Thursday, September 4, 2008

Challenging the Status Quo

It's in our nature to both be different and belong. There is a battle within ourselves to stand out and fit in all at the same time. We don't want to conform, but we also don't want to be excluded. I believe this to be one of the most perplexing oxy morons ever, yet it's nestled at the center of our very beings. I think this battle within ourselves, drives us to conflict and harmony, ideas that wouldn't seem to coexist. But let me tell you something I've learned about conflict. It's not pretty, but it can be beautiful. Don't worry, I'll explain.

When I first became a Christian, I was an 18 year old freshman in college, and the biggest conflict in my life at that moment (and for the last 9 years) was with my dad. Almost right away, God placed this very conflict at the forefront of my heart and my mind. Since he was an alumni from my school and a noted writer, my professor asked my Dad to come speak to my English class (which I eventually was dropped from and ironically caused me to lose the Hope Scholarship, but that's beside the point). The night before the scheduled event, I couldn't sleep. This internal battle of bitterness and fear was raging inside of me, and I did the only thing I knew to do at the time. I prayed out loud in the middle of my dorm room (luckily my roommate was gone for the evening or that might have seemed odd). I cried out in frustration and pain to a God I'd barely known for a few months, but I cried out all the same, and the answer I got was forgiveness. So I sat down and did what still comes most naturally to me, I wrote a letter. In this letter, I poured out my heart, nine years of confusion, anger, and pain. I vividly remember wiping the tears from the sheets leaving a crinkled surface. In this letter, I told him how much I missed being his daughter. In this letter, I scolded him for leaving his family to pursue another relationship. In this letter, I chose to forgive him and to begin a new chapter in our relationship where I would stop expecting him to be the dad he clearly was not capable of being. In this letter, I put the past behind and decided to sprint towards the future.

I didn't get much response, though I waited impatiently. After a month or so, I asked Dad if he had read the letter. He said he had, thanked me writing it, and told me he loved me. There was not recognition of wrong or apology for the pain his decisions had caused. At first I could feel the bitterness resurfacing, but I continued to remind myself that love and forgiveness are both choices, and that I had made a choice to love him for who he was and not for who I wanted or expected him to be.

The next twelve year were both difficult and rewarding. But the battle remained, as I believe it does in all relationships involving conflict. When there is pain, hurt, anger, misunderstanding, and the biggest culprit of all, missed expectations, there is always a choice to be made. You can take the difficult road, the one requiring sweat and hard labor, humility and sacrifice, or the easy road (which never proves to be as easy as it seems) requiring avoidance, burning bridges, and a commitment to destruction of the relationship, a road that most likely affects all relationships in one's life.

Most people feel it's easier to avoid conflict, but I'd like to challenge the status quot on this topic. I believe God uses conflict to draw people, even unlikely couplings, together. Because I was willing to enter into battle, I enjoyed a beautiful relationship with my Dad before he died, and not just in the days leading up to the inevitable, but in the 12 years when I chose to put the relationship before the conflict.

But God didn't stop with my Dad. He continued to put conflict in my path for me to make friends with. My BFF, Jo, is a perfect example. Around the same time I was dealing with my dad, I was dealing with Jo. When we first met, let's just say the sparks flew and not in a good way, but through our commitment, not to each other, but our walks with the Lord, he blessed me with the most rewarding friendship I've ever enjoyed. We've been through the thick of it together, the muck of life, and now we're reaping the benefits. But if I had listened to my nature 12 years ago, I would not only be living in regret about my dad, I would lost with my friend. I'm not done yet.

The year after I graduated college, I went to work for Camp All-American where I met a woman of character and strength. My boss, Tammy quickly became my mentor, and taught me about Jesus' way of dealing with conflict, a way I'd become accustomed to without even knowing it. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus says,

"If your brother sins against you,[b] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'[c] 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be[d]bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.
19"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

Combining these statements with a passage in Ecclesiastes 4:12b, "A cord of three strands is not easily broken," I learned the beauty of conflict resolution. If we don't discuss the issues dividing our relationships, we miss out on the benefits of knowing and loving those people. I believe gossip is a symptom of a dying relationship, or a missed opportunity, or a conflict not resolved. Gossip leads us to slander those around us, most likely stemmed from some disagreement or misunderstanding. It's hurtful and painful and destructive, but worst of all, it denies both parties the opportunity for reconciliation, what Jesus so desired for his people.

I have to admit that I don't always practice what I preach, because my desire to be right, or noticed overpowers my desire to be reconciled...just ask my husband. But I'm thankful for the relationships in my life that I can look upon and know that without the beauty of conflict, they wouldn't exist. Sometimes a relationship that has been through fire is so much more sweeter than one without a grievance. I happen to find myself in the midst of a battle, one I am caught in the middle of, one where the participants have yet to figure out that they are in, a battle I'm afraid may end in bloodshed and not beauty. Of course I can see the potential, but can not force the hand of reconciliation. I can only encourage the parties involved to step into the ring on the same side and battle the true enemy who seeks to destroy.

I pray that we'll all challenge the status quot by getting in the fight, tearing down the walls, and seeking reconciliation.


Jo said...

Thanks for fighting for us. :)

Beautifully put, Hills.

Hillary Pennington said...

You are most definitely welcome. I'm glad I fought too. Thanks for a fun weekend.