Whether a personal crisis, or a national crisis like Covid-19, our stress levels are greatly impacted. Recently, the news is warning that child and spouse abuse is on the rise. Divorce statistics are also rapidly rising. Part of this is the added stress of people being cooped up together 24/7 with few breaks from one another. To add to this challenge are economic and health concerns. Perhaps you or someone you love are experiencing relational struggles. Is there hope? Yes! The Lord can lead us to more healthy ways to work out relational conflicts and manage our stress.
The Bible gives us some helpful insights regarding how to resolve conflicts. Even if we are walking in the Spirit, at times we will quarrel with others. The book of Proverbs has several tips to help us in these situations. Managing our anger is a very important step toward preventing unhealthy conflict. First, we need to commit to trusting God to help us not use anger to control and manipulate another. We all get upset at times. Anger is a God-given emotion. But it needs to be expressed in healthy, self-controlled (actually, Spirit-controlled) ways. If you feel too upset to control your tongue and tone of voice, step away to give yourself time alone to calm down, release your excess aggression in a healthy way (such as, walking or running), and pray. Tell the person (adult or child) that you will come back after a little while because you need time to pray and calm down. You may want to call a trusted friend to pray with you.
When you are in a conflict with someone, immediately begin to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with patience, gentleness, humility, and love. The whole time I am talking to someone with whom I am upset, I am lifting my heart up in prayer. Do you ever talk to someone while praying at the same time? You can have a “three-way” conversation with another person instead of a “two-way” conversation. I do this when I counsel people as well. As they are speaking, I am “talking” silently in my mind in prayer to God about all they are saying. I am asking Him for wisdom and understanding, patience to listen, and words to say. Try this “three-way” conversation the next time you are in a conflict. With humility, be willing to respond any way the Lord guides you. Ask Him to give you a “gentle answer” instead of a harsh word. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
The Lord may instruct you to not share your opinion at all. The apostle James tells us that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). When you are angry with someone, set your heart on asking good questions and listening to understand the person’s thoughts behind their actions, rather than first trying to defend yourself or share your opinions and needs. James goes on to say that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires” (James 1:20). In other words, our motivation in every conflict should be to bring about righteousness, not accomplish our personal goals. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1-2). It is not wrong to feel angry and express it in a controlled way in order to bring understanding and growth in your relationship. Shifting your goal to be that of mutual understanding and bringing glory to God in your relationship will make a huge difference in how the conflict will play out.
Solomon tells us in Proverbs 12:15 that “the way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” Usually, anger gets heightened because both parties think they are right. Remember, let your goal be to understand the other, not to get your own way or change the other person to do what you want. Because we all have our own individual personality, values, and up-bringing, we will have different opinions and diverse ways of doing things. Naturally, we will easily think our way is better. By seeking to understand one another, we will better be able to grasp why the other thinks, feels, and acts the way she or he does.
Finally, write out the words of the apostle Paul and post it where you can see it (or memorize it). “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).