Pastor Brent looks at the relationships in our lives that need to be mended and how we should approach conflict resolution with others.
Fences: Mending Fences Conflict Resolution
Matthew 5:23, Romans 12:18, Colossians 3:12-13
In our relationships, there are some words that we find very difficult to say. With that crush you’ve been carrying for some time, maybe it’s just me, but I remember, my hands getting all sweaty, my mouth getting all dry, my heart racing, and then finally getting up the nerve to say those six terrifying words, “Will you go out with me?” And what is fascinating about this is that if they say yes, there is elation and excitement. But even if they say no, even though in the beginning there is disappointment, it brings closure and eventually we can move on.
Do you remember the difficulty in uttering those three little words for the first time to that special someone, “I love you.” We wonder, will they say it back? Will this scare them away? Will they say thank you?
At school or in your job, we can find it incredibly difficult to utter the words, “I need your help.” It is very hard to admit sometimes that we can’t do everything on our own and that we might actually need another human being in our lives.
And while the words I’ve mentioned can be hard to get out of our mouths, there are still two words that seem to be the hardest for us to say. In fact, a quick google search of the hardest words to say in a relationship reveals scores of articles about two little words. “I’m sorry.” Now we can make it even harder by adding a few of more words. Because sometimes we can follow up the ‘I’m sorry” with “I made a mistake” or “I was wrong.”
But maybe you aren’t the one saying those words. Maybe you are on the receiving end of those words. Someone is standing before you saying those words to you and then you have to decide if you are going to utter three more extremely difficult words to say, “I forgive you.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if in our relationships we never had to worry about offending someone or being offended, never having to apologize. In 1970, there was an extremely popular movie called “Love Story.” In it was a line that has become what the American Film Institute ranks as the 13th most popular movie line. Less popular than lines like, “Frankly my dear…” and “Go ahead, make my day” and even “May the force be with you” is this gem all bout resolving relational conflict.
After the main couple have a fight, the guy searches for the girl to apologize for his anger. He’s running around trying to find her. When he returns home, he sees her sitting on the steps of the porch. There are tears and sappy music playing in the background. He looks at her and says, “Jenny, I’m sorry.” With tears running down her face and shaking her head she says, “Don’t. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Love means never having to say you’re sorry? Obviously the person who thought up this line wasn’t married! Instead, it should have been love means being willing to to say I’m sorry first! It would be nice if there was no conflict to resolve or if we never had to ask for or offer forgiveness. But we all know the world we live in just doesn’t work that way.
Last week we started this new series called “Fences: Maintaining Healthy Relationships.” We did this because we understand that relationships take work. Very few, if any of the relationships in our lives get to sit on cruise control. And it seems that the most important relationships often require the most effort. We have to pay attention to them.
Pastor Amy did an amazing job kicking this off and helping us understand that there will be times in our lives that we need to build some fences. In the message last week, we heard that we need boundaries in our relationships. Even Jesus had boundaries in his relationships and it isn’t wrong for us to say no to people at times and for us to distinguish between helping carrying someone’s burden versus taking responsibility for things they should be responsible for.
Today I want us to look at those two difficult words, “I’m sorry” and the follow up, “I forgive you” because we need to learn how to mend fences, repair the damaged relationships in our lives.
Jesus on Conflict
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that conflict is inevitable. Whenever you have two imperfect people interacting with one another in a broken world, it is going to happen at some point. But what do we do when we have an offense with someone or when we offend someone? What is our responsibility?
Believe it or not, conflict happens a lot in the Bible. From Cain and Abel to Saul and David, the Apostles fought, Paul and Peter, and Paul and Barnabas. Conflict is in the Bible because the Bible is a real book about real people, not a whitewashed version of perfection.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches on conflict a couple of times. Matthew 5, in Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus starts talking about murder and then says that if we hate someone it is just like murdering. Jesus is raising the stakes. He is saying it isn’t just our actions that matter. It is our heart that matters.
