Accepting Conflict

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“For this is the will of God, your sanctification….” 1 Thessalonians 4:3

“One of the good things that come of a true marriage is, that there is one face on which changes come without your seeing them; or rather there is one face which you can still see the same, through all the shadows which years have gathered upon it.” George Macdonald

The early feedback I have received from some of you in beginning this blog is that your marriages have been marked by struggle, discouragement and even despair. Although I am sad when I hear of this I am not really surprised. After all, the joining of two human beings into a “oneness” is both romantic and thermo nuclear; settling and chaotic; joyful and painful.

Our marriage (Robyn’s and mine) has also had its obvious tensions, many of which could have been avoided. Although I certainly do not enjoy it I am coming to the place of embracing the reality that conflict is part of the natural course of marriage; indeed the “supernatural” course. There are so many places in my life and our marriage that are different – better – because we are learning to allow our discords to be a catalyst toward marital maturity. I am confident we would not have the growth in our marriage we now experience without the turmoil. We are in the life long process of learning these lessons. I have no fantasy about ever getting to a point where there is no conflict within our marriage. But I do have faith that God is willing to enter the arena of our differences and infuse Himself in us to such a degree that what we thought insurmountable is overcome.

The gospel declares that the believer is at once holy and in the process of becoming holy. The day I came to Christ He spoke into me a perfect holiness. I would never be positionally closer to Him than on that day. Yet, my life is a process of functionally becoming more and more like Him; bearing the fruit of my salvation – sanctification.

A similar dynamic is found in marriage. The day Robyn and I were married we became one flesh. In a very real sense we could never be made more one because God had joined us. Yet, in another sense the path of marriage creates in us a greater oneness. We have “arrived” and are in process of arriving all at the same time…. Oh the process of arriving!

We often enter marriage believing that there will be nothing but sweet blessedness in our future. This misperception is true for many but is particularly true in Christian marriage. Even though we cognitively understand this is not the case we are still somehow shocked when “the honeymoon is over” and we have had “our first fight” (or 5000th). I would like to suggest that some of this distortion is a result of the improper preparation we facilitate within the church community. We all know that life is hard in all areas of our lives, but somehow we have left the impression that church is no place to reveal our rocky roads toward holiness. As a result young people enter into marriage thinking all there is in their future is “wedded bliss”. They soon discover that “sweet blessedness” is replaced with “sweat blessedness”.

Enter discouragement and despair – or worse indifference.

So, let me offer a few suggestions:

1)       Let’s create a congregational atmosphere where it is safe to acknowledge our struggles; where our Jesus communities are marked by the supernatural pattern of confession and bearing one another’s burdens – including our vulnerabilities in marriage (Galatians 6).

2)      “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). We must not be surprised by conflict. I remember several years ago Robyn stated to me, “I wish our family could be like theirs….” I remember smiling internally because as an elder in the church we attended at that time I knew this family was battling a number of significant difficulties. NO FAMILY HAS IT ALL TOGETHER. It is a waste of spiritual energy to think our marriage “less than” in contrast to another’s. Every family has conflict. 

3)      We must be brave enough to seek the help and encouragement  needed to help our marriage be all that God intends. We can’t wait for the perfect setting where it is “safe enough” for us to bring our relationships to God and to one another. We must press into the hard work of change and healing. Ultimately it is our individual responsibility to seek change and healing – and that is a challenging journey.

“… whose weakness was turned to strength… (Hebrews 11:34). What a refreshing verse! Right now you may be experiencing the weight of a marriage you would describe as weak. May our God fill you with the hope that what you now see as weak and frail will be transformed into strength and vitality. To that end, what would happen if we began to embrace the power of our differences and conflict rather than rigidly opposing them? What if God is using these to shape us more fully into His image? What if Gary Thomas is right and God is more interested in our holiness than He is our happiness? I am one who will need to face our differences and submit them to One who as a far greater plan for my marriage than what I now can see. I will correct my propensity toward self-righteousness as I can but I will rest in understanding that all the gifts of God are usually received through fire.

Robyn, I say as long as the Son of Man is in the fire with us, what shall we fear? Here’s to having ears!

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