I find myself in trouble occasionally. Once in a while, my wife, Brenda, and the kids head out of town to visit family and I am left in charge of me. When Brenda returns, all is well if there are no crumbs on the countertop, my dirty socks are unrolled and put in the hamper, and the bed is made. I won't bore you with the rest. Conflict arises when one or more of these unwritten laws are violated. It becomes a bad day. Conflict comes from incompatible opinions or principles. For example, crumbs on the countertop are no big deal to me, just wipe them off next time, but to others this is a major transgression to cleanliness. Varied opinions and perspectives can cause a tear in the relationship and even cause a war.
What does your relational conflict look like? Maybe you are a college student who spars with restrictive parents. You might be a friend who struggles over misunderstandings or a neighbor fighting over the volume of someone else's undesirable music. Should we let loose and allow our natural impulses to take over when conflict arises? Should we put on our helmet and head to battle? Or maybe there is a better way. How do we handle conflict in a way that is constructive and produces a stronger bond in relationships? God has made known a profitable mind set to have while navigating through relational conflict. Philippians 2:3-5 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." Jesus considered others better by setting aside heavenly position to come to earth as a servant and as it says in John 1 "to pitch his tent among us."
Our ultimate example in turning from selfish ambition and living in humility is Jesus Christ. He valued the interests of others by laying down his life for his friends. Jesus endured a criminal's cross and carried the sins of the world as he suffered and died. We are on the right track when we can train ourselves to look not only to our own interests but also to the interest of others.
Now, Jesus' ways are counter-cultural. Our culture says, "I have rights," or "I am a victim," or even "You are wrong and I am going to make you pay." But following the way of Jesus, step one responds, "I love you enough to overlook your offenses and to do what is right and best for you." Followers of Christ are instructed in Romans 12:16 to "live in harmony with one another" which means, in the diversity of personalities and perspectives, treat each other with dignity.
How do you take step two and look in humility to the interests of others? Let me ask another question. Have you ever worn anyone else's shoes before? There was a time in my life when I would buy used work shoes to save money during my college days. It was strange to wear shoes broken in by others due to the fact that some people have high arches or were more flat-footed than me. The contrasts in foot dynamics were very obvious and sometimes even painful. What if, in relational conflict we did the mental work of putting on the other person's shoes? Perhaps this mindfulness of others would take the volatility of the conflict down a few notches.
I want to challenge you to rethink the conflict that you are facing right now that might lead to a war. Take some time and think through the conflict from the other person's perspective.
Imagine what would happen in our community if every one of us took a step away from selfishness and in humility began considering others better than ourselves. The change would be stunning. Many conflicts would be resolved and diffused. There would be greater harmony in relationships. And yes, there might even be fewer crumbs on the countertop.
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, with two locations meeting Sundays at 9:30 a.m. at Petoskey Middle School and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. More information is online at www.genesiswired.com or on Twitter @normbyers.