As a conflict erupted between Zhang Jing and a younger, female, Christian colleague, Zhang Jing found herself growing increasingly frustrated when, while trying to talk through the issue together, her colleague repeatedly brought up hurt she had experienced in her childhood. This repetition began to drive Zhang Jing crazy. She could feel her anger increasing, pushing her to escalate the conflict. However, instead of reacting out of her frustration, Zhang Jing exercised self-control:
A peacemaking principle compelled me to consider: What does God want me to learn through this? So, in the middle of that conflict, I took a deep breath and calmed down. I stopped continuously criticizing her in my heart for repeating herself and instead listened, listened, and listened some more. Then, I asked her, “If this situation were to happen again, how would you like me to respond to you?” 1
As a result of recognizing her emotions and exercising self-control by taking a deep breath, calming down, and reflecting on a peacemaking-focused question, Zhang Jing was able to engage in a positive way with her upset colleague.
Zhang Jing then began praying weekly with this colleague, slowly becoming a better listener in the process: “I learned to ask, ‘In our interactions, have there been any times when what I have said has made you uncomfortable?’ We would then talk about it.”2 Exercising self-control and listening closely opened up their communication and increased trust.
James 1:19-20 instructs us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” God calls us to exercise self-control and listen well. And while challenging to live out, relating to others in this way is not impossible! Many of those I interviewed in China, like Zhang Jing, described this spiritual fruit growing in their lives and the difference it made relationally.
Praying together in the moment is one way to exercise self-control when our emotions are about to lead us to respond in a way we’ll regret. When his five-year-old daughter lied to him, Li Jun felt angry: “Lying is quite serious. In my heart I was praying about how to deal with this situation, so I immediately led her to pray together. Most importantly, the first purpose for praying was that I hoped I could calm down.”3 In this way, Li Jun calmed down and was able to respond with appropriate disciplinary action rather than lashing out in anger.
Pausing to compose your emotions and examine yourself in the moment before speaking is another aspect of exercising self-control. Li Ailing, an older Christian with a non-Christian husband, tells of how she learned to follow the James 1:19-20 principles of being quick to listen and slow to speak:
I often cared for my husband because he was sick, but he was not satisfied with the way I cooked. When my husband would find fault with me and say critically, “You’ve used too much oil,” or “The fire is too high,” I would flare up angrily. I used to express my unhappiness by grimacing and ignoring him. I knew that if I argued with him, he would be in even more pain and then I would feel bad for arguing with him and negatively influencing his return to health.
Now, after this peacemaking study, even though I still flare up, I take a moment to control my emotions and examine myself before speaking.4 From my perspective, I am painstakingly cooking for him and think that what I’m doing is fine. Yet I ask myself, Have I done anything that is causing him to worry?
Then I think: Maybe he thinks I’ve used too much oil, that I shouldn’t put so much oil in this dish, but I think that it’s the right amount. But I should still listen to him. And he said the fire was too high; maybe he has a point. I can first accommodate him and use a little less oil and turn the heat down. In this way we have slowly, slowly, slowly made it to this day. Now he treats me better and better.5
This combination of pausing, recognizing, and controlling her emotions, practicing self-reflection, and considering her husband’s concerns all have contributed to an improved relationship. Praise God for his Spirit who grows fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in us, making new responses to others possible (Gal 5:22-23a).
As we grow to be peacemakers in our everyday relationships,
the fruit of self-control grows in us and
new approaches to communication follow.
Our normal habit of reacting to others in anger
and saying or doing things that enflame a conflict
begins to change!
Note: This blog contains content from Jolene’s forthcoming book, Changing Normal: Break Through Barriers to Pursuing Peace in Your Relationships. Check out her book for more practical examples of what the fruit of the Spirit can look like in our lives and how they impact our conflict responses.
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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