The text went out as I felt irritation rise within me. “I want to knock that guy in the head with the cone.”
My kids had just returned to full-time, in-person instruction. I drive them to and from school every day instead of sending them on the bus. A number of parents chose to do that as well this year, so a designated safety zone was created to protect students and parents as they walked through the school parking lot. Though this safety zone created a safe walking space, it also created a problem. It took away a significant number of parking spaces in the lot itself. Significant enough that I arrived over twenty minutes early that day just to ensure I got a space. And it was in that twenty minutes, as I sat waiting for dismissal, that I witnessed something that irritated me to my core. A gentleman pulled into the lot and pulled into a parking space. But, it wasn’t just any parking space. It was a parking space within the safety zone . . . a parking space blocked by a cone. As I watched him drive over the cone, hit the cone with his door as he got out, and then trip over the cone as he walked away from his car, I felt so annoyed. What was he doing? Did he not see the cone? He obviously knows it is there since he just tripped over it. I vented my frustration to my friend who also witnessed the event, but, as I got to thinking about it later, God convicted me of a few things.
First, why in the world did a man driving over a cone stir such strong emotion within me? It shouldn’t have. No one, outside of a cone, was hurt in the situation. Obviously, there was something going on in my heart that I needed to sort out.
Secondly, did my “venting” or “vomiting” of my frustrations to my friend help the situation at all? It may have made me feel better momentarily, but when it came down to it, it showed the true condition of my heart which is one that God obviously needs to continue working on. I mean, I cannot imagine that Jesus would have expressed his frustration to his disciples if someone parked their donkey in the “wrong” spot at the local market. My habit of venting to others needs addressed.
And lastly, were my actions those of a woman who strives to be at peace with everyone? Even though this man knew nothing of my thoughts or conversation, God saw every bit. Was my behavior in the parking lot that day the type of behavior God desires from me when I am hurt or perceive that I have been hurt by another person? How does God want me to handle those types of conflicts? How do I move from a place of frustration, hurt, or disappointment to a place where kindness, compassion and forgiveness are even possible? It all starts with Jesus.
Author, Tim Keller says, “All change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding creates in your heart. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, our view of the world.” Once we make the decision to follow Jesus, He begins a transformative work in our hearts. As we deepen our relationship with Him, our thoughts, our desires, and our actions begin to look more like His.
“‘I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.”
Ezekiel 36:26-27 (MSG)
When we’ve made the decision to follow Jesus, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. It’s because of Him that we can extend kindness and compassion. It’s because of Him that we can extend forgiveness. Anytime that we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone’s hurtful words or actions, it is because of Jesus that we can make wise, God-honoring decisions that will move us towards peace. What wise, God-honoring decisions can move us towards peace when we are in the midst of conflict?
First, we need to decide if the offense is one we can overlook. Scripture tells us:
“A person with discretion (good sense) is not easily angered; he gains respect by overlooking an offense.”
Proverbs 19:11 (VOICE)
“Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others].
1 Peter 4:8 (AMP)
When someone has hurt you, ask yourself these questions: Is this the first time this person has hurt me in this way or is this becoming a pattern? Is how I have been hurt serious or not such a big deal? Am I able to overlook this offense?
Overlooking an offense does not mean that we stuff it inside and start building retaliation rocks to use later. Overlooking an offense means that you make the choice to let it go. You don’t stew over the hurt, you don’t replaying it over and over in your mind. You make the choice to fully forgive the person who has hurt you and move on. If the offense is not serious and one that you can quickly forgive, do so.
However, there are times when we are in conflict, and it is not wise to overlook the wrong that has been done. If the conflict is damaging your relationship with someone and you are finding it very difficult to forgive her, then it needs to be gently addressed. If the conflict brings harm to you or others, it needs to be gently addressed. If the conflict is hurting the offender, whether it is self-inflicted harm or affecting their relationship with others or with God, it needs to be gently addressed. And lastly, if your conflict is with a believer and their actions go directly against what we are taught in Scripture, it needs to be gently addressed. Note I said “believer” there. As fellow believers, we need to be holding one another accountable for our actions. When in conflict with an unbeliever, however, though we can direct them towards Scripture, we have to remember that they may not have an understanding of why their actions are wrong. They don’t have the Holy Spirit within them to convict them of their wrongdoing. Still gently address the issue at hand and plants seeds of God’s truth, but realize that the conflict may not be reconciled at this point in time.
Some conflicts cannot be overlooked and should be addressed. How do we do this in a way that honors God?
We start by checking our motives. Is your motive in addressing this conflict to prove you are right and the other person is wrong or is your motive to restore that person? Ask yourself if your motives for addressing this conflict stem from the love you have for this person or if it stems from a desire to get even or prove a point? Carefully consider your motives before you address a conflict. If it does not come from a place of love, you need to spend more time in prayer over this conflict.
