intimacy

Embracing Conflict

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By Linda Rex

PALM/PASSION SUNDAY—I remember years ago sitting in a church service listening to a pastor talk about conflict and how as couples, it was important to have good communication skills and be able to handling conflict in positive ways. I had learned over the years that the best way to deal with conflict was to avoid it altogether. Now, granted, approaching conflict through avoidance does seem temporarily to create a more peaceful atmosphere in the home. The reality is, though, this method of dealing with conflict exacts a pretty steep price in the end.

When we don’t engage issues as they come up between us and the significant people in our lives, we really don’t create peace. What we create is a mound of unresolved issues that may erupt later as a destructive volcano when stressful events occur in our lives. Avoidance can actually prevent the true resolution of conflict. Handling conflict in healthy ways may in fact increase intimacy and bring healing to the relationship—we may miss out on opportunities to deepen our relationship with another by avoiding conflict.

Yes, we are told “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NASB). In the context of this passage, though, we are told not to give back to others the evil they have done to us and we are not to exact revenge on them for the harm they have done us. The point Paul was making, I believe, was that we respond to their evil with good—this is the best way to treat someone who is mistreating you.

This is nigh to impossible for us as humans to do in our own strength. It is definitely counter-intuitive and rubs against the grain of our fallen humanity. If we are honest with ourselves, our response to conflict with another person is make sure our position is defended, our opinion protected and affirmed, and that the other person understands and accepts that we are right and they are very wrong. The way we often do conflict when driven by our flesh involves opposition, condemnation or criticism, and unforgiveness. And when we feel unable to defend our position, we may choose to avoid engaging altogether.

During Lent, we are walking the journey with Jesus toward death and resurrection. What might be helpful is to remember that this journey began long before this cosmos was ever created. The Word of God could have said to Abba, “I really don’t want to have to deal with these humans. I know what they are like. They’re not going to live in relationship with us like they were created to—all they will want to do is go their own way and live in opposition to us. We’ll have conflict all the time.” And he would have been right.

But the Word of God did not avoid conflict by not coming to be with us. Rather he expressed a divine humility in embracing our humanity and taking it upon himself. He did not reject our weaknesses or failures to love, but engaged them fully, face-to-face with us in our human flesh. For him, this conflict would serve a purpose—to restore us to the relationship with God we were created for and to remake our humanity into what it was created to be, enabling us to truly reflect the image of God.

This Sunday we are reminded both of the events of Palm Sunday and those of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, we see Jesus intentionally walking towards Jerusalem and the events which would transpire there. In the gospel accounts, we hear Jesus warning his disciples of what he was facing—his death and resurrection. Even though all his disciples didn’t fully realize what he was saying, they believed what Jesus was doing as he entered Jerusalem that day was significant enough that they participated in the celebration of hosannas and laying down palm branches.

Symbolically, we see Jesus being treated as a triumphant deliverer. The Jewish leaders wanted the hosannas silenced. But Jesus acknowledged this was his day—this was his time. Creation knew its Maker and would honor him even if these people did not.

Jesus wasn’t interested in being acknowledged as a hero, though. He knew the path he walked was a path of conflict and betrayal. Even the one who promised he would never walk away or deny him did. And the one he knew would betray him did so, offering him up to the Jews for a few coins. Jesus did not try to defend himself, but allowed himself to be misunderstood, misrepresented and humiliated. How many of us are willing to engage in a conflict with this measure of self-effacing humility?

The journey of Holy Week takes us from triumph to ignominy. In engaging humanity on its own ground, Jesus experienced crucifixion and death. He was willing to go to these lengths in order for him and his Father in the Spirit to be reconciled with humanity once and for all. What price are we willing to pay in order to make things right in our relationships with others?

Needless to say, it has been impressed on my heart once again that there is no place for avoidance in our significant relationships. Walking in the Spirit rather than in the flesh means walking in the reality of Jesus’ complete offering of himself in spite of what he knew we would do to him on the cross.

It also means that there will be times when on our side, there is no conflict—we are fully accepting, forgiving, and loving toward the other. These can be times where all the other wants to do is live in opposition to us, pouring out on us whatever venom or destruction they can muster up. This is when we don’t avoid the conflict, but rather respond as Jesus did, in offering love and grace—God’s goodness—in place of the evil being offered us. We don’t act in our flesh and take revenge, but walk in the Spirit and with healthy boundaries in place we offer God’s grace and love. The ground of Jesus’ death and resurrection is where we take our stand, and in Christ by the Spirit we find the power and heart to love and serve the one who opposes us.

Conflict then becomes not a ground for hostility or relational destruction, but a sacred offering of openness to the power of the Spirit to deepen and heal the relationship. We don’t need to fear conflict, for in Christ it becomes a way in which Jesus’ can work to bind us together with God and with one another in deeper and healthier ways. The beauty of Jesus’ wilderness journey is that it ends up in an eternal loving relationship of God and humanity bound together forever, not at conflict with one another but in perfect unity. The humility of the cross ends in glory!

Dear Jesus, thank you that you did not refuse to engage us in face-to-face conflict but chose to embrace conflict as a means by which we would be forever united with you and Abba in the Spirit. Thank you, Abba, for participating with Jesus in this mighty work of redemption and renewal. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for working into our being and our relationships that grace and love which Jesus lived out in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Amen.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 NASB

“I gave My back to those who strike Me, / And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; / I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps Me, / Therefore, I am not disgraced; / Therefore, I have set My face like flint, / And I know that I will not be ashamed. He who vindicates Me is near; / Who will contend with Me? / Let us stand up to each other; / Who has a case against Me? / Let him draw near to Me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me; / Who is he who condemns Me? / Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; / The moth will eat them.” Isaiah 50:6-9 NASB

Face to Face

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by Linda Rex

One of the hazards of a long-distance relationship is the inability engage a person in face-to-face conversation. Communication tools such as Skype™ and Vsee™ make video-chats possible now, and I love the way we are able to see someone while we talk with them without having to make a long trip somewhere in order to do so. A conversation via computer may not be the same as having a face-to-face conversation, but it is much better than simply having one on the phone.

