The start of a new year is a time to reflect and I hope you have taken that time. Have you scanned your life over the last twelve months? What lessons did you learn? Was God a participant? Was he leading you somewhere? Did you cooperate or did you resist? Most of us resist God’s tugging and pulling quite fiercely. It is in our nature – the battle we wage between the flesh and the spirit (Gal 5:17). In this post, I want to give you some insights that will help you make sense of struggles in your life and see the blessing God has for you if you will surrender your struggle in a particular way.
I believe that conflict is God knocking at our door. The conflict itself is not a problem but rather the way we handle it. Jesus said there would be conflict and that he was bringing conflict to the world, even turning family members against each other.(Matt 10:35) It is our inner experience of the conflict that is our opportunity to find God and experience his peace. After all, God is love. (1 John 4:8). His love and peace await us on the other side of conflict. We must therefore welcome conflict and not be afraid of it.
Why are we afraid? Quite simply, we are attached to an outcome. We want something – money, position, sex, admiration and pleasures. Conflict threatens these. Yet Jesus said that we can have what we want. St James warns, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3). My experience is that if we want things out of fear, then we actually create the conditions to not get them. Some call this a self-fulfilling prophecy. “That which we fear, we cause to occur,” I remind myself as a personal mantra.
Money is a great example. If we fear lack of money, we may work hard to alleviate that fear by acquiring wealth. However, it can come at the cost of our integrity and our relationships. We leave our marriage if our husband or wife doesn’t share our desire for money and the work that comes with its pursuit. We also reject God’s will if money is at stake. Thus, we have conflict rooted in fear. Our fears cause us to act in a way that destroys the relationship. The price tag is love. We lose love.
Jesus is clear and consistent in his teaching. We must love first. Then we will find the kingdom of God which, he says, is within us(Luke 17:21). Our attachments to outcomes always lead us into conflict with those who stand in our way. Therefore conflict is a path to love. We must choose between the outcome we want and the person(s) in the way.
Yet we can have both. When we let go of our attachment to saving our marriage, keeping our job, raising well-behaved children and so forth, we turn these outcomes over to God. This triggers a sense of helplessness. We feel we are endorsing bad behaviours and even inviting undesirable outcomes to materialize. We are giving up.
In reality, we are doing the opposite. We are surrendering the outcome to him. We are deciding to trust that whatever outcome occurs is the outcome God wanted. When we deeply believe this, we begin to see clearly what we need to do. You know this is true because we know that we make better decisions when we are objective rather than anxious or emotional distressed. For this reason, we see other people’s problems much more clearly than our own.
We become objective when we first get neutral about what could happen. In our neutrality, our spiritual eyes are opened. We see as Jesus sees. We see the pain that the other person is feeling. We see their fears and their needs. We discern our role, prompted by the Spirit. We then take action coming from a place of love. They feel our love and the sincerity of our desires for them.
If your relationship has experienced repeated episodes of broken trust, the other person’s willingness to receive help will take time and consistent actions from you. Broken trust comes from broken commitments which we perceive as lying and manipulating – promises not kept. We are all guilty of manipulating from time to time. Thus, wariness is understandable.
With love, we are sincere and trustworthy. Our yes means yes. Our no means no. (Matt 5:37) We commit to take responsibility for our actions. This builds trust. They in turn become willing to make stronger commitments. When they do, we become able to help them remove a speck from their eye – a fault that used to bother us (but no longer) yet is harmful to them. We become their servant, seeking their best interests even at the cost of our own.
Often, they do not even know we are doing it. Does this make us manipulators? Not if we are coming from a place of love. We are not manipulators because we have no agenda for own sake. It is not about us. Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve others…” (Matt 20:28) This is the role of a leader – to serve.
As you look back over the recent months in your life, ask yourself, whom was I resisting by not cooperating? What outcome was I fighting for? Was I acting out of love for them, or the service of my own needs? Pray to readily see the distinctions. Then imagine your life without the outcome you treasure. How bad would it be? Would you be okay?
Now consider surrender. This is not giving up. This is handing over control to someone else – God himself. In so doing, you may be led to surrender to a person too. Try it. Give them what they want. Give them the apology they ache to hear from you. Give them the praise their ego needs at a level that is justified. Do it sincerely and without regard to how they will respond to you. Give it as a gift.
God will return to you the greatest gift possible – his peace.