If you find your motives are pure, it’s time to address the conflict. In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives us specific instructions on how to do this.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)
What does Jesus tell us to do? First, go directly and privately to the person who has hurt you and explain how you were hurt. From my experience, the times I have done this, the conflict has been resolved rather quickly. Is it hard to confront someone when they’ve hurt you? Absolutely! But, it’s where Jesus tells us to start.
Now, let me ask you something. Who do we typically go to when someone has hurt us or when someone irritates us by driving over a cone? Other people. Friends. Family. Social media. Everyone, but the very person Jesus tells us we should be going to. You know what we often call this when we do this? We call it “venting”. We say that we just need to get something off of our chest, or just need to take a moment and “vomit” out all of the frustrations we’ve been holding onto inside. And, as I’ve thought about this these past few weeks, God has convicted me of a few things.
First, venting can be healthy. Venting can be a harmless way to process events or conversation and can be a healthy outlet for built up anger or frustration. Venting can help us calm down when we feel our emotions starting to spiral. The Scriptures tell us that even King David vented to God about his circumstances. Psalms 142 says,
“I call out loudly to the Eternal One; I lift my voice to the Eternal begging for His favor. I let everything that’s going wrong spill out of my mouth; I spell out all my troubles to Him.”
Psalm 142:1-2 (VOICE)
But, venting can quickly spiral in an unhealthy direction, and that’s where we need to be cautious. When our venting takes on foul language, hateful words, or actions that bring harm to others that’s when it becomes unhealthy and dishonoring to God.
No, God’s issue isn’t venting itself. His issue is who we vent to and how we do it. When we vent to others, we are doing a number of things. First, to put it simply, we are grumbling, complaining, and whining about our circumstances. In the book of Philippians, Paul encourages believers to,
“Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other, so you will be found innocent and blameless; you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation. Shine like stars across the land.”
Philippians 2:14-15 (VOICE)
Author, Jennifer Sum, writes, “Believers vent when we lose sight of the bigger picture; that God is in control and has a higher plan. We focus on the things of this world instead of things that are above. When we vent, we seldom exemplify Jesus to others.”
When I vented about the man hitting the cone, what kind of example was I giving? True, I was venting to another believer, but what if she wasn’t or what if my text ended up being read by an unbeliever? Think about the impression I would have given as to what a Jesus follower looks like. When we’re venting, we are grumbling about our circumstances and taking our eyes off of the big picture.
Secondly, when we are venting, we are unkindly judging others without knowledge of or taking into consideration their circumstances. The man with the cone . . . maybe he was a grandparent and this was his first time picking his grandchild up at school? Maybe he was running late? Maybe he was already embarrassed to have driven over the cone and didn’t want to face further embarrassment by searching for another spot? We are so quick to judge others without having full understanding of their situation or their circumstances. And when we vent this judgement to others, it can be very easy for them to take on that judgement of that person as well. If I tell you someone is stupid and why I think they are stupid, even without meeting that person, you are also likely to think they are stupid. And how in the world does that honor God?
Thirdly, when we are venting, it is often because we are afraid of lovingly and wisely confronting those we have issues with. Jennifer Sum says, “Instead, we talk and gossip about them behind their backs. This is a reaction driven by fear and insecurity, qualities that do not honor God.”
How many times have we had a conflict with someone and discussed it with everyone, but the very person it needs to be discussed with? We are so fearful of confrontation that we would rather gossip about others behind their backs. This must break God’s heart so much.
And, lastly, when we are venting, we are making the choice to give in to our emotions, to allow them to control our reactions, and move us away from this soul integrity we are after. Proverbs tells us,
“A fool does not think before he unleashes his temper, but a wise man holds back and remains quiet.”
Proverbs 29:11 (VOICE)
We are acting like fools, when we make the choice to give into the emotions we are feeling in the moment. We are acting like fools when make the choice to react rather than respond in a way that honors God. There is a better way.
When we feel the need to vent, we need to vent directly to God. There are several reasons why. First, when we take it to God, He can reveal to us why we are feeling so hurt or frustrated by the issue at hand. Maybe it is triggering an unresolved hurt within you? Maybe it reminds you of a time when you were rejected, misunderstood, or overlooked in the past? Maybe this is a repetitive hurt that you haven’t been able to forgive yet? God has the ability to search our hearts and get to the root of the pain. We have to bring it to Him first, though.
Secondly, when we bring our frustrations directly to Him, God takes on those burdens we were never meant to carry. Jesus says,
“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)
This life can leave us feeling so very weary, and we carry loads that aren’t ours to bear. Take your burdens to the One whose shoulders can carry it all. Release all of the hurt, the pain, the frustrations you have into His hands. He is bigger than anything you may face.