In Matthew 5:23, listen to what Jesus says about conflict. “23 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Here Jesus is addressing what happens when we offend someone. Now I realize that this would never happen to you good people, but believe it or not, I find myself unwittingly in this position much more than I would care to admit. What Jesus is telling me, and those who are unfortunate enough to be like me and might on the rare occasion offend someone, he’s telling us how we should handle it.
And it begins with knowing. “If you remember.” This tells us that we are responsible if we know we’ve done something. On the flip side, it is hard to be responsible for reconciling if we are unaware. That doesn’t mean we get to plead ignorance all the time, but it also means we don’t have to drive ourselves crazy trying to think, “Did I offend him? Did I offend her?”
If we are honest, there are times when we stick our foot in our mouth, we say something offensive, we say something harshly, we are dismissive of people, and we know it. And when we know it, we have a responsibility to do something about it.
Having the joy of working with me 40+ hours every week gives Pastor Ryan the opportunity for me to put this into practice often. I remember the day I came in and he said something and I bit his head off. It wasn’t 15 minutes later that I realized what I had done. I went to him and said, “Hey, I’m sorry if I was sharp with you. I am on edge today and I don’t really know why and I apologize. You didn’t deserve that.”
I remembered what I had done and I took the initiative to correct it. Pastor Ryan was gracious and forgave and we were able to move past it. And our relationship is better for it. So if you’ve done something to someone, own it and go to them.
Next and probably the most import thing Jesus says here is that if you remember while you are worshipping God, it is more important to stop worshipping and go make peace than to keep doing what you are doing. Think about that. So often we hold up church attendance or worship of God as the ultimate expression of our relationship with God. And Jesus is saying your relationships with others impacts your relationship with God. Your faith journey is never yours alone. How often do you hear us talk about faith is not an individual sport? It is done in community. And reconciliation takes precedence even over worship.
And the context in which Jesus says this is extremely important to understanding it fully. Jesus was in Galilee when speaking these words. The only place to make sacrifice was Jerusalem, a journey of several days, possibly nine days away. Jesus was saying, whatever you are doing, wherever you may be, stop, make the nine day journey back home to make things right, then make the nine day journey back and finish what you started with God.
Why? Because your relationship with others impacts your relationship with God. Don’t you just hate that. I do. I wish I could just do and say whatever I want, whenever I want, leaving a trail of bodies in the wake, and still have a thriving fulfilling relationship with God. But it doesn’t work that way. If I want a thriving relationship with God, I need reconciled relationships with you and you with me and others in your life. And if we know someone has a problem with us, we need to go take care of it.
In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about the other side of reconciliation. When someone offends or sins against you. Listen to what he says here. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (vs15)
Matthew 18 says if you are the offended one go to them. As Christ followers, it never matters who started it. It is always our responsibility to be people of reconciliation.
Conflict resolution is never easy. In fact, we really aren’t wired for it. Our emotions seem to work against us when we need to deal with broken relationships. Instead we find ourselves in either a fight or flight mode. As one book put it, violence or silence. We either exacerbate the problem or we try to run and hide.
It isn’t easy, but we are called to be people of peace and reconciliation. So much that Jesus says resolve the conflict before you worship. So what do we do? How do we resolve conflict in our lives? More importantly, what keeps us from it?
Reconciliation is hard because it requires humility. No one likes to admit when they are wrong. It starts when we are children. “Did you do this?” “Not me!” Anyone else have “Not Me” living in their house?
To go to someone and admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness means we must swallow our pride. And even if both parties are at fault and if your part in the conflict is only 1%, we are still called upon to humbly go seek reconciliation. If we think we are right, if we think they are immature for getting offended, if we think it doesn’t matter, we still must go.
