Conflict is dangerous and holy. Dangerous because we can get hurt and cause harm to others. Holy because it can lead to a brand new awareness of God’s presence and the power of transformation. Every day is full of friction. Can we learn to embrace it for its value? Or do we just try to avoid it and hope it never happens?
When you say something to me that is emotionally charged, I have a split second before I say something back to you. When I am presented with an event, I have a tiny little moment after my heart jumps into my throat before I jump into action. How we use that tiny amount of time is very important and can be life-altering – positively or negatively.
When you say something to me, it reveals something that you are dealing with. If you say, “I hate you,” something is going on inside you and you are throwing that in my direction. If you say, “You are wrong,” you are sorting out just what it is that you think is right. When I hear you say something like that, it threatens me at some level and, in addition to your words of conflict, I now have my own conflict developing inside myself. When I am threatened, I have to deal with my fight/flight/freeze tendencies. So when you throw conflict at me, you are sorting out your issues and I immediately have my own issues to deal with. Recognizing those dynamics is pretty difficult.
If you say, “I hate you” or “You’ve never loved me” or “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of”, something starts bouncing around inside me. I want to defend myself in some way to ward off the attack. We take affronts personally. And what we often do is react to the pain that we have just felt. We go on the attack. As soon as we do that, the atmosphere is suddenly very toxic and it takes a huge adjustment, often one from an outside party, to calm things down. Once a fight is engaged, a spirit of violence comes to rule. Now it’s a matter of who wins the fight rather than any awareness of the issues flying around.
Something very remarkable can result if I can learn to pause during those tiny little moments and develop a practice of sorting things out. When you say “I hate you” and I can avoid reacting to the hurt that I experience, then the atmosphere changes. In that tiny little moment, if I can avoid taking your explosion personally, if I can remember that you are sorting out some issue of your own and that your comment causes my own issues to arise, then I can let the fury of the moment pass and respond in a helpful way. I can draw you out and listen. I can allow you to deal with your issues and begin to address my own. We can both grow.
If a crisis arises, we automatically get frightened. If I react to the fear, then I have to deal with my reaction along with the original crisis. Panic causes more harm than crises do. We all know people who spin out of control in a crisis. We also know people who seem calmer and keep their wits about them. They seem to have an ability to slow the world down instead of getting lost in the frenzy.
Remember when the woman who is caught in adultery is brought to Jesus? The crowd is furious. They want to stone the woman. She is terrified. Jesus does something very odd in that moment of crisis. He bends down and writes something in the dirt. Then he remarks that whoever is without sin should throw the first stone. He bends down and writes something else in the dirt. The crowd calms down and disperses. Jesus asks the woman if anyone is left to condemn her. “Neither do I condemn you,” he says.
Jesus takes that tiny little moment of conflict and stretches it out, makes it longer and less threatening, and avoids adding any inner conflict he is experiencing to the mix.. He creates an environment where the participants can learn and grow. It’s a remarkable gift he has developed, one that has grown out of a deep life of prayer and reflection.
If we have a reservoir of peace to draw on, times of conflict and crisis are more easily absorbed. We can all learn to diffuse conflict and crisis. We can all learn to make those tiny little pressure packed moments of fear go a little slower. We can learn to buy some time where resolution and growth can occur.
The best way to do that is to buy a little time each day for prayer, reflection, silence, contemplation. There is a cumulative effect of such a practice. The world is less threatening. Conflict is less frightening. We become more aware of our own personal issues and more compassionate toward others as they sort out their own issues.
Buy some time. Make room for the grace and mercy of Christ. Watch danger turn into holiness.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.