Content is written by Rev. Christy Drechsel – Christy will be leading our upcoming webinar on “Dealing with Conflict”. See details below.
Even as the fires were crackling through the branches of pines, birch, and spruce, the start of new tree growth was already popping. Heat from the burning trees pops open the cones on those trees, releasing seeds that have been waiting to get loose for years. Millions of those seeds are dumped on the forest floor and within less than a month, a fraction of those seeds begin to germinate, pop through the soil and start growing into little seedlings. Give them another 30 or 40 years, and hikers going through the area where the fires have wiped out most trees, those seedlings will have grown tall enough that hikers won’t even know there was a fire. In fact, fire is a natural part of the forest’s regeneration system. Most forest trees need to be exposed to fire every 50 to 100 years to invigorate new growth.
All too often conflict situations are perceived like the fire described above. We try to suppress them or do not know how to handle them and thus the conflict becomes even more than even we could have expected. As it was found out in Yellowstone National Park over 20 years ago, suppressing forest fires too long can actually be detrimental to forests. Extreme efforts to prevent forest fires there led to a huge consumption of trees when the fire finally broke out.
It is all about how you look at the fire (conflict). You can look at the situation and see death and destruction or you can look and see something that, when controlled, leads to new growth. One way to help with our perception of conflict is to become comfortable “living in the gray” – we live in such a black and white world these days. All one has to do is turn to any social issue facing our culture to see that everyone has an opinion and everyone is usually right! But when we spend so much of our time in either the black or the white we plant our feet and forget that there is another side altogether. We usually don’t even realize there is another side until we are confronted. We can easily cocoon ourselves in ignorant bliss. What would happen if we moved toward tension or at least embraced the tension that confronts us? We would find ourselves living in the gray. We would be in the middle of the black and white. This allows us the ability to listen – and educate – ourselves on the given situation. It is easier to move when we are not dug into the ground on one side or the other.
Scripture and our understanding of God give us a good foundation for dealing with conflict situations. If we are created in the image of God, then our image of God must inform how we approach conflict. If we see God as an authoritarian, we may approach conflict from a more confrontational style. If we see God as benevolent, we may tend to always be thinking of the other which means we may always give into conflict situations. If we see God as critical, we may be able to look at conflict situations with a critical eye, always trying to figure out the angles. And lastly, if we see God as distant we may simply want to remain distant from conflict altogether.
Conflict in the church is inevitable and can be very messy. One blog article is not going to stop conflict situations from happening or prepare you to handle every situation, but just by reading this article – you have already taken the first step in preparation. You have admitted it happens and you are ready to do the work to handle situations when they arise.