In Chinese culture, when two people are in conflict, it is common to have a third party be a go-between for communication in order to preserve everyone’s face. While a go-between is needed in some conflicts, talking directly with the other person, although uncomfortable and counter-cultural, is the better first step in many situations.
Initiating a conversation after conflict can be difficult for many of us; it is a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to grow stronger. Wang Jia’s story of how her father proactively approached her after an intense conflict illustrates the challenge and need for us to exercise this important muscle.
My dad gets drunk sometimes. During our worst argument ever, I smashed every single bottle of alcohol in the house. The floorboards still bear marks from it. I prayed to God, “I thought you were a righteous God; how could you have given me such a terrible father?”
But in the middle of the conflict, I began to see that my dad is also weak. He’s not purposefully trying to treat us this way. I suddenly saw that my own behavior reflected low character…. [Looking back], I began to see myself more clearly. My dad actually behaves better toward me in conflict than I do toward him!
After [another] conflict…I was angry and spent a lot of time complaining to God, “I can’t be the only one who does the work of reconciling! You have to make him change some, too. If you tell me to bear with this, what should I do when I can’t bear it?”
At that time, my dad lived with me. The day after I prayed, God did something amazing. My dad called me over. He said, “My meaning yesterday isn’t what you imagine it to be. In my heart I really was not thinking like that.”
I immediately felt comforted. First, God heard my prayer. Second, I saw how, in conflict, my dad is the one who is willing to make concessions; I’m the one who builds up a wall. I engage in a cold war and don’t value the relationship.
My father…demonstrated that he isn’t the evil person I had imagined him to be. Also, I saw that I am not the good person that I imagine myself to be. Just like the peacemaking study teaches, “You might be the person with the log in your eye but think you have the splinter.” 1 I’m that person. My dad always takes the posture of reconciliation first. Only after he initiates will I examine myself and ask, have I done anything wrong? He has behaved better than I have when it comes to reconciling.2
In a situation where Wang Jia would have continued to relationally distance herself in her anger, her father proactively initiated a clarifying conversation which led Wang Jia to see how she had misunderstood him. Even though Wang Jia was the one who prayed, and thus is the person we might expect to initiate a conversation, God showed Wang Jia grace through her dad’s initiative. She discovered how much she still needed to grow in this area.
For Wu Chunhua, initiating a private conversation about an issue that had come up with her Christian colleague resulted in them seeing how they had misunderstood each other:
I am a kindergarten teacher, and I have a colleague who is a great person. One day, in our class, she said, “Those who are mothers definitely have more experience than those who aren’t mothers,” meaning those teachers who weren’t mothers yet maybe aren’t that good of teachers—at least this is what she seemed to be communicating. Well, because I was not a mother yet, I felt like my work had been negated. I was hurt, but I didn’t go talk to her directly about it. We saw each other often, but I always felt unhappy. No matter what she did, I felt like she was speaking against me, aiming at me.
Finally, one day I asked her, “Have I offended you in any way?”
She replied, “No.” but then shared about a time when she had asked me about my plans to get married; it seemed like I didn’t want to answer her. At the time of her question, I was dating but not yet engaged. She felt she was expressing her care for me, yet I was distancing myself from her, so she began to wonder if perhaps our relationship wasn’t as close as she thought it was.
I didn’t remember this conversation at all! I apologized and reassured her that asking me this question was truly fine. I told her I would have no problem telling her when I will get married because I planned to invite her. In all honesty, I couldn’t recall the conversation!
She responded with a surprised, “Oh!”
Then I told her about the time I had felt hurt by her statement that teachers who are mothers have more experience. She replied, “Oh! That wasn’t my meaning. I was just making conversation.”
I reflected on this and realized she had simply been stating what is true. I had felt negated, rejected as a result of her words, but in certain ways, those who are already mothers do have more experience. When she told me she didn’t intend to convey the meaning that I had heard, we prayed together, cried, and were reconciled.3
Because Wu Chunhua initiated the conversation and asked directly about offense, her coworker had the opportunity to think back and respond. Thankfully, her coworker was also willing to reflect, speak honestly, and go deeper in conversation, which resulted in clearing up the misunderstandings and developing an even closer relationship.
In both these examples, if one person had not initiated opening up the conversational door, these relationships may have drifted further apart until there was no longer any relationship at all. As long as our motivation comes from a godly desire for peace and reconciliation, seeking clarity in relationships is worth the effort. Someone has to take the first step to initiate conversation. For those seeking to reflect God’s face in relationships, let’s be the ones doing the initiating.
Note: Watch for Jolene’s forthcoming book, Changing Normal: Break Through Barriers to Pursuing Peace in Your Relationships, to learn ways to initiate conversation that don’t exacerbate a situation. Available on Amazon starting January 14, 2024.
- Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
- Wang Jia, interview.
- Wu Chunhua, interview.
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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