Healthy Conflict In Pursuit of Wholeness

This sermon is based on chapter 7 of ‘Good and Beautiful and Kind’ by Rich Villodas.

Having a life marked by goodness, beauty and kindness means we must face and deal with conflict maturely. Some of us live avoiding the potential for conflict due to fear. A person living this way often has a hard time finding their voice. Others avoid the reality of conflict. This person lies nonstop, refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the room. For some, the only way to deal with conflict is to speak loudly and clearly until others change their ways. None of these approaches reflect the way of Jesus.

Conflict need not be a barrier to love; it can be a bridge. The kind of conflict spoke of here is serious disagreement about meaningful situations (not abuse). Conflict is not a sign of unhealth. In fact, it is unhealthy to never have conflict.

In many relationships, we can identify three stages:

  • The Heavenly Stage – In this stage, the parties are on best behaviour and see only the good in one another.
  • The Hellish Stage – This is a letdown period where you start seeing the flaws in the other party more than the beauty. It is often at this stage that people break off the relationship and go looking to find the heavenly stage again. When we do this, the cycle never ends, and we never grow because we are after something that doesn’t exist.
  • The Holding-the-Tensions Stage – This is the stage where the work of growing up happens. We bury our illusions that the other will be perfect, but we still retain open hearts towards them. We resist idealisation but pursue intimacy based on grace.

An example of conflict in the Bible is found in Galatians 2:11-22 where Paul recalls an intense disagreement he had with Peter. These two men were pillars of the church and holy men, but holiness does not protect us from conflict. From this story and other Bible passages we can see what is required for healthy conflict.

  • Healthy Conflict Requires Confrontation – This is not about aggressiveness, anger or troublemaking. It is simply saying that healthy conflict requires face time. In the example from Galatians, Paul spoke to Peter face to face about the issue. Some of the reasons we might find this hard include our family background, our culture, our personality, wrong teaching that we have received or the fact that confrontation can be unnerving. One way we avoid confrontation is ‘triangulation’ where we bring a third party into the issue rather than speaking with the person directly.
  • Healthy Conflict Requires Healthy Speaking – This means clean fighting were we are not diminishing the other through silent treatment, lecturing, condescension, name-calling, sarcasm, avoiding, hitting or passive-aggressive behaviour. The steps to a ‘clean fight’ are: (1) ask for permission and state the problem; (2) state why it is important to you; (3) fill in the sentence, “when you… I feel…”; (4) state your request clearly, respectfully and specifically.
  • Healthy Conflict Requires Careful Listening – Listening well is a refusal to allow self-righteousness to distort our interactions. It requires us to internalise the love of God to avoid becoming defensive.
  • Healthy Conflict Requires The Table – Holy communion is a great reenactment and catalyst for reconciliation. The broken body of Christ is the ground of our wholeness.