Resolving Conflict: Emotion-Oriented Conflict
What we’re talking about tonight is the scenario where the conflict between you and another person is not so much an issue as it is an emotional scar. You know the situation where everything someone does is an irritation to you? Example: I remember one relationship I had that meant a lot to me was with this guy named Mark. And the thing that used to really hurt me about Mark was that he was really passive with me. It seemed like if there was a conversation to start, it had to start with me. If someone was going to be first to show that they needed the other person, it had to be meÿ.ÿ.ÿ. In my mind I told myself, “It’s because I’m more secure. It’s because I’m more mature,” and various self-congradulatory things like that. But in my heart, I felt like he didn’t need me as much as I needed him. And that really hurt. There would be times when I would just start to judge him. I would sit around and think about what a complete, self-centered, loser of a friend he was. And then we’d start getting in fights over little things. I’d see the way he slept in in the mornings, “You are so weak!” “You’re so judgmentalÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” The issue was much deeper and emotional than any one thing. Example: Just to give another illustration of what I’m talking about. I was in a conflict a few years ago with my brother. Both of us are very volatile. And we also have the gift of extreme statements. So in the context of a fight we would say things about each other that were very sweeping and damning. What I would do and what he would do is we would latch onto the thing the other person had said that was outrageous. And in my mind I would replay that again and again. And from that point on, it wouldn’t have mattered what else he said. “He called me a name,” or “he put me downÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” was all I could think. Those hurtful things became the issue. Example: This is the kind of poison that destroys marriagesÿ.ÿ.ÿ. So, as we think about this you’ve got to think about those people who can hurt you. You’ve got to think about your family. There may be things that your parents or brothers or sisters have done, and they’ve done them so many times, that now you have just walled that person off from your life. Or you constantly judge that person. You’ve got to think of someone you’ve had a romantic relationship with. And the relationship was painful. So now you just can’t stand that person. Of course, what happens in life is that we become more and more closed off from people. We learn to spot danger quicker and avoid it faster. Example: When you were a little kid, you didn’t hesitate to say, “Me and Jim are going to be best friends!” But as you get older you realize that you have to be more cautiousÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Example: At some point you start asking people out. But the experience of a lot of people is that they have a lot of different relationships and they end painfully. So you get to the point where you like being single! Or maybe you resort to the dating service or the classifieds to have more screening. The natural course of things is to get more and more isolated in life. What I want to talk about tonight is the idea of emotional conflict, when someone hurts you, and what we can do about it. I want to focus on the area of our emotions, because I think our culture had really lost it’s way here.
Emotions are revealing
The first thing I want to say is that these emotional conflicts are very revealing. (Matt. 12:34; 15:18; Luke 6:45; Prov. 27:19). These emotional reactions that we have to other people say so much about us. We think that our emotions tell us the way another person is. We think our emotions are a gauge of how someone treated us. And there is an interaction between external stimuli and our internal reaction. But by far the emotions we feel say something about us.
The Proverbs very simply sayÿ.ÿ.ÿ. The term “heart” is used several different way in the Bible. But one way it is used quite often is as the seat of passion and emotion. He’s saying very simply here that your emotions and passions show a lot about you.
Jesus spoke a lot on the corruption that reigns within us. And he got into many arguments with people about the issue. Because in his day, as in ours, there was a tendency to think that somehow my problems come from out there. I’m only responding to what is done to me or the things that happen to me.” He spoke so clearly on this in Markÿ7ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Not all of these terms are related to our emotions, although some of them are. Jesus is saying, though, that what goes on inside is much more powerful than the things that happen to us.
Do you see the application?
Do you see the application this has to emotional conflicts? This is something we don’t want to admit about ourselves. But the truth is, our strong, emotional reactions to other people say more about us than they do about the other person. These powerful emotions say we are prideful (“No one has the right to hurt me!”). They say we are self-centered. They say we are insecure and self-focused. They say we’re self-righteous (“I would never do that kind of thing to another person!”). This is hard to take in the course of conflict. It’s hard to take anytime, but especially in the course of conflict. Example: Let’s just think through a scenario here. Someone attacks me or says something very offensive to me. My immediate reaction is, “Whew! That hurts!” That part I can’t control, unless I want to hide from people. But now I choose to get angry about it, or offended, or sad and depressedÿ.ÿ.ÿ. I choose those reactions. Those are my reactions. And the fact that they are so often negative is related to our pridefulness. The fact that we get angry when someone does something is related to our self-centeredness and our self-righteousness. Or it’s related to our insecurities.
