When I asked Li Min to describe a typical conflict scenario with her husband, she told me, “None of our conflict situations are about big things, just daily life things.”1 To illustrate, she told me of a time when their child’s teacher texted her, reminding them to pay class tuition. For Li Min, this text indicated that her husband had not yet paid the tuition as he had committed to doing. This left her feeling quite angry. As she prepared to forward the message from the teacher to him, she drafted an additional text:
I reminded you to pay on the nineteenth. I reminded you again on the twentieth. I originally wanted to remind you last night, too, but I thought, I’m afraid he’ll get angry and think that I’m always asking him like this. So I didn’t remind you. But look. You still forgot. GO PAY ASAP! 2
Realizing that this complaining, critical, judgmental draft would just add gasoline to the fire of conflict, she reluctantly deleted it.
In its place, she sent the following message to her husband: “The teacher reminded me to pay tuition. I feel some pressure from it.” Notice that she shifted from focusing on what he didn’t do to expressing how she felt upon receiving the text from the teacher.
He quickly texted back saying, “Okay. I’m sorry. I forgot.”3
Li Min is learning to let go when things like this happen: “I regularly remind myself that my husband is not the person I imagine him to be. I am learning to acknowledge that maybe our personalities really are different and it’s okay.”4 Seemingly insignificant daily life situations provide ample opportunity for us to practice living out Ephesians 4:2-3: “walk…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Li Min has been growing in bearing with her husband in love by accepting their differences and letting go of offense.
When Wang Fang began recognizing and accepting the differences between her and her older, male, Christian colleague with whom she was at odds, she became willing to reconcile with him.
I started to think to myself: He has worked by himself for all this time, just him. Then I suddenly showed up, trespassing in his safe space. I came too close. Furthermore, my personality is very different from his. In many situations, I was probably too anxious for results, and in the process, I didn’t respect him, so he felt violated.5
His work habits. Her value of results. Very different personalities. These were all differences that Wang Fang found difficult, so she disrespected her colleague in her heart and actions. Though initially resistant to apologizing to him, after gaining new awareness, perspective, and compassion, Wang Fang initiated peacemaking by inviting her colleague to a meal where she patiently looked for the right opportunity to be able to give her apology. “He talked for two and a half hours. I can’t remember any of what he said. I just know that, as he talked, I was looking for the time when I could say, ‘I’m sorry’ to him.” When a phone call interrupted his monologue, she seized the opportunity and apologized. He accepted her apology, and their relationship was restored.
By God’s design, we are different from each other, very different! Yet 1 Corinthians 12:12 reminds us: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” We are all members of the body of Christ. And while there are appropriate times to leave a particular ministry or church to find another, when the reason for leaving is related to conflict triggered by differences, please pause, and first consider taking biblical peacemaking steps. Ask God what practicing patience and lovingly bearing with the differences of another member of the body of Christ can look like practically speaking, in action.6 Seek ways to grow in understanding and compassion. Living by the Spirit in the love of God can open doors to appreciating and valuing our differences, which over time can lead to breakthrough in relationships.
Note: Watch for Jolene’s forthcoming book, Changing Normal: A New Approach to Conflict, Face Issues, and Reconciling Relationships. Chapter eight is filled with stories of what the fruit of the Spirit can look like in our everyday conflict struggles and how bearing this fruit can contribute to relational restoration. Chapter nine gives examples of proactive communication. Loving well may look like remaining silent in some situations and speaking up in others.
- Li Min (pseudonym), author interview, 2019.
- Ibid. If I had explored her interests with her, she may have discovered that beneath her anger was a desire for respect and/or a desire to be responsible. Recognizing our underlying desire(s) can help us be more aware of our anger triggers in the future and mindful of how we respond.
- Notice how Li Min’s change from being critical in her text interaction with her husband to simply expressing the difficult position that she found herself in gave him the opportunity to respond to her heart rather than needing to respond to an attack.
- Li Min, author interview.
- Wang Fang, author interview.
- Note: Bearing with does not mean becoming a doormat and never speaking up or confronting issues.
Having spent much of the time between 1997 and 2020 committed to working overseas in China, Jolene Kinser now lives in southern California. Jolene works as a global Chinese peacemaking ministry developer and educator and as a peacemaking specialist under the South Pacific District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Jolene …View Full Bio
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