Not only does it require humility, it requires vulnerability. Admitting a mistake, admitting you weren’t at your best, seeking forgiveness puts us in a position of weakness. What if they don’t forgive? What if they throw it back it our faces? It’s possible. But if we want peace, we must humble ourselves and be vulnerable in order to find it. And what helps bring vulnerability to conflict resolution is this principle…attack the problem not the person.
Resolving conflict also requires maturity. We don’t get to stomp our foot and say I don’t want to go. We have to be mature enough to go. But maturity also means a few other things. It means first taking the initiative. Ever heard the expression Time heals all wounds. That’s garbage too. It doesn’t. And because it doesn’t we can’t just wait for someone else to do it. In fact, Jesus says just the opposite. It is our responsibility to initiate the conversation.
Which leads to the next part of being mature and that is being willing to deal with the problem head on and not talking to everyone else about the problem. Instead, going directly to the person you should be talking to. It means not gossiping about the issue. We all know it is much easier to talk about the problem than to face it. And we can camouflage it as a “prayer need,” but the immature person goes around telling everyone else about the issue instead of going to the person the issue is with.
And for those who might be the listening ear, it is immature for us to listen and pat them on the head and say “It will be ok” or even worse, “You are right, that person is horrible.” Instead, the mature response says, “Have you talked to them? Don’t tell me, go to them like Jesus told you to!”
Maturity also means honesty. Sometimes honesty is telling people what they don’t want to hear. Not in a harsh way. But sometimes there is no offense. Sometimes people just want to be offended, always looking for an offense. Maturity knows when an apology is in order and when it isn’t. Just because we are called to resolve conflict doesn’t mean we apologize for breathing. And when we apologize just to try to make peace we call that appeasement and appeasement isn’t true reconciliation.
Sometimes, people’s expectations are unreasonable. What do you do when it really isn’t your fault and an apology isn’t the right thing to do. You speak honestly into the situation. For example, say someone was offended because you didn’t stop to talk to someone you passed between services in the foyer. You could apologize. If there was not malicious intent on your part, you could say, “I didn’t mean to pass you by. I value you and our friendship.” Apologies occur when there is a change of heart. Sometimes clarification and honesty is needed. And maturity knows the difference.
Maturity also means knowing when to own your stuff and when not to take the burden that isn’t yours. Think about last week’s message. Know where the boundaries need to be. Own your stuff not theirs.There are people that will take advantage and use your guilt to manipulate you into doing things. And maturity knows when to reconcile and when the boundary needs to be put in place.
Maturity also know to let it go when it is done. If you’ve sought forgiveness and they given it, let it go. And vice versa, if you’ve forgiven, you can’t hold on to it. That doesn’t mean you forget. That doesn’t mean you willingly and blindly put yourself back into bad situations. Not at all. You can forgive and move on apart from a bad or unhealthy relationship when needed. Just don’t hang on to the conflict when you do. Because it will always hurt you more than it hurts them.
Maturity also knows when to be offended and when not to be. Some of the most spiritually mature people I know are also the least offend-able people I know. It is possible that if you are always offended, the problem isn’t other people. It could be revealing an area in your life you need to grow.
Lastly, reconciliation requires love. Without love, you are just going through the motions. The goal of reconciliation is a restored relationship and you can’t seek that if you don’t care about the other person. When we aren’t getting along, you know it and I know it, it messes with me. I can’t sleep. I think about it constantly. I don’t want it to be this way. Love is the motivation to lean into the discomfort of the conflict, swallow my pride, admit my part, and ask for forgiveness or forgive and let it go.
As I have put this together, I have not had anyone at Ashworth in mind. I know that after being at the church for over 11 years, that unintentionally I have offended. I hope that if I have offended and it is something that still bothers you that you will let me know. I don’t want there to be anything between us.
But I also want you to know that I have never done anything intentionally to offend. I know I get in my own way, say things, don’t say things, miss things, but never has there been a malicious thought or emotion behind it. I love this church. I love each and every one of you. And if you had an offense and decided to let it go out of love for me, love for this church, and for the sake of unity, thank you.
