How To Avoid The Ditches of Interpersonal Conflict
Ephesians 6:12 says, “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Sometimes it sure looks like our struggle is with people though, doesn’t it? You may find yourself in a situation where the words are coming out of a person’s mouth. The conflict is real. Maybe you feel intimidated, dominated or threatened. Maybe you feel like someone is shoving their way into your lane. Or maybe you’re feeling like someone is trying to manipulate you through intimidation or neediness. If you’re a leader, maybe someone is pressuring you to abdicate your God-given authority and do things their way. Or maybe you feel the threat of humiliation if you don’t yield. It may be that someone is blowing right past the healthy boundaries you’ve expressed.
How do we respond in a God honoring way to the conflict we find yourselves in? Picture a road, with a ditch on either side. The healthy, God honoring response is the “high road.” People with an Elijah mindset walk on this road. They don’t put up with the spirit of jezebel in their relationships. The ditches are the places we need to avoid. Those who yield to the spirit of jezebel hang out in the ditches. Why two ditches? Because jezebel has two faces. One face looks fierce and intimidating, the other needy and rejected. Our flesh can be slippery, tending to veer toward one ditch or another. It takes a great deal of courage and intentionality to stay out of the ditches.
The two ditches:
The first ditch is where the sheepish and self-deprecating hang out. This is the picture of someone who shrinks beneath others when facing conflict. The person who does this agrees with the lie that he/she is inadequate to face the situation they are in. This person tends to yield to unholy domination by others. In order to avoid conflict, this person tends to abdicate their God-given position. If this person is a leader in the church, they veer toward abdicating authority to those who pressure them to do what they want. This could also be the housewife that allows someone to displace them in their own home. It might be the volunteer in the church who resigns their position when someone gets in their lane. It could also be the parent to allows someone to displace them in the disciplining of their child. It might be the husband who allows his wife to usurp his authority in the home. The person in this ditch tends to deal with their anger by stuffing it. This ditch is for those who either lack healthy boundaries or fail to enforce their boundaries when someone tromps on them. This person tends to struggle with feelings of insecurity, self-rejection and shame. Fear of man keeps the person in this ditch from rising up and doing the right thing. This person will often flee to isolated places in order to protect themselves or others. Those in this ditch tend toward having a “never enough” poverty mindset. This person needs to reestablish trust that God will protect and help them to stand against opposition.
This is the ditch that I tend to veer into. Where others appear brimming with confidence, I have to fight for it. In an attempt to choose humility, I have to be aware that I don’t end up agreeing with inadequacy. I have to be intentional about agreeing with the truth that whatever God calls me to do, He will enable me to do.
The second ditch is to Get bigger and bully. This person may have just transferred out of the sheepish and self-deprecating ditch. Exasperated with feeling under the domination of others, this person decides, “NEVER AGAIN!!!” In an instant, this person may jump in the opposite ditch and get “bigger” than the person they’re in conflict with. This person finds refuge in intimidating others. Their anger, once suppressed, either erupts like a volcano or leaks out sideways. He or she may act out their anger in passive aggressive, contempt filled ways. Instead of being kind and clear, the person in this ditch acts rejecting (outward or inward) and rude. Mean and muddy. This person is willing to get louder than their intimidator in order to be heard. This person will often be the source of friendly fire in the church. They will get in others’ lanes, often in an attempt to protect things from being done wrong. This person also struggles with fear of man, but it looks different than the person in the sheepish ditch. This person tends to come across prideful, domineering and threatening. This person may seek to manipulate through threat of punishment.
Climbing out of the ditch and taking the high road:
If we are going to stop yielding to the spirit of jezebel, we need to get out of the ditches and do this God’s way. So…what does that look like? If there was just one scripture that would show us how to do this, it would be Ephesians 4:15:
“…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head.”
Sounds simple enough in theory. It takes a lot of courage to live out. Two mistakes we’ve made as believers are:
1.) Thinking we can do just fine without being honest with one another. This mindset says, “I know better than God. I can have healthy relationships without truth.”
2.) The second mistake we make is delivering the truth in a mean package.
When we speak truth, it’s gonna go sideways if our motive is to vent our anger! This means that we need to forgive BEFORE we speak difficult truth to others. If we don’t, we’re likely to use truth as a hammer to beat others up with.
