So the past few months, a group from our church has been working through Winston Smith's study, "Marriage Matters." (I highly recommend it!) This is one of those interactive, share from your own experience kinds of studies, which s good for me. I tend to fly through something and only give it cursory attention unless I'm actually required to work through it by sharing examples from my own life.
Last week the topic we discussed was conflict- and let's just say I had plenty of examples from which to pull! It's good for me to share though, because it helps me to see patterns in the way I relate- bad patterns. As I keep sharing, I'm learning that bad patterns (even after I'm aware of them!) die hard. I've learned that I can't assume "I won't make the same mistakes as my parents" (to coin a common phrase) just because I can see from this vantage point. I can't assume that I'm free of those styles of relating- those sins- that burned me growing up simply because I renounce them. I might swear up and down, "I'll never be like that!" but it doesn't ensure that I haven't already learned to be just like that.
I might go into detail soon about how this is true for me. But today I want to share what really spoke to me from the study last week. While acknowledging that conflict is dangerous and can be damaging, the author of our book encouraged us to see conflict as a good gift from God to help us grow. We tend to think of conflict as a sign that something is wrong- and usually, it does mean that!- but it doesn't mean only that. It also means that God is providing opportunities to teach us: to make us face our fears; to loosen our grasp on control; to help us see some of those sinful patterns we might operate in; to allow us to grow in intimacy with others; to humble us and bring us to repentance. In other words, conflict is God taking us to school. It's a lab for our growth. It's Him allowing our discomfort for our good.
I never feel this way about conflict in the moment, but afterward I find myself thanking God- often. "Lord, thanks for letting me get caught cheating. It forced me to deal with the sin that I had been hiding." "Lord, thank you for bringing all that to a head with my friend. Now that we've talked about what was really bothering us, we've grown so much as friends." "Lord, thank you for forcing me to stand up to my boss! I've never had the confidence to enforce boundaries before." "Lord, thank you for allowing me to see how much of a jerk I've become. Thanks for exposing this problem so that I can work on it." "Thank you for giving me grace to respond lovingly when she blew up at me! I know that you were working through me to display Christ's love!" I could go on and on and on.
So all that to say, studying conflict this past week has crystallized this reality for me. It is helping release me from fear of conflict. Instead of dreading it (OK I'm sure I'll always dread it on some level) I can see it as an opportunity for growth. Instead of wanting to melt down if Michael and I have a conflict, I can see it as God teaching us something good, as one of the primary means through which our marriage will continue to be strengthened. Instead of walking into conflict armed with weapons to wound and kill my opponent, I can go in with the humility of readiness- readiness to see what God wants to illuminate about my own sinful heart, readiness to grow in love and grace toward others, and readiness to experience Him at work in my life.