Fighting Over Mud Pies

Relationships are hard. Marriages, friendships, or connections with extended family…whatever the relationship, it’s tough for two people to get along all the time.

Inevitably, when two people spend much time together, they end up in some sort of conflict with each other. Whether or not that relationship is strengthened or weakened has less to do with how much you love that person – although that obviously plays a part in how motivated you are to work toward reconciliation – and more to do with how you handle that inevitable conflict.

Consider the relationship between husband and wife. Each person goes into the marriage believing they’ve found an amazing, wonderful, perfect lifelong companion for themselves. We can’t help going into marriage at least somewhat selfishly. We want our lives bettered by this major life change. Of course we’re willing to give to the relationship, too, but don’t we all imagine that we’ll get back from our investment at least as much as we give?

So what happens when life gets hard and conflict between the spouses arises?

Well, it depends on whose agenda you are most interested in following. If you are most interested in following your own agenda, you will likely A) be upset this other person isn’t following the agenda you laid out for them, so that they would bring you happiness and personal fulfillment for the rest of your life; B) attempt to control the situation such that whatever the outcome, it gets you back on the track of forwarding your own agenda; or C) only feel as though the conflict was resolved if you feel the resolution is relatively “fair”, i.e., you still had some of your needs met.

As believers in Christ, though, we are called to follow not our own agenda but that of Jesus.

Thankfully, His agenda is pretty straightforward. He wants us to minister to others, laying down our lives and loving others as we do ourselves. In fact, after God’s commandment to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, the only other thing he feels compelled to say is that we must love others well (Matthew 22:36-40).

Loving others well means that we have to actively work to set our own agendas aside. In fact, if we could avoid developing our own agendas that would be even better, but I’m not convinced this is even consistently possible. I wake up with multiple agendas pre-wired into my thinking. However, setting that agenda aside…that I can and should do, for the sake of others. That means I put the needs of others ahead of mine consistently. I don’t look for what’s “fair” in every given situation; I don’t seek out at least a 50/50 resolution to any conflict. I think of myself less and others more.

It sounds uncomplicated, and yet we all know it’s so very hard. Even the consistently selfless among us are far more selfish than they realize (Jeremiah 17:9) and end up forwarding something of their own agendas even as they serve others. So this call to love others well is no easy task.

So how to do it? Lately, I’ve been re-reading Paul David Tripp’s book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, and I think he summarizes well what this ministry to others looks like:

“Biblical personal ministry must be just that – biblical. This means that we look at people’s lives from the distinct perspective of a biblical worldview. We are concerned with the glory of God, the sinfulness of man, the fallen condition of the world, the reality of the Devil, the grace of the gospel, and the certainty of eternity. Biblical personal ministry is more about perspective, identity, and calling than about fixing what is broken.”

Let’s go back to the husband and wife example. After a few years of marriage, we can all admit that marriage is harder than we thought it might be. Two selfish people wrestling to have their agendas met, over time, will butt heads. The spouses in this conflict can keep a death grip on what they think they need out of the situation…or they can get their eyes up, and consider what God might be showing him or her.

  • The Right Perspective: This “thing” in front of us, the source of our conflict, from an eternal perspective, means less than nothing. No matter what the conflict is, when set against the backdrop of forever, its importance cannot help but shrink. Seeing all conflicts in the right perspective can help us to stop fighting for “this thing” – whatever that is to you in the moment – and pursue reconciliation and forgiveness over getting your own way.
  • Your Identity: You belong to Christ. This means your life is no longer yours. Your agenda is no longer yours. Your agenda is to glorify God in all things. Again, simply remembering that we are in Christ and as such, have been completely forgiven, justified, and are being sanctified, we can confess our sins of selfishness against our spouse, ask forgiveness from him or her and walk away from more conflict. Even if our spouse doesn’t give us the response we’d hope for, we can be confident that we have done what God calls us to.
  • Your Calling: God calls us to a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). He calls us to love others as we do ourselves (Mark 12:31). He calls us to count others more worthy than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). He calls us to lay down our lives for his kingdom purposes (John 15:13). And in doing so…He gives us life. Living out God’s agenda by dying to ourselves gives us…life.

As Tripp likes to say, I am “deeply persuaded” that as we enter into eternity with Christ and each other, we will look back on our earthly lives and lament over the time, talent and treasure we squandered fighting with others over where to eat, who’s picking up the kids, how to spend our tax return, or who even started the fight we find ourselves in. Rather than stay embroiled and bitter, let’s try to look a bit closer at the areas where we find ourselves in conflict – from the perspective of eternity – and then think about what our identity and calling might say about changing the way we approach conflict.

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

James 4:1-7 (ESV):
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?” But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

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