by Wayne Geiger
I’m sure I was taught how to swim, but I don’t remember when it was. I just remember always knowing how to swim. I do know that my sister didn’t always know how to swim.
One year on vacation, she jumped into the hotel pool without her floaties and sank like a rock. Thankfully, a stranger saw the whole thing and rescued her without incident.
I was a halfway good swimmer, but not a good floater. I never could get the hang of relaxing in the water and enjoying neutral buoyancy. I would try to float but find myself going under and having to paddle again. I just never could relax and go with the flow.
In the movie, Finding Nemo, Dory, the blue tang fish, offers some great advice when facing adversity. She says, “Just keep swimming.” The common vernacular would be, “Keep on trucking,” “Keep moving forward,” or “Keep going and don’t look back.” She actually took that idea from God. Everybody is always stealing His good ideas.
That’s great advice when we face conflict. Although some people live for adversity, most of us avoid strife and conflict. Conflict can be defined as “a person or thing that causes us to feel threatened or inhibits us from reaching our goals” (definition mine).
Conflict arises because our natural, internal need for harmony is disrupted. We want to feel happy and content. As a general rule, we also have an innate desire to be right or justified. Being right makes us happy. Being corrected (conflict) makes us unhappy.
So, when confronted with an error, to compensate, we try to justify our actions, cloud the real issue, and bury the body in the backyard. We then get angry, build an emotional wall to protect our inflated ego and need for self-esteem, and slam the door behind us.
And thus, we return to our protected state of harmony and happiness. As long as the body stays buried, of course.
But, there is a problem with buried bodies. Buried emotions are always buried alive. Like the horror movie where the dead monster guy refuses to stay dead and continues to torment its victims, such is the case with conflict that is unresolved.
Many of our biggest problems are within our own families. Our families know the “real us.” They know us best. They also know us well enough to stick the dagger in where it hurts the most.
Christians often call each other “brother” and “sister” because we recognize that we are family. We have the same Father. Sometimes, problems in the family arise. We push and pull and fuss and fight over who will be first in line to the water fountain when the entire time, none of us are really that thirsty.
God is passionate about healthy and fulfilled relationships. He is the perfect Father, of course. He expects His children to play nice, take turns, and share all the toys.
From the very beginning, God created a world of order and symmetry. It is His inherent nature (Gen 1:1-4, 1 Cor 14:40). The Master Designer likes honesty, transparency, and for things to be brought into the light. No shadows, please.
Satan (cue the big, bad wolf theme music here), brings chaos, conflict, and disorder. Everything that God created that is good and right, Satan tries to undermine and destroy.
He prefers darkness, shadows, and chaos and would have issues to be swept under the rug. Disorder and deception are his chief weapons.
Naturally, there is no hiding conflict under the rug and the white elephant in the room is clearly seen and felt. The aftermath is devastating.
Conflict often produces spiritual alienation. In addition, there is emotional anger, bitterness, hurt, and pain. Finally, on a physical level, these could manifest themselves as anxiety, stress, and lead to various disorders. There is no app for that.
Like you, I’ve experienced both sides of the spectrum. I have caused hurt and been the recipient of hurt. Over the years, and through the power of God, I’ve learned the power of transparency and honesty. It’s kind of like surgery. Nobody wants it or likes it, but, it’s necessary.
Although the surgery can be painful for a moment, the healing that follows is powerful and freeing.
To be honest, I don’t mind being wrong. In addition, I don’t mind being challenged on being wrong. Although it’s no fun, I’ve found that with every bit of criticism there may be an element of truth.
Years ago, when working in broadcasting, our station received a stinging criticism of me. The listener wrote that, at an event, I was less than friendly and standoffish. They had listened to me for years and wanted to meet me, but felt I was unapproachable and left angry.
When confronted by my superior, my first response was unbelief followed by anger. “How inconsiderate of them to judge me” I thought. “They formed an opinion of me that was unfair. I’m an introvert and was just having a bad day!”
But, I really thought about it and finally realized that he was right.
I remembered the event. I was stressed out and dealing with a crisis at the time. My nonverbal behaviors stated, “stay back….I prefer to be alone.”
Thankfully, the person included their address and phone, and I was able to call and apologize. They were shocked and delighted to hear from me and a strained relationship turned into an opportunity for healing and restoration.
The call was difficult to make, but it opened up a wonderful opportunity for me to confess my shortcomings and ask for forgiveness. I’ve learned to value criticism and embrace it as a welcomed friend. I’m a better person because of it.
Although I don’t mind being wrong, I don’t like being misrepresented. I prefer to suffer for my own crimes. All of us have been attacked unfairly.
Some of these were made in the shadows while some were broadcast on the Internet. Sometimes, these statements are misunderstandings, but sometimes, they are malicious.
By nature, I tend to be very trusting and transparent and sometimes, it leaves clinks in the armor. I do try to be a peacemaker, but to have peace it always takes two.
I talked to my Father about this some time ago. He said, “I came to my own and was rejected. I was hated without a cause, lied about, bullied, spat upon, rebuked, whipped, scorned, punched in the face, beaten, and then they drove nails into me, spread me out on crossbeams as a spectacle, and continued to hurl insults and mock me. And through it all I responded, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
I hung my head in shame. The Father always has a way of brining things into proper perspective. Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker and yet, not everyone wanted the peace He was willing to provide. Jesus invited them into the light, but they preferred the shadows and darkness.
The ultimate goal in relationships is mutual harmony and, when conflict arises, restoration. Maybe you’ve tried to be a peacemaker in a time of conflict and it just didn’t happen. It’s frustrating, but not unusual.
You just do your part and lay your pain at the feet of the Father. You forgive and move on. I’ve been there too. You just keep swimming. I’ve never been a good floater anyway.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.