In a face-saving culture, neither giving authentic apologies nor proactively communicating about conflict are for the faint of heart. Many of those I interviewed in China recognized “that true strength to apologize comes from God letting me understand myself better, that I am not perfect.”1 Knowing ourselves means “we know that our plight is just about the same as everyone else’s. You make the same mistakes yourself.”2 Gaining a true view of ourselves from God is humbling and freeing and can spur us on to apologize for our contributions to conflict. This strength-giving awareness comes through receiving a new identity rooted in God’s love and experiencing God’s gospel power at work in our hearts.
Gaining a true view of self, together with embracing a new identity, is a powerful strength-giving combination. The truth that Jesus died for us, enabling our reconciliation with God and restoring our place in his family, is the foundation of our true identity. Some I interviewed expressed how knowing God loves them, despite their problems, gives them strength to apologize. As one person explained, when God points out our faults, he does so in love; therefore, there is no shame and nothing to fear. For Zhao Cheng and many others, God’s love not only gives strength to apologize but also to forgive:
Our sin nature is prone toward our internal selfishness, toward battling for revenge. If I’ve been hurt, I should get revenge. Without this faith, without often thinking on the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice for us, the price he paid, every day recalling his grace…. If I don’t return again every few days to these thoughts, to Father God’s love in my life, then it is impossible to forgive.3
This identity rooted in God’s love provides the security we need to be courageous in our fragile human relationships—to apologize, forgive, proactively communicate, and even face rejection.
With a believer’s new identity comes the experience of the changing power of the gospel, the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart. Chen Yuling explained, “It is the power of Jesus, the power of the gospel, that enables us to have this strength to dare to apologize. It’s not something a person is able to do. It is the power of the Holy Spirit in us renewing us.”4 As they sought God through prayer and recognized the need for humility, many of those I interviewed began experiencing Christ as Lord.
Recalling and singing Scripture gave Chen Yuling strength to face rejection and continue visiting her mother-in-law who had hurt her deeply over the years.
I am divorced…but I still needed to maintain a relationship with my mother-in-law. You know, in China, daughters-in-law and their mothers-in-law have a lot of conflicts. At that time, my mother-in-law regularly said hurtful words and rejected me. As a result, I had a lot of inner struggles every time I went to see her. Having to regularly face her rejection was extremely painful.
Before going to visit her, I would sing songs from 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 and Proverbs 15:1 about the true meaning of love and how “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” I had to receive both God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart giving me strength before going to face her rejection, coldness, and indifference.
The combination of recalling God’s Word and receiving the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts can give us the courage and strength we need for difficult relationships.
In Liu Yang’s case, God gave her the strength she needed to proactively talk to her mother about her mother’s role in exacerbating a conflict pattern with her older sister-in-law:
I had not been willing to talk to my mother about this issue. For one, I was very tired, and second, I just wanted to avoid it. As a result, conflicts kept happening for several years.
So on that day, I prayed. I discovered that I had to exert all my strength in prayer, begging God to give me strength. Only after receiving strength from God was I able to break down my barrier, my unwillingness to communicate. After praying, I acted in accordance with the peacemaking principle of going face to face to talk to someone (Matthew 18:15).5
God gave Liu Yang the strength to do something completely contrary to her normal way, to obey God’s Word and gently confront her mother on an issue. This took a lowering of herself in her own eyes and an admittance of personal weakness and dependency on the Lord’s strength. May we all gain such strength to apologize, forgive, and proactively communicate as we humbly allow God’s Spirit to work in our hearts.
Note: This blog post contains content from Jolene’s forthcoming book, Changing Normal: Overcome Barriers to Resolving Conflict, Start Reconciling Relationships.
Image credit: Courtesy of the author.
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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