Some people think the answer to conflict is violence. But there’s always another way. A better way. The potential to react aggressively when we’re frustrated or angry is in us all – and in men especially – and unless recognised and managed it can have disastrous consequences.
We see this in the Advent stories. Whilst Wise Men were seeking Christ to worship him, unwise men like Herod were looking to destroy him. When he couldn’t find the new baby king, Herod’s response was horrendous – to kill all the baby boys under two.
This reminds us that there’s always been conflict at Advent. We see it in the world today – on a macro-scale in the wars and civil wars taking place in various regions, and on a micro-scale in families and couples who find it hard to live together.
In the UK twice as many people file for divorce in January than in any other month of the year. Why? They’re either waiting to get through Christmas before entering into conflict, or the Christmas season puts so much strain on relationships that they can’t stand it any longer. This is partly understandable but never inevitable. Because conflict can always be managed and worked through, especially if both parties are willing to change and particularly if the Spirit of Christ is genuinely welcomed, bringing forgiveness and strength to work through the tough issues.
I wonder if we see something of a model for this in Mary and Joseph. Being nick-named ‘The Holy Family’ does not mean that their marriage was conflict-free. In fact I suspect it was exactly the opposite and that Mary and Joseph’s relationship must have been severely strained at times. Two examples stand out.
The first was at the beginning. Before they were even married there was conflict as Mary had to explain to Joseph that she was pregnant – and not by him (Mt 1:18-25). Think about it – if that conversation didn’t lead to conflict, I can’t think of another that would!!! And we know it did, as Joseph’s response was to break off the marriage. The atmosphere between them would have been strained, awkward, difficult and painful. So what changed? The fact that Joseph heard from God in a dream was crucial. But no doubt there would still have been more conversation and more working through of issues between them. It still wouldn’t have been easy. The conflict needed working through.
The second example of conflict was during their escape to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15). It’s easy to think that the family just got up and left, but in reality it just wouldn’t have been like that! Imagine, you are a new Mum with a little baby and your husband wakes you up in the middle of the night and tells you that you all need to leave immediately and travel hundreds of miles. How would you respond to that? There would have been some conversation, I imagine! Mary would have had lots of questions and I suspect she said they could and should wait until the morning. But Joseph was adamant that they needed to go NOW! This would have been difficult. The atmosphere would have been uneasy and fearful. Mary had to trust Joseph and that the divine message he’d received in his dream was correct, but that didn’t mean there were no issues to talk through and work through. They probably talked – initially in the night – and then in more detail during the journey. This would have been a tense and nervous time.
All this shows us that conflict cannot be avoided even in the most ‘holy’ of relationships. It also demonstrates that the Lord is present in the midst of conflict and wants to help and guide and find a way through. If worked through well, God can enable it be turned for good and for relationships to become even stronger than before. It’s also interesting that in one story Mary initiates the conflict (by breaking the news of her pregnancy) whilst in the other it’s Joseph (saying they must get up and leave).
If you’re experiencing conflict in a relationship at present, there are ways to manage it at Christmas. You can often choose when and where and even how to have a conversation, especially if you are the initiator of an awkward discussion. And you might choose to wait until after Christmas. But whatever you do, don’t avoid it for too long. Know what you need to say. Seek to honour the other person. Listen. Love. And pray.
Pray, because when you pray you welcome the presence of God, who wants you to work through conflict well. He did it with Mary and Joseph and he can do it with you.
ACTION: Think of a difficult conversation you need to have with someone. It could be a close relationship or with a neighbour or work colleague. What needs to be said? How can you say it clearly, kindly and non-aggressively? If it helps, write some of these things down in your Notebook.
PRAY: Pray for the relationship and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to have the conversation at a helpful time, if possible. If you are harbouring unforgiveness towards that person, choose to forgive them right now. Before you end your prayer time, focus on an area of the world in conflict and pray for a timely resolution and that God would bless the peacemakers.