Next week, Pastor Ryan is going to talk about mending fences part two and look at when we miscommunicate and part of that is learning not to assume the worst in people when something happens. Rather, we should assume the best.
What about when you’ve tried to make peace abut they won’t have it. What then? In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul writes these words, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is a great reminder that we can have everything I just mentioned, we can do all the rights things, but there will be times reconciliation will not be possible. You can ask forgiveness and it may not be given. You can try to reconcile and the person refuses. And if you’ve tried, that is ok. Do what you can. Know you’ve tried and move on. You can’t reconcile if only one party is interested. It takes two to reconcile.
Resolving My Conflict with God
As I have talked today, maybe you’ve thought about a broken relationship but the problem you’re having now isn’t with someone here, maybe your problem is with God. Life hasn’t turned out like you thought or hoped. You’ve experienced disappointments and hardship. Instead of a carefree life, it’s been one of turmoil and tragedy. And right now, when you think about a relationship that needs reconciliation, it is between you and God.
You’re mad at God. You have questions. You don’t understand why. And you feel abandoned. Alone. You’re angry. You’re hurt. With God. Let me encourage you today, all that I have said in how we should resolve conflict with one another, do the same with God. He’s a big God. He can take your anger, your questions, your hurt. Go to him honestly. Lay it all out because I know that even if you don’t get all the answers to your questions, even if you don’t get the rosy life with rainbows and unicorns, what you will find is a God who loves you more deeply than you could ever imagine, who wants to take your hurt and pain, and wants you to know that he has never once left you. That even though life has been difficult, he still loves you and will carry you through the pain.
And just like when we make the decision to seek forgiveness from one another or when we chose to forgive, we find our relationships change, when we come to God seeking his forgiveness for salvation or needing to forgive him for what we’ve perceived as a wrong against us, we will find a deeper relationship, much deeper and richer than we ever thought possible.
Because that is what dealing with our conflict does. It gives us stronger relationships. It gives us healthier relationships. It gives us deeper relationships. And it gives us peace.
Conflict is a festering sore that left unattended will do great damage to us, relationally, physically and spiritually. Forgive this gross story, but earlier this year I had a Paronychia. Anyone ever had that before? Let me tell you, it can be an extremely painful, puss-filled infection around your fingernail. The tip of my finger was swollen and painful to the touch.
I went to the doctor to make sure amputation wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t although it felt like it. He said we can fix this. He took a needle and jabbed it right into my swollen finger. And yes, it hurt. And if that wasn’t and enough, he then proceeded to push with both hands as hard as he could to get the puss out. It was disgusting.
He kept asking, are you ok. I assume the paleness of my face and the sweat breaking out on my forehead gave him concern. I survived. But it took the pain of that needle and pushing all the infection out to begin the healing process.
Conflict is like that. It is a puss-filled infection that sits below the surface causing pain. And left untreated it will spread into other areas, like your spiritual life.
So who do you need to reach out to for reconciliation today? Have you offended someone in your life and it is a genuine offense? Do you need to pick up your phone right now and text them to set up a time to meet to clear the air? If so, do it. Right now. Remember, Jesus said restoring broken relationships is more important than you putting your hands up in the air and singing this next song with all your might.
Has someone offended you? Does it need you to go to them and clear the air or have you thought the worst about them, assuming they meant to hurt you, when in reality they would never do such a thing? In resolving this conflict, is it possible that you need to just let it go? Maybe or possibly there is a genuine offense and you need to get it out in the open. To stop talking about it with others and instead, deal directly with the one who can resolve it.
If so, get out your phone and set it up. Don’t wait. Remember, it doesn’t matter who is responsible or whose fault it is. If there is conflict in your circle of relationships that needs resolving, it is our responsibility to seek reconciliation.
If you need to get things right with God or just want prayer for that conflict you are struggling with? If so, let us know. We want to pray with and for you so that you can find peace and finally mend some of the fences in your life.