First, and this is critical:
Our sharing our feelings does require a delicate balance.
We can go too far one way or the other and make a big mess. If I share every single thought that enters my mind and don’t have any kind of filter for my motives or for sin – I will hurt others. I do need to have God’s wisdom, discernment, love, and compassion firmly in place before I share. I need to take my thoughts captive and not share sinful thoughts.
But I can also go too far the other way and share nothing. I can become completely unknowable and give up using any of my God-given influence in my family and in God’s kingdom. I can become an island – incapable of receiving. That is also unhealthy and destructive in all of my relationships – including my relationship with God. I end up full of self and devoid of God’s Spirit.
Avoiding conflict can seem like a very noble, godly thing. Wouldn’t it be godly to try to prevent conflicts and tension and to try to keep everyone happy? “Blessed are the peacemakers” right? I mean – Jesus, Himself, said that! Why not scramble around trying to be extra nice to other people, bending over backwards, to try to keep them from getting angry at you at all costs? Doesn’t that sound like the loving thing to do?
I used to think so!
God does command us to love others and it’s great to head off unnecessary conflict when possible – but our motives are to be to please Him and to bless other people. Our motives are not to be:
- to get people to like us
- to have the approval of people/the world
- to make things easier for us
- to get what we selfishly want
- to keep from facing constructive criticism/rebukes
- to avoid necessary friction and conflict
- fear of people’s anger or disapproval
- false humility, playing the martyr, or self-righteousness (the root of which is always pride)
- peace at all costs
If my thinking is, “I can’t let anyone ever be upset with me,” I am saying that I believe I am responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and actions of other people. Is that true? No! I am responsible for myself – other people are responsible for their own emotions, thoughts, feelings, and actions. (Please check out this post on healthy vs. unhealthy relationships for more detail.)
I might achieve a “temporary false peace” by avoiding addressing sin – but ultimately – allowing sin to continue on and on without a loving, respectful rebuke leads to destruction of the relationship.
I don’t want us to be afraid of negative emotions, or conflict. We are all human. We will all have a full range of emotions in various situations. Unless we are in actual danger – we don’t have to fear anyone’s negative feelings. Feelings are important, yes. But they are not Scripture. They are not God. They are not sovereign.
Instead of our being terrified at the thought of someone being unhappy with us – we can recognize that negative emotions are simply a signal that we need to investigate and see if something is wrong. Sometimes our feelings are incorrect. Sometimes they lie to us. When this happens, we can ignore the feelings after we thoroughly and prayerfully investigate. Sometimes our feelings are accurate and are important flags to warn us of a problem – like sin. Sometimes emotions tell us we need to eat or take a nap or have some time with God. Sometimes other people’s feelings are a method God will use to refine us. Other times other people’s feelings reveal sin or a need in their own hearts.
What comes out of a person’s mouth is about his/her character, not necessarily an accurate reflection on us. We don’t need to receive words from others that are not of God.
I can approach my husband humbly – willing to take responsibility for any sins on my part, willing to make amends, and willing to extend grace. I can listen to what my husband says and prayerfully consider whether I need to make any changes in God’s eyes. But I am not responsible for his sin or his obedience to God. If what he says is from the flesh and the enemy or twists God’s Word, I don’t need to absorb that. If what he says lines up with the Bible, then I can receive that word.
Let’s talk about some of the ideas about people-pleasing this wife shared in her objections to speaking directly and vulnerably about our needs, emotions, desires, and concerns:
- People may get upset.
- You will be judged.
- You will look weak.
- You’ll sound selfish and demanding.
Thankfully, we are no longer slaves to the opinions or approval of others when we are in Christ! Only God’s approval matters ultimately! Jesus is LORD.
Here is what Scripture has to say about people pleasing:
- Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
- for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. John 12:43
- You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4
- I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 1 Corinthians 4:3-4
- Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! Acts 5:29
- But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4
WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL ABOUT CONFLICT?
There are times when conflict is unavoidable – even necessary and good – like when we need to confront sin. God gives us instructions about how to handle conflict without sinning. But He does not condemn conflict itself or tell us to do anything we can to make other people like us and to make them happy with us in the moment.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-19,21
Note that we have some level of control over conflict vs. peace with others. But we don’t have total control. We only control our end of things.
Jesus experienced a great deal of opposition and conflict. How did He handle it?
- Did He cower and run to try to patch things up with the Pharisees who accused Him of blasphemy?
- Did He try to placate the Pharisees to get them to like Him and want to be with Him? He called them “a brood of vipers,” “hypocrites,” and “blind guides.”
- Was Jesus most interested in avoiding conflict with His enemies or was He most interested in doing God’s will and exalting God?
If you really read how Jesus interacted with those who opposed Him, He was not wimpy, tail-between-His-legs, sniveling, afraid of people, and “nice” in the sense we describe “nice” today. He was firm, unflinching, and bold. He called sin what it was. He did not apologize. He responded with righteous anger when that was appropriate. And yet, He was loving in the midst of it. He did what was right – not what was easiest or most politically correct. He humbly went to the cross because that was God’s will for Him and He loved God – not because He couldn’t stand up for Himself.
Jesus wasn’t troubled by what people thought about Him – even when they totally misunderstood Him. His concern was what God thought about Him. He said things that ran a lot of people off for which He did not apologize. Things like,
- “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
- “Go sell all you have and give to the poor… then come and follow Me” (Matthew 19:21).
- He even talked about that people would need to eat His flesh and drink His blood or they have no life in them (John 6:53) – after that, many people stopped following Him. He was fine with that. How? He was able to be fine with them leaving because He knew that God would bring certain people to Him for eternal life and other people would not belong to Him. He accepted that. He never begged anyone to follow Him. He never ran after those who rejected Him, trying to get them to change their minds or trying to make them like Him.
CONFIDENCE IN CONFLICT
(If you are in danger in your marriage, please reach out for help when you safely can do so – www.thehotline.org, call the police, or a trusted counselor.) I don’t want us to fear conflict in normal relationships. I used to be terrified of conflict myself – but after the healing God has done in my own marriage and after over 37,000 comments on this blog alone in the past 4 years, I have seen what a powerful tool conflict can be in the hands of God to accomplish amazing things!
Conflict is often a platform God gives us to bring great glory to Himself! Our godly, Spirit-filled response during conflict can draw people to Christ in powerful ways like nothing else can.
The key to our ability to have confidence is that God’s Spirit must be in charge – not our flesh. If our sinful flesh is in control, we will make a big mess and hurt other people (and ourselves) in destructive ways. If God’s Spirit is in charge, He will take the conflict and use it to help us share His truth in love. It may even result in people being convicted of sin and may lead to healing, spiritual growth, and greater maturity. I have also seen conflict result in people coming to Christ!
- Conflict sharpens and prunes us.
- It helps us draw closer to others when approached in a healthy way.
- It helps us understand others better when we seek to understand their different viewpoints and perspectives.
- It can reveal sin in our lives and in the lives of others.
- It is a necessary part of intimacy between imperfect people and it can lead to great good.
Usually, there is fear, ungodly thinking, or pain behind someone else’s anger. Look for their heart message. Address those deep fears or unhealthy ways of thinking as God leads you to. If you can address what is behind the emotions and negative feelings – the person may find healing in Christ.
Note – conflict does not have to mean yelling, violence, rage, contention, division, hatred, and bitterness. Conflict simply means a disagreement or misunderstanding. We can have conflict without sinning. We can have conflict without drama when God’s Spirit is involved.