And it's interesting because as I have grown in my ability to handle conflict, it seems like now, I am able to disciple others in how to handle conflict in a Biblical, God-honoring way.
But, it took me awhile to get there.
You see, for me, conflict was a thing of fear because it is somehow related to people's perceptions of me. As a people-pleaser (something I am continuing to be challenged in), conflict often meant that others were displeased with me. As a highly relational person, conflict meant that I may have damaged a relationship with a friend or colleague. Afraid that anger would be the result of every conflict, it was easier to not say anything and to just live in a place of discomfort or frustration, because, maybe that would avoid all the negative things that would come with conflict.
But, I am learning that those were misconceptions. I am learning about God's heart for restoration. And I am learning that conflict can deepen relationship rather than damage it, if it is done in a God-honoring way.
The summer of 2006, I was invited to help lead a small group of summer ministry project interns at my church, Peninsula Covenant Church. That was a tough, tough summer. I loved leading and working with the interns, and I loved the time spent with the other leaders. But, I was in a tough place that summer. I was working through some of the consequences of some of the choices I had made in my life, was beginning to understand the true Fatherhood of God (not the distorted view that I had), and I was planning and speaking at a women's conference. It was a hot summer. It was a hard summer. And at the end of the summer, I had this enormous falling out with the woman I had been living with. She spoke some things to me that echoed my darkest fears about myself and hurt me deeply. There was nothing I could do or say in defense, but to apologize and leave. I left that summer extremely defeated and walked into a very challenging season of my life. After that summer, I told God that I would never move back to the Bay Area. All the things spoken into me at the end, defined that place for me and I thought I would never be welcomed back.
I have learned, you never say never to God.
Two years later, when I was looking for a teaching position, the only open positions I could find were in the Bay. And wouldn't you know it, I was back where I said I would never go.
But, here is the thing. I came back with some pretty heavy anxiety. I left defeated and I returned defeated. Around every corner, I assumed I would run into this woman and that, for some reason, she would have more to add to the conversation we had finished two years before. It held me captive.
So, I prayed that God would release me from that anxiety. But, God is a God of redemption. He is a God of restoration. And He is a God of relationship. And so, he didn't just free me from this relationship, he asked me to ask for forgiveness. To apologize, whether I thought I was wrong or not, and to release her to Him.
I had to track her down. To be honest, I had deleted all of her information...her phone number, her email...gone. So, I looked her up, and I called, nervous and fearing the worst. But, there was no answer. So, I tracked down her address and I wrote her a letter. I apologized for the hurt that I had caused and I told her of my own bitterness towards her. I asked for her forgiveness. And I told her that she freely had mine. I told her that if she wanted a friendship with me, I would be grateful, but if she chose not to, I would understand. And I sent that letter on.
I have never heard from her since the day I last saw her in her living room that summer of 2006. But, I am completely free. The anxiety from that conflict held me captive, but God restored my heart and showed me what true forgiveness looks like. And in that place of humble forgiveness, I saw God's heart for me.
And through that, I learned that God's heart for conflict is always resolution...it is always growth...it is always redemption. And even if that relationship was lost, I know God was honored in my relationship with Him through the conflict, because I walked it out in obedience. And isn't that what He desires from us anyway? To be honored in all we do. Even the hard things. Or maybe especially in the hard things.
Moving here to Ghana, I never would have thought that this would be something that God would be continuing to use to mold and shape me. But, conflict is CONSTANT in this culture. The smallest thing offends someone and suddenly conflict is there...usually in a very visual and loud and often unhealthy way...and it has to be dealt with. And conflict has been present the times when I have heard or been witness to some inappropriate action of a teacher or student and have had to confront and deal with the consequences of those confrontations.
At times, it has been an extremely painful process, losing good staff in a miscommunication or in having to confront false motives. Other times, it has been so redemptive and I have seen people changed and grown and God move to redeem relationships.
But, oh, it is hard.
And I am not sure that conflict ever gets easy. But, that doesn't mean that it isn't good.
Today, in my staff one on ones, three of my conversations dealt with conflict. Conflict in marriage, conflict in friendship, and conflict with authority. Interesting. And it was good and I am excited to see God grow and pull out those moments of gold from the dross. And I hope that they will also see God's ultimate plan for conflict...resolution, restoration, and relationship. And when it is done in a healthy way, it honors God.