I’m talking heresy!
I realize I’m talking about an absolute heresy here. In our culture feelings are sacred! We, and our feelings, are victims of what other people do to us! That’s what our culture says! The real truth is that our feelings are very corrupt from our own sinfulness. We almost always respond wrongly in our emotions because of our self-centered and sinful nature. That’s what our culture wants to avoid. We want to put to sleep the notion of personal responsibility. We want to put to rest the idea of sin. Example: I did this because it felt right to me. How can you deny the legtimacy of my feelings? We don’t have a category anymore for the notion that our feelings might be wrong. This is part of the revolt against the idea of personal responsibility. It’s part of the revolt against the notion of sin?that I might be wrong and in need of forgiveness. The whole basis upon which the notion of a relationship with God is predicated (in the Bible) is the fact that we need forgiveness. We’re sinners through and through who really need God to forgive us. And that idea is just rejected outright in our culture.
That’s why our culture is so cold (Luke 7:47)
In fact, it’s one of the main reasons our culture is so unforgiving and so cold. Nobody sees that they need forgiveness. Nobody admits their own sinfulness. So they’re unwilling to forgive and accept the sinfulness in others. Jesus said very plainly in Lukeÿ7:47, “The one who is forgiven much loves muchÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” What he is saying is that when you know how much you have been forgiven, then you can’t help but have a heart of compassion for others. But when you’re self-righteous, when you don’t see where you’re wrong, then it’s so easy to judge others. It’s so easy to justify feelings of hatred, anger, bitterness, vengenceÿ.ÿ.ÿ. because you don’t see how wrong you are and how wrong you have been. Being able to handle pain and hurt when other people dish it out to you is directly related to whether you have been forgiven by Godÿ.ÿ.ÿ. But I don’t know one Christian here who is fully aware of how much we’ve been forgiven for. And that is why we have such a hard time forgiving othersÿ.ÿ.ÿ.
We can change our emotions (Gen. 4:7; Prov. 4:23)
I’m going to go one step further on this. I’m also going to say that we can change our emotions by doing the right thing. Now what do I mean by this?
There’s a great example of this in the Bible in Gen. 4ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. What God says to Cain is very insightful. He says, “If you do right, will not your face be lifted up?” You’ll feel better if you do the right thing. Cain eventually did the wrong thing and he murdered his brother. And I doubt it made him feel any better. But the Bible teaches that you can, in fact, by doing right, have some control over your emotions. Example: Some of us were talking last week about love. A couple of people were voicing the standard line in our culture. That is, when you fall “out of love” with someone, then that’s it. You can’t do anything about that because the love is gone! And I was saying, “No, the feeling is gone. The emotion is gone. And what’s more, by perservering and doing the right thing, you can bring that feeling back!” In fact, I believe, stronger and deeper than it was before. And that’s just one example of how actions have an impact on our feelings. There are many more.
Again, back in Proverbsÿ.ÿ.ÿ. What he is saying here is something very similar. He’s saying, “Watch over your emotions. Guard them. Don’t let them get carried awayÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Example: Katey and the Tuna Salad incident? If you want to poison your life, just let these negative, bitter emotions go unchecked. Indulge them. Fantasize about them. Really feel the anger you have towards another person! And it’s going to poison the well of your life. Again, I couldn’t imagine giving people this advice if they didn’t have a relationship with God. I look at my own self and realize, “My emotions are the most powerful thing I have!” Example: When I was a kid I used to bash my body on the ground and scream uncontrollablyÿ.ÿ.ÿ. And then when I was a teenager that went away, because I was doing drugs. Then after my head cleared, those powerful emotions started to come back. They were scarey because I had no control over them at all. It’s only been by going to God and saying, “God! These things are bigger than me!” that I have been able to get some victory here. And again, I don’t claim to be in the clear. Because I believe that our emotions are extremely wild. But God has brought me a long way hereÿ.ÿ.ÿ.