Tag: conflict

Bridge Building & Wall Building

Embrace your critics. You may have heard several iterations of this axiom from books, articles, and speakers. We desire to grow in how we interact with difficult people, our opposites, and even enemies. Then the conflict comes, or the blunt feedback hits us from them. Rather than looking to embrace, it seems easier to exclude.

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You and I have a choice when we come to these relationships, will we build bridges or walls?

No matter what the current best practice resources say, our natural tendency can desire to shut these people out of our lives or ready ourselves for an unhelpful argument. In the moment, we want to take revenge or find justice. Rarely does this help in the long run.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says in Matthew 5:44, “…But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” You may have heard this verse a thousand times, but take a moment to consider it with fresh eyes.

The audience listening to Jesus’ teaching faced the injustice of the Roman government, especially taxation. In the previous verses, Jesus calls them not to retaliate and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42). Not an easy task in the midst of mistreatment. Jesus called these people run against their natural tendency of building walls and build bridges towards other people.

Not only did Jesus teach this verse, but He lived it out. His death and resurrection provided us grace as a bridge to Him. That’s the Gospel, the Good News.

So when we face the critics, difficult people, and even enemies, how can we build bridges rather than following our natural tendency to build walls? Here are three ideas.

1. Wall building assumes the worst. Bridge building assumes the best.

Conflicts can result from us placing assumptions on other people. We think that they are out to get us, or they intentionally want to thwart us. At times, it can happen. Many times people have acted with positive intentions that they did not mean to affect us negatively. Looking to assume the best of a person allows us to see their perspective and then have a dialogue to share our perspective.

2. Wall building focuses on disagreements. Bridge building finds common ground.

People have different beliefs, convictions, and personalities. Before we go on in an argument, find the common ground. What areas can we agree? Starting from this place can encourage reconciliation and a mutual resolution.

3. Wall building pleads a case. Bridge building seeks personal blind spots.

When we plead our case, it becomes an us verse them. You and I will vent to others hoping they agree with us while continuing to increase the distance from the other person. Building bridges means asking, what do I not see about myself? We can begin to pray seeking God’s help see our motivations of our hearts.

You might find yourself in the midst of a challenging relationship. Consider the example Jesus and ask Him for wisdom. Find a trusted friend to help you recognize your blind spots.

What other ways can you build bridges instead of walls in your relationships?

Photo credit by Dan Gribbin.

Being Right

Patterns matter in our lives. People can notice them in our lives, but often we can miss their subtlety in our lives. A few months ago, I had to come face to face with a pattern of my life. Trusted friends brought to my attention the need to be right.

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Rightness would trump understanding and empathy. A few conflicts and disagreements took place in my life. The pattern began to start. Rather than moving towards the other person attempting to see their perspective, I stubbornly saw the situation out of my rightness.

In our relationships, we ask people to move towards us without ever taking the effort to go towards them.

When being right becomes a pattern, we want to tell people like it is without any regard to grace. You and I can practice our venting session to them. At the end of the day, it reeks of our own pride. Keeping the focus on the other person releases us from seeing our part. I can remain in the clear without taking any responsibility.

Proverbs 21:2 calls us to evaluate rightness, “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Pride locks us on the faults of another. Empathy moves us to one another.  Recording wrongs makes a never-ending tally.  Compassion looks at people as Christ sees them.

Releasing our need for rightness allows us to experience the Gospel. It reveals our need for Christ’s grace while also extending it to others. It moves us from making situations transactional to identifying the pain in someone else. It motivates us to seek reconciliation rather than winning the argument. 

I had to come to grips with my pattern of being right. I had to ask God for help to understand the other person. In doing so, I began to see how God was changing my heart and making me realize the blindspot I could not see. Gracious people spoke the truth in love to me.

What would happen if you released your need to be right? How would you experience Christ’s grace? How might it help you in your relationships?

Photo credit by Sérgio Rola.

Surprise People

Prepare for the worst. You and I can think of scenarios where this applies. The moment you get the email saying, “Can I meet with you to discuss something?” It happens in the meeting where you have to pitch the idea. Some of us shiver with fear walking up to a podium for public speaking. You open the door of the house anticipating loads of laundry, dishes in the sink, and the rest of the house in shambles.

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Think of the relief when the worst does not happen. Rather than telling you the bad news, someone wants to sit down and tell you the good news. You hear more encouragement than criticism in the pitch or presentation. Someone has anticipated your exhaustion and cleaned the house. People can surprise us.

Flip the scenario around. You notice another person preparing for the worst. They worry just like you about the reactions to the presentation and the pitch. They anticipate the mess as they open the door to the house.

We know what would like in those circumstances, but how often do we think about others? Better yet, do we respond others in helpful ways?

Experiencing Christ’s grace moves us to recognize the needs of others. The Gospel meets us in everyday life. It’s reflected in our acts of service. It comes through in the moments when people expect the worst.

James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful Community makes this observation about Jesus’ example:

His (Jesus) example becomes our example. Not merely because we want to imitate him and perhaps earn his favor. Being a servant of others is the highest way to live. Wanting and needing to be served by others is not life-producing but soul-destroying, Jesus showed us by example. Jesus the Creator of the universe, the King of all things, comes to serve. He washes the feet of the disciples. He lives to serve.

He not only taught it, he lived it. He gave his life for the good of others, including you and me. We who follow him as teacher are called on to do the same, to shift our focus away from ourselves and onto others.

Serving in Jesus’ name has less do with action and more to do with an attitude. Grace causes us to see what He has done for us; thus, we extend that same grace to others. The Gospel causes us to see the needs of others and respond to them in ways that they can recognize Christ.

In a world full of busyness and self-focus, we surprise people when we offer them grace. They have thought the worst about a circumstance and we have offered them the contrary.

We surprise people when we take the focus off of ourselves and place it on them. It’s the kind word of encouragement when they expected the criticism. It’s doing the mundane chores without being asked. It’s the moment you listen to someone and comment later.

Serving others becomes a tangible expression of living the Gospel in everyday life.

What can you do to surprise someone today? How can you serve them so they can experience grace?

Photo credit by Kelley Bozrarth.

The Methods and Ways of God

I began to share a few challenging circumstances with a friend, Mike. Mike has the keen ability to bring people to the big picture. He turned to me during the conversation and asked, “How would you be growing by having perfect circumstances?”
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We want the perfect circumstances. We want to know that our plans will work out. The problem is often our lives do not play out in this manner. Our stories include conflicts and struggles. Antagonists attempt to thwart us. The journey even wearies the most energetic traveler with unforeseen detours and delays.

The question Mike asked brought me back the following words I have heard many times in sermons. You may want write this down and put it somewhere you can see daily:

“When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man, And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart.
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about!”

(Source Unknown found at Bible.org)

Most growth in our lives happens in the midst of the “bends” and “blows.” God like a blacksmith with iron removes the imperfections and forms us with His design. I remind myself of Mike’s question and this poem, because I can recall God’s work in my life in the past. Many followers of Christ resonate with this same sentiment. The trials did not indicate their demise. On the contrary, the grace of God was made evident in their lives by enduring.

So on this Monday morning, you may find yourself in the midst of a less than perfect episode. Like most of us, you might be tempted to think God has abandoned you. Or you may think you will never see the end of this episode. “Watch His methods, watch His ways…” And the question all of us can ask ourselves, how would we be growing by having perfect circumstances?

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