Conflict. That one word often brings up uneasy feelings, bad memories, or even dread. I’ll admit, conflict is not something that I am fond of. In fact, i’d rather avoid it most of the time (although my husband and mom might disagree).
Why is conflict so difficult for many of us to deal with, yet so present in our daily interactions? Example:
Me: “Honey, can you make me some toast, please?”
DH: “What was that? I can’t hear you over the noise of the dishwasher” (Yes, my husband is amazing at helping around the house!)
Me (shouting from downstairs): “I’m not feeling well, all I feel like I can eat is toast today”
[ two minutes later ]
DH: “Here you go honey, I made you toast”
Me: “Oh thank you! (pokes at the warm bread). Did you actually put this in the toaster?”
DH: “Yes, I did. What is wrong?”
Me: “It’s not how I like it… this is just warm bread… wear is the toast-y ness?”
DH: “What do you mean? Thats how toast should be…”
Me: “You’re kidding me, right?”
[GASP! The man of my dreams doesn’t know my preferred toaster setting after 2.5 years of marriage?]
I’m sure you get the point. Conflict can arise from any situation, even stupid arguments over personal preferences on toaster settings. I’m sure you newer-weds can identify.
I recently read a tiny book by Jean Vanier called From Brokenness to Community, that gave me an entirely fresh perspective on conflict. Jean Vanier, a professor of philosophy, felt called to establish a community for individuals with mental disabilities. Through this calling, he invited two men from an Asylum to live with him, ultimately discovering the deep hurt and rejection in their hearts. Talk about a tough calling!
Vanier said, “community is wonderful place, it is life-giving; but it is also a place of pain because it is a place of truth and of growth- the revelation of our pride, our fear, and our brokenness.” I’m sure you’ve learned for yourself that life is not all rainbows and ponies, and that being in true community with someone whether it be your spouse, parents, children, church or friends involves opening up yourself and exposing who you are. We risk hurt and pain coming into our lives when we enter into true community.
Sometimes the deepest pain and persecution that we face comes from within our own community. So why do we risk this? Because we become a better person for it.
Jean Vanier explained that belonging to community involves “accepting the risk of dying to aggressiveness and rivalry in order to discover a new freedom and a new fecundity- a new way of giving life to others, but still to belong to others, to be in “one body” with them.” I’d like to follow this up with my favorite quote from the best TV drama of all time, LOST, “If we can’t live together, then we’re going to die alone.”
Do you have true community in your life? Can you be open and vulnerable by letting someone else in to soften some of your rough edges and let them speak words of life into you? Part of community is learning to forgive and to love others despite what they may have said or done. “That is what a kingdom community is about: a community that knows it has been called by God in all its poverty and weakness, and that God is love” (Vanier).
I believe that we are all called to a community. To be planted somewhere we can grow and develop into the people God has called us to be. A place that despite our shortcomings, we can be challenged and give life to those around us and be loved in return.
Perhaps you know where you need to be, but you just aren’t there. Perhaps you feel a similar call as Jean Vanier and you need to invite others to do life with you, maybe even to live with you.
Perhaps you are already in a community but you haven’t opened up your true self to the people who are inviting you into their lives. Or, perhaps you, too, like your toast made a specific way but need to let go of some of your stubbornness and high expectations for those around you. I am blessed beyond belief by my wonderful husband who loves me for who I am and for who God made me to be, perfectionist and all.
In the daily challenges and conflict that you face, instead of running away, consider opening up to hear the truth God is speaking to you through the situation. Grow from each experience and choose community.