Written by Justin Epps, MDiv and Pastor of Living Hope Fellowship
Few things leave us with as much internal tension as unresolved conflict. Psychological studies abound on why we hate leaving a story unfinished, only listening to part of a song, or having to leave a ballgame while the score is tight. We long for resolution. Our relationships with others are no exception.
Even so, many of us carry the ongoing weight of relationships with unresolved issues. Rather than confronting, we may become passive aggressive or complain about it to others. Rather than owning our mistakes and apologizing, we may dodge the subject—or sometimes even the person! There are many reasons we might postpone resolving conflict, but if left too long, the tension from that conflict can grow and make its way into other parts of our lives.
Consider this instruction that the apostle Paul gave to early Christians faced with various conflicts.
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." – Romans 12:18 ESV
Two things to notice about his instruction here:
First, he sets out a condition. "If possible" and "so far as it depends on you." In any given relationship, we can only control our side of the equation. We cannot force the other party to live at peace with us. We can only control what we do and how we respond.
Second, his instruction is for them, to the best of their given ability, to strive to live peaceably with all. Who does "all" include? It certainly includes family, friends, and those who like us. But ‘all’ also includes co-workers we may not like, exes, frustrating in-laws, and our enemies. Living peaceably with individuals doesn’t mean that they become your closest friends. Peace doesn’t even mean you trust them or spend excessive time with them. Peace simply means you’ve done your part to resolve conflict, putting the matter to rest.
I find it to be a rule that there are some people who love to indulge in drama. At the same time, they are not immune to its consequences. They may choose to withhold forgiveness or to dwell in anger, but the tension has a poisoning effect on their own lives, and they still lack the peace that comes from resolution.
Instead of waiting for others to come and admit they are wrong, maybe we should make the first move to clear the air or establish new boundaries for the relationship. If we have wronged them, we reach out and try to resolve the conflict. Sometimes, it isn’t pretty. Sometimes they don’t respond as we would hope. What matters is that we act within the realm of our ability to make peace and promote resolution.
We live in a world where the weight of unresolved conflict weighs heavily on the minds and shoulders of many. What can you do this month to pursue a culture of peace in your relationships? What conversations can you have that would resolve ongoing tension?
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