Had I known how much refereeing I would have to practice as a mother of three growing boys, I would have gotten more training. I might have taken a course to pick up hand signals and deescalation techniques. I might have at least been prepared with a whistle, a rule book, and some penalty flags. Alas, I did none of the above and have found myself woefully unprepared.
I love peace. I am a middle child. I detest conflict with every fiber of my being. But conflict, whether it comes on inter-personal or intra-personal playing fields, is a reality that offers both burden and opportunity. Thankfully, my soul has a referee in the Holy Spirit who steps in to order my conflicted heart around the love of Christ.
I am not celebrating conflict for conflict’s sake. There is no need to add to a conflict-consumed world. However, the more I do life, ministry, and family, the more I am forced to lean into conflict. What I used to avoid with more precision than our nation is avoiding the coronavirus, I am learning to endure by God’s grace. Constructive conflict can be a powerful, albeit painful tool in the hands of the wounded surgeon.
It exposes our idols. It reveals the hidden places of our hearts. It highlights our need to give and receive forgiveness. It trains our souls to depend on the only perfectly dependable one. Healthy conflict can lead to healthy intimacy with the Lord but also with others.
I am writing these things because I need them tattooed on my heart. I am reminding myself that Jesus is worth awkward conversations about differing personal convictions about face coverings. I am reminding myself that conflict in our home is not something to be shut down or ignored, but shared and investigated.
When an aged Peter was concluding his first letter to his flock towards the end of his watch as a shepherd, he highlighted the need fervent love that fights to forgive.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1Peter 4:8).
What I find in my own heart is that my own wrestling to forgive exposes the paucity of my love. On my own, I do not have the capital to float forgiveness to others that cancels their debts. I have precious few pennies. But that bankruptcy of my love forces me to look to the God of Abundance. Conflicts in relationships compel me to remember the One who paid my eternal debt with his ineffable love.
His love must be let loose afresh in my heart like the letting out of a dam. As it begins to fill the crevices of my heart, the bitterness and shame seeking to grow there can find no footing. I wish this were a one-and-done deal. But this is an ongoing choice, as Peter hinted in using the present progressive in his exhortation above. In order to keep on loving one another with love that covers sin, we must keep our hearts in His love. We must continually let His love cover our own sins so that we have storehouses of love to lavish on others.
That can only happen when I invite Christ to come and act as referee in my rowdy, conflicted soul. In fact, when the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians about letting the peace of Christ rule in their hearts, he used a Greek word that meant a referee (Colossians 3:15). As I process conflict without and within me, I desperately need the Lord to referee me.
Settle my unsettled thoughts,
Rule these unruly desires.
Order my inordinate passions,
As flesh against Spirit conspires.
My rowdy heart needs a ruler
If I am to persist in your peace.
Loud lies linger and lance at me,
To you alone I look for release.
My hope has hurried away from you
On false deliverers it has dissipated.
Oh, that you’d house my hopes again,
For in You alone I am truly sated.
I cannot advance a kingdom
That doesn’t first rule my heart.
Consistently conquer my soul,
Let me never from you depart.