a move in humility. As they talk neither listens to what the other is saying.
You don’t have to be a professional counselor to conclude that this is not a healthy relationship. In fact, you would quite easily conclude that this is a dysfunctional relationship.
What is so troubling to me is how many professing Christians have a similar relationship with God, let’s call it a dysfunctional relationship. In every counseling situation and in an alarmingly high rate of regular conversation with Christians, I have observed that many people do not pray regularly, read their Bibles …
We know pastoral ministry is hard, but it is also tricky. In a given week a pastor can get the following comments:
Your preaching is blessing me greatly. I am learning to love Christ more and more!
Your preaching is too theological, it is not helping me.
Your preaching is too emotional, you need to be more doctrinal.
Sometimes this type of thing will cause you to spin in circles asking, “What am I doing? Is this working?”
I’ve heard John Piper speak of this and he talked about feeling like he is looking in one of those mirrors at the carnival. As you look at one angle the head is small, at another the head is big, etc. No matter which way you turn you get a different view. Ministry can be like this and the pastor can begin to think he is viewing his ineffectiveness in a carnival mirror.
One great, but often neglected resource for encouragement and straight-shooting is the pastor’s own wife. In this case they may not want to seem weak, complaining, or whatever. However, I would encourage pastors to talk to their wife. There is no one who knows you better (for better or worse) and no one who loves you more and wants what is best. You can trust them. So ask questions. Encourage honesty.
What’s more, take note of your wife’s growth in godliness. Many times we take for granted that our wife is going to be godly and growing in godliness. We should never presume upon grace! Instead, …
At the end of a football game often times the defensive team will collapse back to prevent a big play in order to preserve their lead. This defensive scheme is appropriately entitled a “prevent defense”. The goal is to prevent the big-play that would jeopardize their lead. The concession, of course, is that they are willing to give up some yards.
This defensive strategy works for short periods of time and only in particular situations of a game. It would be a laughable strategy for the entire game or if you were losing. There is simply too much yardage conceded and the game clock would become an enemy.
When we think about marriages, it appears that many people, particularly men, rely upon a “prevent defense” approach. Their philosophy is that the outcome is secure and they are simply trying to prevent the big-play. They are “playing” to prevent divorce, major unhappiness, or personal discomfort. This is deadly for a marriage. Marriages that employ this scheme are in trouble because, instead of actively trying to improve, they are characterized by a slow decline or are content to just “hold the line”.
I remember reading Ephesians as a newer Christian and being shocked as I came across the Apostle’s words in chapter 5:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
I quickly became nervous because my wife was a brand new Christian and I was about as biblically literate as a flannel board. My first thought was, “This can’t mean what I think it means.” And my second thought was, “How in the world am I going to sell Christie on this?”
The first question was answered with a “yes” and a “no”. The concept of male leadership, even headship, was correct. However, I had this wrong perception of some type of bizarre patriarchal suppression of the wife by the husband. In my mind leadership and submission seemed to demean rather than provide for her flourishing.
Wise and helpful diagnosis here from Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect? He is noting how often a couple will ask, “What happened to us? How in the world did we end up here?” The answer is not acute but a chronic problem.
It feels to them that they have driven into some kind of marital fog. It feels that what was once bright and sunny has suddenly gone dark. But nothing has been sudden. The changes of their marriage have taken place in progressive, little steps. In those unremarkable moments that occur in every marriage, wrong thoughts, desires, words, and actions changed the character and direction of their marriage; they took place in little moments, and no one was paying attention.
We all do it.
It’s not that we suddenly quit loving one another. No, that’s not what typically happens. Marriages don’t typically change with an explosion. Marriages typically change by the process of erosion. Even where marital explosions take place, they usually take place at the end of a long process of erosion. The movement of a marriage from an active commitment to an active lifestyle of unity, understanding, and love rarely takes place in one step. Rather, this movement takes place in ten thousand little steps.
The problem is that as these changes are taking place we tend to be asleep at the wheel. What we once committed to value and protect has progressively become the thing we take for granted. What we were once deeply appreciative of, we have become used …
Sound words for marriages plagued by isolationism.
Marriage really is a human covenant of companionship. God wasn’t so much giving Adam a physical helper for the work in the garden as he was giving him a companion.
God knew that he had created a social being, and because of Adam’s social hardwiring, it was not good for him to live without the companionship of one made from him and made like him. You could argue that this is the most basic reason for marriage. God created a lifelong companion for Adam, and his relationship with Eve would exist on earth as a visible reminder of God’s love relationship with people and as the God-ordained means by which the earth would be populated as God designed.
So the character and quality of the friendship between a husband and wife always functions as an accurate measure of the health of their marriage. It is also an accurate barometer of trust. When trust is present between two people, their appreciation and affection will grow, and as these things grow, friendship flourishes. Tripp, What Did You Expect?