Incarnating in Conflict

(This post first appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition)
Incarnating means putting something into flesh. Jesus was God incarnate. God put on human flesh or, another way to say it, he was clothed in humanity. In a similar way, as believers, we are called to incarnate Jesus. We are to be clothed in Christ (Romans 13:14). And indeed we are (Galatians 3:27). As believers our lives become testimonies of this truth. Jesus clothes us in His righteousness. This truth means we are called to resist putting back on the filthy rags of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Being filled with the Spirit of Christ means we give great attention to the commands the Lord left for us regarding how to interact with people. As we seek to fulfill the first and greatest commandment to love God (Matthew 22:38-39), we are simultaneously called to love others like Jesus loved (John 15:12).

So how do we do this, especially when things are particularly challenging in our relationships? When things heat up how can we incarnate Christ in our conflict?

Show Instead of Tell

Inside each of us is a little lawyer’s voice. Sometimes the voice is small, just little whispers or tiny thoughts. There might be thoughts of how you have done far more diaper changes than your spouse. Reminders that you are always the one initiating the phone call or text message in a particular friendship. Little whispers of how you always apologize first and how you folded the laundry without being asked last week. Often the little lawyer voice gets louder in conflict.

Jon’s wife was upset because she felt he cared more about his golf swing than about her. Jon’s little lawyer voice began flooding him with reminders of how much he has sacrificed for her. Bob and Jane listened to their teenaged son complain that he can never please them and that they never encourage him. Simultaneously Bob and Jane’s little lawyers brought out evidence as recent as that very week proving they had encouraged him. Paul Tripp speaks of this little lawyer voice and how harmful it is in marriage relationships, “I tell husbands and wives around the world that if they want to experience lasting change in their marriage, they first need to fire their inner defense lawyer.”1The truth is no matter what relationship you are in, the little lawyer voice needs to go.

Incarnating Christ means you avoid defending your love and instead demonstrate it. The moment your love is challenged don’t defend it—display it. (John 11:32), or the question from the disciples, “Lord don’t you care that we are perishing” (Mark 4:38), he did not defend himself, but instead he displayed it by raising Lazarus back to life and calming the sea. He showed his love; he did not defend it.

Ask Instead of State

Asking questions is probably one of the best ways we can incarnate Jesus. Jesus was the master questioner. His questions were explorations of the heart of a person. Asking questions opens conversations; making statements closes them. (Avoiding Assumacide”2 says that honoring others with questions rather than assumptions allows intimacy to have a chance.

When Jeff’s roommate shared with him that he had once again fallen to the temptation of pornography, Jeff stated, “If you wanted to stop you would stop.” The statement not only led his friend to feel even deeper shame, but also made him less inclined to share with Jeff again. Asking a question in this situation would have allowed Jeff to learn more about his friend and his struggle and perhaps open the opportunity for Jeff to walk with him.

Hope Instead of Despair

In order to incarnate Christ in conflict, we must lean fully on him. Demonstrating love and asking questions are just two ways to incarnate Christ. Conflicts are full of challenges, and even when we seek to incarnate Jesus there may still be difficulties.  We fail in our attempts and can become discouraged. Yet, the Lord is merciful and forgiving and often provides more opportunity to incarnate His grace and love. He is committed to the good work He started in us.

Join the Conversations

Each one of us has had difficult times in relationships. Perhaps even now you are facing a challenge. What are some other ways you have found we can incarnate Jesus in your relationships?

Notes

  1. This quote came from: http://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/were-not-independent.
  2. See http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2016/06/22/avoiding-assumicide/

Considering Counseling?

Do I Need Counseling?

Frequently friends ask me this question: “How do I know if I need counseling?” The truth is, we receive counseling every day as we interact in relationships; however, it can be difficult to know when to seek formal counseling.

For some people counseling is viewed in the same way as going to a doctor; the final step toward getting help for a problem. These are the people who avoid going to the doctor until there is something seriously wrong. They’ve tried the home remedies and over-the-counter treatments. Things do not seem to be getting better. More than likely things are actually getting worse. Seeking counseling can feel similar to this. There can even be a sense of failure attached to it—a line of thinking that says, “Something is wrong with you.”

Perhaps a better way to approach counseling would be to view it like the “well-checks” that children go through while growing, or the routine physical, or maybe even the yearly recommended flu shot. While raising my children, I found they went to the doctor more often when they were healthy than when they were sick. They had to receive check-ups and immunizations to insure their proper development and prevent harmful illnesses. I never thought there was reason for concern in attending these appointments. They were considered precautionary measures.

Counseling can be viewed this way also. It’s true; most people don’t seek counsel when things are going trouble-free in their lives. However, looking for counseling doesn’t have to only be an option when in the middle of a major crisis.

Our circumstances, big or small, often are so up close and personal that we can be either overwhelmed or blinded by them. Counseling allows a new set of eyes to look in on what’s happening in your life; eyes that are not biased to parties involved, or emotionally connected to the situation.  Counseling provides eyes that can objectively observe with better clarity.

What Should I Expect from Counseling?

Once you have decided to seek counseling, the next question you need to wrestle with, both privately and with your counselor, is what to expect. People bring expectations to nearly every situation and counseling is no exception.

