Thursday, November 15, 2012

When You're In Conflict, It’s Always Your Move

Drama.  You’ve heard of it.  You’ve been it.  It’s not just a TV show.  It’s real life.  At various times in your life you have been cast in the leading roll of a real life drama.  It’s usually a war flick.  The intensity ranges from minor skirmishes to all out nuclear exchanges.  And it’s not always or even usually with our official enemies, rather it's usually with spouses, siblings, friends, neighbors, parents, co-workers, etc. 

Now, if you're anything like me, you’ve probably have said, “I’m not budging!” “It’s up to them to make this right.”  “They need to make the first move.” And guess what, the person we’re contending with is probably saying the same thing.  In most war dramas, each combatant in the dispute thinks they are in the right, or are "more right" than the other person.  And we take this to mean that the other person is obligated to make the first step of groveling.  Until then, we’ll keep our space, maintain our distance, and hold back the normal benefits our relationship.   As a result, no one makes a move and each person’s evaluation of the problem becomes energized with more drama.  Usually such conflicts become either cold-shoulders or cold wars.   Have you ever been there?  Are you there now?

Jesus gives us a principle that helps us to love our sometimes unlovely neighbors, and helps our neighbors love us when we’re being unlovely (yes, you can be unlovely). 

On the one hand, Jesus says,

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him…” (Matt. 18:15).  He says to do this so that you may "win"or "gain" your brother.     

On the other hand,

“if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Isn’t that curious.  One the one hand, Jesus says that if someone has offended you, you make the first move and make it right.   And don’t put it off!  On the other hand, if you know you’ve offended someone, you make the first move to make it right.  And don’t put it off!  In other words, when it comes to conflict resolution, whether you are the offended or the offender, it’s always your move.  No matter what side you are on in the conflict, no matter how right you think you are and might be, it is always your move.  

I’m tempted to believe that when we fail to handle conflict well, that is, when we disobey Jesus and dig in, refuse to budge, expect people to grovel, allow drama to continue, we actually forfeit our rights to be offended.  I’m tempted to believe that if you can’t handle conflict and offense in righteous ways, you have removed any and all claims of being right in the conflict, no matter how right you have been.  This last point is a little less obvious than the former.  But here’s the big idea, if you want to “win” in drama, diffuse it.  Better yet, be the first to do so.