Face-to-face conversations have the advantage of enabling us to see the body language and facial expressions of the person talking with us. We are able, if we are good at it, to sense the sincerity and intent behind what is being said. Often we can determine a person’s mood, their hostility or friendliness, just by how they respond as they talk.

To some limited extent we can have meaningful and deep conversations over the phone. But in order to have an honest and open relationship, we really need to meet with someone face-to-face. We need to be able to meet with them in person. If we want get to know someone in a deeper way than just an ordinary, casual conversation, we’ll want to get them by themselves, and spend time just talking, face-to-face.

I love the way God made the effort to engage Moses in these kinds of conversations. In Exodus we read about the relationship God built with Moses over time, and how the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” As time passed, their relationship grew to where they conversed just like we do when we are talking with a close friend.

We may think to ourselves, that’s just Moses. God doesn’t have those kinds of conversations with ordinary people like you or me. After all, he is God. He has much more important things to do than talk to all the people in the world individually. We can kind of grasp the idea of everyone praying to God, but God replying and having a conversation with each person? Now that’s a different story entirely.

And yet, this is what each of us was created for. When God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, it was a prelude to what he had in mind for each of us. He created you and me for relationship—with him and with one another. He did not intend for us to live independently of him, or of one another. We are created for interdependence, for intimate relationship.

And when I say intimate relationship, I’m not talking about a sexual or romantic relationship. I’m talking about sharing the deep parts of our minds, hearts and souls with another person—sharing life and being at a very deep level.

I believe the current obsession with sexual and romantic relationships of every kind has short-circuited our capacity for true, deep relationships—the kind we were created for with God and one another. Our ability to use social media for relationships is great, but we need to be careful not to let this keep us from building deep, meaningful relationships with the people in our lives through face-to-face interactions. It is very easy to keep people, and God, on the fringes of our lives and never really engage anyone at any kind of a deep level. And this is not healthy.

Going deep with people and with God in this way means becoming vulnerable and facing up to the mess inside ourselves. We don’t want to expose our deepest hurts and brokenness to others, much less to God. And yet, this is the path to healing.

Opening up these wounds to others, to us, or to God, means facing things we don’t want to face. We may have to change or deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. We may have to do the dirty work of dealing with family dysfunctions or grieving our losses. Sadly, we often prefer taking painkillers and finding other ways to numb our pain rather than facing our issues. But we weren’t created to ignore our pain or to try to hide it—we were created to engage it, and through sharing it with God and others in healthy ways, find comfort and renewal.

Face-to-face sharing is an important part of the process of healing. Getting real with someone about what’s going on at a deep level in our hearts and minds is essential to our mental, emotional and spiritual health and our physical health as well. We need to drop our facades, and our false selves, and just be real with God and one another. And this is not easy to do, much less safe. Not everyone can be trusted with our secrets.

But God understands our need for face-to-face, conversations at this deep level. This face-to-face sharing is so important to God, he came himself to share in our humanity. He became one of us—the Word in human flesh. He experienced what it was like to be born of a woman, grow up as a child, be baptized and live as an adult, and he shared every part of our human existence. God came and met with us face-to-face in an even more personal way than how he met with Moses centuries before.

God wanted to share every part of our existence and be included in it. This was so important to him, he was willing to take on our humanity and share all we experience as human beings, including death and suffering. But he did much more than that.

He brought our human existence to a new level by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, and by sending his Spirit to dwell in human hearts. God’s Spirit in you and me means God dwells in humanity—he meets with us face-to-face within our own human hearts. Nothing can be more intimate than that!

In fact, we cannot escape him now—no matter how much we try. Eventually he will open our inner eyes to see, we have Christ in us, the hope of glory. We have God in us—Immanuel. Better than any Skype™ conversation—we can converse with God in our hearts and have a dialogue in which, by the Spirit, God knows us intimately and we can know God’s heart and mind as well. Our conversations with God can be just as deep and wonderful as those Moses had because God calls you and me friend, and speaks to us in our hearts.

You may say, “How can this be? God doesn’t speak to me. And that’s kind of creepy, you know—someone talking to me in my heart.” Well, perhaps it’s not that God hasn’t been speaking, but rather, that we haven’t been listening.

I was taught to be afraid of that inner voice who spoke in my heart and so I never listened. I ignored it and pushed it away. But when I did finally talk with God and invite him to speak to me and to help me to hear and discern what was his voice (and not the other unhealthy voices), I discovered he was speaking words of love and grace to me all along. I found that God really does want to walk and talk with us, and share all of life with us. And this has been the experience of many others who have sought a deeper walk with Jesus.

God has brought each and every one of us through Jesus and by the Spirit to a place where we are able to have a deep, intimate, face-to-face relationship with him. In growing in our relationship with him, we will find ourselves growing in our ability and desire to have deep, meaningful relationships with one another. And we will be living out who we really are—human beings, created for loving relationship with God and one another.

Father, thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have brought us into deep, intimate relationship with yourself. Thank you for making it possible for us to have close, intimate relationships with one another as well. Grant us the grace to set aside time and space to listen and talk with you and one another face-to-face, for this is what we were created for. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. … And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus 33:11a, 14 NASB