While there are some aspects of counseling that can be clearly defined; cost, length of session, appointment regularity, etc., there are others that need clarification. If you are seeking formal counseling, you should have at least a general idea of the areas on which you want to focus.  When you seek counsel, be ready to discuss the presenting issue. What is bringing you in for counseling?  With that said, don’t be surprised if that changes. Often what seems to be the “big issue” is only masking other things that are left untouched or tucked away. Often we need the insight of others to carefully take us to things we may otherwise avoid.

What do you expect from your counselor? Perhaps taking the question from a different angle would be more helpful. How about what not to expect? One thing you should definitely not expect is for your counselor to fix things for you. Personal struggles and relational issues are not something to be fixed like an appliance, nor are they problems to solve like a word puzzle.

Always remember, you are dealing with a person (whether it is yourself or another person you are struggling with). We are not called to fix people; we are called to love them. Counseling always deals with people and relationships. A good counselor will help you see that people are not problems to be solved.

When Does Counseling End?

While regular counseling can taper down and even have a closing to it, try viewing counseling like building a house. When you are in the building stage, you spend a lot of time focusing on the plans and even go into significant detail on how you want things to progress. You spend a lot of time talking to designers and contractors. They are your guides through the entire project.

However, once the house is complete you cannot assume you will never need an electrician, plumber, or handyman to ever darken your doorway again. General maintenance is essential to keeping the home in good condition. Neglecting issues only leads to bigger, more costly problems.

The same can be said of counseling. If you have invested in building the foundation in personal growth or relational harmony, then recognize that it is wise to address issues as they arise. This does not mean you run to counseling with every bump in the road; however, it does mean you don’t have to wait until things are falling apart to check back in for some insight or direction.

Hopefully this helps you view counseling with less of the stigma of “something is wrong,” but instead with hopeful encouragement.

(This post was originally posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition as Three Questions Asked About Getting Biblical Counseling.)

Three Principles to Consider During Marital Contention

A Foundational Reality

To start, let’s agree on one foundational reality; having a good marriage does not mean you do not have conflict. No matter how much two people love one another the truth is there will be moments of conflict to some degree or another.

Too often we view conflict as something to avoid. Or maybe we view it as a sign that the relationship is in serious trouble. While conflict is certainly a call for reflection and redirection, it does not necessarily mean the relationship is in trouble. A loving and healthy marriage will experience conflict. However there are some things to consider that can help your conflict have deeper purpose. As you consider each of these three principles, where might you need to rethink what means about your own marital conflict?

1. Know What You Are Fighting About

This is often where conversations get derailed the fastest. A conflict over where you want to go to dinner or what brand of toothpaste was purchased is rarely about those issues. In fact, most often, the things we argue about are not what is really upsetting us. Those are secondary issues that are easier to argue about but the real struggle lies deeper. The problem is we often don’t know how to talk about those deeper issues. Or, we don’t always like what those deeper issues reveal.

We are people of desire. In every waking hour our hearts are continually after something. Even right now my desire is to protect this quiet moment in my life so I can write this article. If someone or something blocks that desire I have a moment of conflict in my heart with my desire. How I respond to that will have varying results. We all are constantly desiring things. Some of those things are very good things and some can be not so good. It doesn’t always have to do with what we desire but simply how we respond when that desire is interrupted.

Scripture affirms that what we are fighting about has everything to do with our desires.

“What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2).

Consider thinking deeper the next time you have a conflict. Slow down long enough to see if you can determine what exactly you really are fighting about.

2. Remember Who Is Present

When we are in conflict with our spouse we can get caught up in the moment and it can be very easy to feel like there are only two people present. This is never the case. In some situations you may have other people around who are greatly affected by the conflict. Children are often the spectators to conflicts in marriage. This has significant impact on them. Even if you think they seem unfazed by your conflict they are processing what is going on. As a married couple you will disagree in front of your children but be responsible enough to hold heated arguments at bay when children are around.

Even if children or others are not present, conflict is never unobserved. We live before an ever-present, all-seeing God. It is far too easy for us to forget this. But God is present with us in our conflict. He is not just present as an observer but as a helper. Psalm 46 says he is a very present help in troubled times. Marital conflict qualifies as a troubled time. What would it look like to live in the light of this? Would we cry out to Him for help? Would we chose our words more carefully? The fact is every single one of our marital conflicts have been observed by our God. He cares about what we do and what we say (as we are reminded in Matthew 12:36-37).

3. Understand the Purpose of Conflict

This is probably one of the most important things we can do to make sure our conflict does not lead us to hopeless discouragement. Conflict is a negative word. It is viewed as negative because of the damage we often see and feel from it. However conflict is not always negative in its purpose and does not have to be negative in its outcome.

Conflict is an opportunity to know and understand ourselves better. Looking at what we desire as well as how we view God’s presence in the moment is an opportunity for growth and dependence on God. Conflict is an opportunity to see our need of Christ.

If we only view conflict as bad we forget the purpose in it. We would like to avoid many of our conflicts but often times they actually need to happen in order to bring about redemptive change in our relationships. Instead of resisting the conflict lean into it to understand the deeper issues. Respond to in light of God’s promised presence with you and then look for what God is doing in it.

(This post was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition)