What should we do when we experience conflict or unmet expectations?

Conflict is inevitable.  If you are in community- complete with fallibility, vulnerability, and diversity- you will experience conflict.  This idea of a utopian, Christian community where people are free to come as they are WITHOUT any expectation of growth, humble enough to NEVER put themselves first, and wise enough to ALWAYS do and say the “right” thing is a dangerous illusion.

The church (the people not the building or programs) is where faith makes the necessary move from personal to communal. Our personal intimacy with God and self is vital but to experience our faith in its fullness we must participate in each other’s lives. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 paints a wonderful picture of the need we have for one another.

“Two are better than one, 
because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down,
 one can help the other up. 
But pity anyone who falls 
and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
 But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, 
two can defend themselves.
 A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

At our weakest, we will experience the need for brothers and sisters who will fight on our behalf and at our strongest we are the complete “Manifestation of the Spirit” as Paul laid out in 1 Corinthians 12.

At the end of the day though, we are still a body comprised of the walking wounded. We are sons and daughters of Christ and that is a beautiful heritage but we still carry our own hurts, failures, and insecurities.  Out of one wounded soul encountering another, the opportunity for conflict is born. So what do we do if we experience conflict or unmet expectations?

Many people simply choose to leave. They leave because they feel slighted, attacked, or used. These may be very valid feelings but do we leave because of them?

The much more difficult but also more rewarding choice is to stay and fight for the community you love.  If you have the courage to break through the fear of ramifications and address the issue/person honestly than you make your community even stronger than it was before the conflict arose.

Cliché as it may appear, First and foremost you must “Go before God”. Get God’s perspective on the conflict. Do not run with full force at the object of your anger. Do not act or speak out of a sense of injustice.  Make sure you are stepping back from the problem and seeing it with God’s eyes and his grace for the other person.  Remember that the Lord is greater than any problem you are facing.  Our God is the creator of all things and with God nothing is as insurmountable as it may appear.

It may go against your very sense of fairness but search for the humility that will allow you to act in the opposite spirit- if a person is callous be warm to them, If a person is on the attack do not return the aggression. This can feel like an impossible process but when paired with persistence it can alter the entire course of the relationship.

Act now.  This does not mean confront now.  Now is the time to begin the process for healing.  This may mean time with Lord, seeking guidance (not gossiping), and practicing how you will address the issue at hand. But for any of this to happen, you must resist the urge to avoid conflict.  The object of your pain/anger can not help correct the matter if you do not have the courage to approach them with grace and in a timely fashion.  People are not mind-readers and may not even know how they have wronged you.

When you finally find that nerve to act, remember how vital it is to speak with grace.  No one responds well to being bombarded with emotionally-charged words, accusatory stances, or aggressive body language.  Do not make this about who they are as a person.  This is about a specific issue so keep it about that.

Above all else, remember that this is not about being the one who can declare “I win!”  Do you truly want to salvage this relationship? If so, this cannot come down to you wanting to be right. If you value your community and the people in it, being right will be a small comfort when you have severed those ties. Be open to compromise, to hearing where you may be at fault, and to conceding on the points that don’t truly matter.

Remember: Next time you’re about to blame or judge a loved one for not meeting your expectations stop and ask yourself… “Did I do my part to make sure they knew what I wanted or was feeling?” Be brutally honest with yourself and take responsibility for your part in any misunderstanding. Use words. Apologize or accept an apology when applicable. Express yourself. Watch your relationships deepen as you actively work towards a deep and healthy form of fellowship.

Note: If one-on-one conversation is not working look to Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6 for a biblical way to pursue mediation.

**I struggle with this constantly. Forgiveness, admitting your own wrongs, and letting go can be an uphill battle.  Show yourself some grace.