In our culture, we’ve been taught that it’s not ok to speak truth if it’s uncomfortable or might offend. But this is NOT God’s way. He loves us enough to tell us the truth. Leviticus 19:17-18 says,
“You must not harbor hatred against your brother in your heart. Directly rebuke your neighbor, so that you will not incur guilt on account of him.” Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.…”
Brothers and sisters, it takes courage to live like this. It is not our social norm. But we can do this! Let’s talk a little bit more about what it looks like to take the high road.
How do we go about getting out of the ditch and onto the high road?
Confront fear of man head on. Don’t let fear of critical judgment by others dictate your actions. If we’re going to get out of the ditches, we can’t let fear of disapproval or wounding stop us. This means doing the right thing even if we’re afraid others will blow up at us or feel rejected. Proverbs 29:25 says,
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”
When I was beginning to break free from fear of man, the Lord led me to take on a project at a church. The current leader was being pushed out of her position of authority by people who held no legitimate authority in the church. They postured authority in this department that they didn’t have. When someone did something they didn’t like, they attempted to control through disapproval and intimidation. The thing was, I didn’t hold any position of authority in this area either. So I went to the person in charge of this ministry and asked for her permission. She gave it, but recommended that I speak to the elders as well. I did that, and again, was given permission to take on the project. As I carried it out, fear of man came against me with a vengeance. I literally shook as I carried out the work God had asked me to do. I did it afraid, but I did it. Even as I worked, I could feel the grip of fear losing its power over me. There was backlash, criticism toward me and anger. Those posturing authority made it clear that they weren’t happy with me. It wasn’t fun, but I survived! The next time I had to face fear of man, it was a little easier. And the next time, easier still.
Another way that we climb out of the ditch and onto the high road is by Speaking the truth in love. This takes vulnerability. Some have described vulnerability as, “into-me-you-see.” It’s also “I-See-You.” We live this out as we call it as we see it. Honest, kind and frank. The more we care about the relationship, the more difficult this is to do. It can feel really risky. If we’re going to take the high road, it means we have to value pleasing God above pleasing even those we love most.
Dealing with anger in a Biblical way is another way we climb out of the ditch. Ephesians 4:25-27 says,
“…having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
Notice that anger in itself isn’t a sin? It’s what we do with it. It is possible to be angry and still do the right thing.
We take the high road when we act within proper chains of authority. There is covering and protection when we stay under LEGITIMATE authority. This means that when others posture authority that they don’t actually have, we don’t yield to them. If we’re going to operate within legitimate chains of authority, we need to know what they are. If you’re working in a church or organization, it’s wise to know who your up-line is, and who your subordinates are. It’s wise before taking on responsibility to ask, “Who’s in charge?” Once we know who our authority is, acting in honor toward them is how we stay out of the ditch.
We take the high road when we resist the temptation to quit or to flee from conflict. This means standing firm, even when we feel afraid or intimidated. 1 Peter 3:14 says,
“…Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED.”
Choose refuge in God rather than walls of fear. We all need a refuge when we feel threatened. God promises to be this for us! We are safe when we put our hope in Him to protect, not in ourselves. Psalm 91 says,
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, I will rescue him. I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”
Establish and enforce healthy boundaries. We can’t expect others to know what boundaries we need if we don’t express them. Once we do that, we need to stand firm. Those that choose to overstep our boundaries need to be reminded. If they persist, we need to stand firm.
We climb out of the ditches when we see ourselves and others through the lens of God’s word, not our feelings or perceptions. This means we don’t agree with puffed up images of ourselves (pride) or with self-deprecating images of ourselves. (another face of pride, as self is still the focus). Rather, we see ourselves as adequate and competent because God makes us so. It also means that we don’t see intimidating people as being bigger than they are. Isaiah 51 says,
“I, even I, am He who comforts you. Why should you be afraid of mortal man, of a son of man who withers like grass? But you have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth. You live in terror all day long because of the fury of the oppressor who is bent on destruction. But where is the fury of the oppressor?…”
God is bigger than anyone we may have conflict with. He is our Defender, our Shield, our Help in times of trouble. We are safe in His very capable hands.
May you have the courage to face all of your relationships with truth and love,