Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not. {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas today . . .

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Let’s talk about conflict, ‘cause that’s fun. I mean, hypothetically, at some point in the (distant) future, you may or may not experience an uncomfortable disagreement with someone. Maybe.

In this imagined scenario, the ensuing “discussion” could arise between you and your spouse or kids or co-workers, or maybe even — like this would ever happen — yourself.

So, when conflict comes, what will you do? Will you run away scared? Hunker down? Gear up? Lock and load?

Whether your natural tendency is to ostrich or explode, these two principles must be remembered:

Principle #1 – Conflict always has Context

Principle #2 – Conflict always precedes Closeness

How many of you have ever experienced conflict? Go ahead, raise your hands. Do you see all those hands raised? Yeah, me neither, but I’m guessing that all over the world people on their phones or laptops are raising hands. It’s a pretty shared thing, this interpersonal junk. (You can put your hands down now, we don’t want people thinking you’re a weirdo. Oh wait, you’re a missionary. Nevermind.)

Conflict is not something “out there” that other people deal with. This is us. This is our story.

Finish reading here.

When Ministry and Marriage Collide

by Elizabeth

Jonathan and I have been married almost 15 years now, and I can honestly say being married to him is the best thing that has ever happened to me. We were friends first, then fell madly in love our senior year of high school. Even our first year of marriage – considered by some to be quite difficult – was pure bliss. And I can honestly say that every year after that has grown more joyful and more intimate. This is not to say, however, that we haven’t ever struggled.

I’ve shared before about two of the major struggles in my marriage. I’ve talked about how I didn’t want to move overseas in the first place and how Jonathan and I were at an impasse until God got a hold of me. I’ve also shared my struggle to believe God loves me as much as my husband, since he seemed to have so many more gifts than I have.

There is another difficult season in my marriage that I’ve never discussed online. The two stories I mentioned earlier represent enormous works God wanted to do in my heart and in my spirit. They also had enormous implications in the way I lived everyday life alongside my husband. The struggle I’m going to talk about today might seem more earthy than spiritual, but it still looms quite large in the landscape of my memory.

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Some of you know we served in youth ministry in the States for 10 years. At one point we lived in a Parsonage next door to the church building, and we hosted summer youth meetings in our house. Initially we only invited juniors and seniors to our house on Tuesday nights for Bible study, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Later we started hosting all ages in our house every Wednesday night during the summer. And every Wednesday night without fail, teenagers trashed my house.

This went on for two whole summers. My house was a disaster every Wednesday night, and I had a breakdown every Wednesday night. Jonathan and I could not see eye to eye on this issue and often fought over it. He felt we needed to have the teens in our home, and that I needed to want to have them in our home, and that furthermore, he believed the teens would perceive my reluctance to welcome them into our home, so I needed to check my attitude.

This, as you can imagine, led to lots of stress in our marriage. I wasn’t confident enough to instruct the teens how to throw trash in the trash cans or how to avoid spilling coke all over my white living room carpet. I’m more confident now and would be able to teach teenagers in that way, but I was too intimidated back then. (Also I was much more uptight about cleanliness when I only had two kids as opposed to now, with four.) I just wanted my husband to kick the teenagers out; I wanted him to do it for me. At the same time I felt an intense pressure to let them in my house every Wednesday, or else I’d be a “bad ministry wife.”

Conflict can happen, even when you’re married to your best friend, even when you are absolutely convinced he’s the only one for you, even when you love practically everything about him. We shouldn’t be surprised when we have disagreements with our spouses. We’re different people, and we’ll see the world differently. And when we feel our own point of view so strongly, it can be difficult to imagine someone else’s point of view.

For any of my old darling youth group members who may be reading here today, please know I love you. And I want you to know I miss you all so dreadfully. I’m recounting a problem that was mine, not yours. Probably any of you who still like me enough to read my blog wouldn’t have been the ones tearing it apart in the first place, but either way, it doesn’t matter. This conflict wasn’t about you.

Two years and many, many fights later, we finally got creative in our problem-solving. We finally thought outside the box. This wasn’t either/or. It wasn’t: have them at our house, or they won’t feel the love. It wasn’t: have them at our house, or I’m a failure. It was: let’s have them at our house and not in. We didn’t cancel Wednesday nights at the Parsonage. Instead, we invited teens into our yard (but outside our house).

We gathered around the fire pit for hot dogs and marshmallows, for long chats and pyromaniac adventures. We played volleyball with the teenagers and let all the youth volunteers’ kids play in our kiddie pool. We swung on the bag swing and climbed up the rope on the oak tree. And it was a great compromise. It was hotter outside than in, that’s for sure, but my husband didn’t have to give up teens at his house, and I didn’t have to give up my sanity, my privacy, or my clean house.

I share this story to illustrate that compromises around ministry stressors are possible. For a long time, I saw the problem one way, and Jonathan saw it another way, and as long as we did that, there was no meeting in the middle. We had to get desperate enough to think about things in a different way, desperate enough try something new. I’m such a black and white thinker that our eventual solution never occurred to me (or my husband). In the end he must have figured he had to do something about his unhappy wife, no matter the ministry cost.

Now I look back and think how silly we were that we couldn’t find a compromise sooner. At the time, though, it didn’t feel silly at all. It felt deadly serious, as I’m sure all marriage conflicts do at the time. It took me a long time, but it was a good lesson to learn: sometimes there’s a solution that isn’t either/or. Sometimes there’s a solution that meets both spouses’ needs at the same time. Sometimes we just need to consider other options.

Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles)

Today Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas, talking about conflict:

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I don’t like conflict. I’m scared of it. I don’t want people to be upset with me; I don’t want people to think I’m upset with them. Conflict is stressful and instills in me a strong desire to RUN AWAY. I shut down both physically and emotionally, and I fail to deal with the issue at hand.

I want everyone to be happy. I want this to happen without actually having to talk about the things that make me, and other people, unhappy. But I can’t avoid unhappy situations indefinitely. With 7 billion people on this planet, and no two of us alike, conflict is unavoidable.  I can’t hide away forever from my emotions and the emotions of others.

In mission training I learned that my approach to conflict has a name: I am an Avoider, or Turtle. Turtles believe that any conflict, regardless of what it is or how it is handled, will inevitably harm relationships. We thus avoid conflict at all costs. We hide in our turtle shells and refuse to come out to talk. However, when cornered or forced into conflict we aren’t ready to deal with, some Turtles (like me) might lash out in anger. The typically conflict-avoidant Turtle has now morphed into a Snapping Turtle. Ouch!

Continue reading here.