Faith and Family — Examine own heart when family conflict arises, professor says

October 27, 2016

By Kathryn A. Steele, Ph.D., MFT, LPC

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Opinions, values and behaviors can vary greatly from family member to family member, often resulting in disagreement and arguments. Conflict within a family is especially painful and can cause families to avoid loving one another.

How do we maintain peace while also maintaining integrity? A primary key to managing conflict in a healthy way is to recognize that God can use it to refine and mold His character into us so we become more like Christ. Therefore when conflict arises, we must first examine our hearts. Remember, you are not the Convictor. That job belongs to the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, avoid:

Defensiveness. Maintain a clean slate with family members. We are responsible for offenses in either direction. If a brother sins against us, go to him and show him his fault (Matt. 18:15–17), speaking the truth in love. If we have sinned against a brother, go to him and be reconciled (Matt. 5:23–24). This protects us from defensiveness.

Hypocrisy. The attitude or behavior that bothers us the most is one we struggle with in some form (Matt. 7:1–5). All of us have sin in our lives — none of us can point a finger at another since we are all guilty (Rom. 3:23).

Selfishness. Cravings for approval, control, comfort and/or safety can become barriers to loving a family member with God’s love (James 4:1). When sensing these negative emotions, ask “Why am I feeling this?” and deal with the underlying cause first.

Philippians 2:4 cautions us to “look not only to (our) own interests, but also to the interests of others,” which is why we must avoid unwise strategies for resolving conflict.

Healthy disagreement

Healthy disagreement is not:

Appeasement. When individuals say things they don’t mean or agree to do things they don’t want to do, the result is often resentment and bitterness. Paul exhorts us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15, 25).

Avoidance. This response may include sharing or not sharing an opinion, then refusing to dialog about the issue. Ignoring is the opposite of understanding, as Matthew 13:15 states: “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Healing begins with understanding and understanding begins with hearing and seeing.

Winning. A disagreement between family members is not a battle in which one person ought to prevail. Individuals with a strong desire to “win” in a conflict are usually skilled in persuading and intimidating, often introducing emotions such as anger or fear into the conflict. This is the opposite of Philippians 2:4.

God’s strategies

Scripture is clear that when conflict arises, those involved should speak the truth in love. God does not ignore the problem, walk away or destroy in anger. He speaks to us openly about our sin and His desire to restore the relationship. We should do the same with those with whom we disagree.

Timing is important, however. Proverbs 15:23 reminds us “how good is a timely word.” There is a time to give advice and a time to listen. Don’t immediately troubleshoot, analyze, offer explanations or suggest a different course of action.

Instead, affirm God’s love. Seeing others through God’s eyes enables us to invite them to change by helping them be aware of their identity in Christ.

Engage in discussion to let your family member know you want to understand. Ask honest questions, but don’t interrogate. Put what you hear into words to verify your understanding. Show that you care by responding compassionately to what you hear.

Speaking the truth “in love:”

4does not tear down the other person (Eph. 4:29).

4does not include exaggerations such as “always” and “never.”

4does not include calling the other person names. Names are about identity. Our identity is in Christ. We attack the work of the gospel in the person’s life when we call names.

4does not include mind reading. Mind reading is impossible and assumes they will always repeat their past errors, denying the power of God to change them.

4does not include shaming. Shame is believing we are unacceptable and unlovable. God declared us acceptable because of His work in us through Jesus. Do not attack the work of the gospel in another person’s life.

Remember how patient God is with us. He does not confront us every time we sin. Overlook minor offenses that may be out of character for your loved one and consider the circumstances that may be affecting their response. Proverbs 20:3 declares: “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.”

If submission to the preference of another will not cause harm, love that person by surrendering for their benefit what you may be entitled to have (1 Cor. 10:23).

EDITOR’S NOTE — Kathryn A. Steele is a professor of psychology and counseling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Steele occupies the James H. and Susan E. Brown Christian Counseling Chair and is director of clinical training.

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