For as long as I can remember I have been the kind of person that avoids conflict. I have been able to get along quite well without taking any seemingly unnecessary steps that might result in conflict. Recently however, I have begun to think of conflict in a new light. I have been learning that when I avoid conflict I might actually be avoiding a beneficial experience.
I used to think that conflict could only result in someone being offended and another person having to ask for forgiveness or in the event of a business relationship, the relationship would end altogether because neither party has a personal connection to the other. With this perception about conflict, I thought it an event that would best be avoided if at all possible. The problem with my view of conflict is that I was only seeing part of the story. Many times this can be true of conflict, it can result in hurt feelings or strained relationships. However, these outcomes are not always the results of conflict. Conflict, if handled properly, can be benefit me as a person and have an eternal impact that displays attributes of God’s character.
To unpack this somewhat scandalous idea, I want to begin by establishing an understanding of conflict. Conflict is anything that prevents a person from achieving his or her goal. Conflict might be a tornado the destroys your home and prevents you from living in peace or it might be a difference in opinion of organizational strategy. Both of these can prevent a person from achieving a goal that is set. In these examples there exists an additional truth about conflict. In some circumstances it can be avoided (not discussing organizational strategy with your boss avoids conflict) and in other scenarios it cannot be avoided (one cannot prevent a tornado). Because this world is not perfect, conflict will always exist and people will have to choose how they react and interact with it. Avoiding conflict is not necessarily a bad thing to do, but it might not be the most beneficial. After all when we avoid conflict we are merely trying to accomplish our goals with as little interruption as possible. Morally we have committed no treason by avoiding conflict, assuming our goals are righteous from the outset. What is or is not a worthy goal is not a topic I wish to discuss here, I am merely pointing out that avoiding conflict does not have to be associated with any sort of cowardice.
Often the word conflict brings to mind connotations of fear and struggle, but I think that it is possible to think of conflict in a new way that might result in wanting to engage conflict rather than avoid it. When we run into conflict we can either choose to fight through it and persist in our efforts to meet our goals or we can give up on our goals and let the conflict prevent us from ever achieving the goal. If we choose to fight through the conflict we are affirming to ourselves that our goals are worth fighting for and that we will remain motivated to see them achieved. In the fight against conflict we will often gain a new perspective that will prepare us for similar conflicts in the future. So the result of engaging the conflict (assuming we win the fight with conflict) is that we have renewed and strengthened motivation and a new perspective of our goals which prepares us to continue fighting for our goals. If we avoid the conflict we neither strengthen our motivation nor gain a new perspective. Therefore it is more beneficial to engage conflict than avoid it.
However, just stating that it is more beneficial to engage conflict does not make it an easier to do so. Herein lies the another benefit of engaging conflict. Often times when faced with conflict we might not be actually equipped to engage and defeat the conflict by ourselves. We must either turn to those around us for help or trust that God will somehow provide a way for us to overcome that conflict. I believe that this last option is perhaps the primary reason that conflict exists most often. I believe that God wants all people to realize that they are completely helpless to overcome anything apart from His help or provision. At that point God wants us to turn to Him and ask for the help needed to defeat the conflict at hand. In this exchange of our will and power for His will and power we allow God’s power to be displayed as well as His desire to show His love for His people.
It should not be thought that I am prescribing a reliance on divine intervention to overcome conflicts that seem entirely conquerable by human means, but rather the idea that God wants us to realize that it is by His provision that we possess the ability to defeat the conflict at hand. And in defeating that conflict thank Him for giving us the abilities and resources that we needed to defeat the conflict. In this way, God is correctly credited with the conquering of our conflict whether He directly intervened or He gifted us with the tools needed in advance.
Taking the idea of God’s role in conquering conflict a step further, it be said that all of the small conflicts remind us of the story the God has been writing for all of human history. Ultimately God is to reuniting all of creation, specifically mankind, to himself. The universal conflict is that mankind is guilty of rebellion from God and must be punished. It is in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that God is overcoming the conflict in a complete and permanent way. Thus each small conflict that we encounter can remind us that God has overcome the conflict that separates us from Him. In the end it is the everyday conflict that can remind us of the power that God possesses and the love that He has for us.
When we choose to engage a given conflict rather than avoid it we actually have the opportunity to glorify God as well as grow into the person that God desires for us to be. When we avoid conflict we can alleviate our immediate stress, but we can also miss out on a great opportunity.