Thirdly, Scripture tells us that we are to choose the words we use with others carefully. If we take our frustrations to God first, it gives Him an opportunity to convict us of those words that should never be spoken aloud. Ephesians tells us,
“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.”
Ephesians 4:29-30 (MSG)
His presence within us, that guides and corrects us, is a gift. Be mindful of that and vent your frustrations to Him first. Jennifer Sum says, “Even though God knows everything about us and every word before we even say it, He desires an authentic, intimate, and no-holds-barred relationship with us, where we feel secure and safe enough to tell Him everything that is on our minds and troubling our hearts. He doesn’t want us to burden other human beings with our problems. He is vast enough to take on the complaints and grievances of the entire human race. He will never reject us when we go to Him with ours.”
Take your frustrations to Him first.
Now, there may be times when it is appropriate to seek prayer and wise council from another. Sometimes we need the help of a counselor, a pastor, or a trusted friend to help us see our circumstances objectively. If seeking wise council, look for someone who is knowledgable in the Scriptures and applies God’s Word to her life. Choose someone who lives a life of integrity and who will lovingly speak truth into you even when it’s hard to hear.
Now, going back to Matthew 18. When we find ourselves in conflict with another, we are to go directly to that person privately and explain how they have hurt us through their words or actions. Have this conversation in person if at all possible. There is so much that can be wrongly assumed through an email, a text, or even over the phone.
Prayerfully consider beforehand how you can clearly and gently express your thoughts. As you start your conversation, begin the conversation by affirming the relationship and clearly defining the problem. State specifically what the person does that hurts you and how it makes you feel. For example: “When you discuss our conflicts with other people before discussing them with me, I feel as though I cannot trust you.”
After you share your feelings, then close your mouth and listen. Listen to the other person’s perspective and validate that you understand what they are saying. Don’t sit there and prepare your next response in your head. Truly listen to what is being said.
Once you both have shared your thoughts, propose a solution that will work for both parties. Philippians tells us,
“Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first. In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts.”
Philippians 2:4-5 (VOICE)
Keep in mind that the relationship is more important than the issue. Be willing to compromise unless what is being asked of you goes against Scripture.
What if meeting privately does not solve the issue? Jesus tells us to meet again, but this time to ask a trusted, mature, unbiased individual to join you. The goal is not to gang up on the person with whom you have the conflict. The goal is to move towards peace and sometimes we need someone else there to mediate and ensure that the conversation moves forward in a healthy manner.
If the conflict still remains unsolved, Jesus instructs us to then bring it the matter to a pastor within the church or if your conflict is with an unbeliever to take the matter to an outside resource such as a professional mediator. Even with this last step, our goal should be to reconcile the relationship.
There will be times, you will find, when peace isn’t possible. There will be times when moving towards peace will only be possible if you compromise the truth we find in God’s Word. In those circumstances, breaking away from the relationship is the best thing to do. Remember, God calls us to live in peace with others, as far as it depends on us. If you have followed Jesus’s instructions for resolving conflict and still have not reached a resolution, it is time to step back and step away.
In Acts 5, the disciples are in Jerusalem teaching others about Jesus. Many are coming to Christ. The authorities are outraged and have the disciples arrested. At night, an angel of the Lord releases them and send them back out to continue sharing the news of Jesus. The men are rounded up by the authorities again and brought before the High Priests. The High Priests say,
“Didn’t we give you strict orders to stop teaching in this name? But here you are, spreading your teaching throughout Jerusalem.”
Acts 5:28 (VOICE)
Peter and the disciples reply,
“If we have to choose between obedience to God and obedience to any human authority, then we must obey God.”
Acts 5:29 (VOICE)
Conflict with others is hard, and it is uncomfortable. But, in the end, it is God who we answer to. I would challenge you to,
“ . . . Hold strong to the confession of (your) hope, never wavering, since the One who promised it to (you) is faithful.”
Hebrews 10:23 (VOICE)
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McDowell, Crystal. “How to See Wise Council . . . Who Should I Talk to?” What Christians Want to Know. https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-to-seek-wise-counselwho-should-i-talk-to/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
Sande, Ken, and Johnson, Kevin. Resolving Everyday Conflict. Baker Books, 2015.
Sum, Jennifer. “Please Vent to God Not People.” Practical Christianity. https://teachinghumblehearts.com/en/please-vent-to-god/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2012.
Warren, Rick. “Fellowship. 7 Steps to Restoring Broken Relationships. FaithGateway. 22 Feb. 2016.https://www.faithgateway.com/restoring-broken-fellowship/#.YGMy-S1h0_U. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
“What Does the Bible Say About Venting?” GotQuestions. https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-venting.html. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
“What Does the Bible Teach About Conflict Resolution?” Compelling Truth. https://www.compellingtruth.org/conflict-resolution.html. Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.