Spirit & Truth # 196
By Rev. Greg Smith
I know of a family with four children who were constantly squabbling. (Yes, my wife and I have four children, but this isn’t autobiographical.) Two of the sisters in particular fought a lot, and the mother had no idea what to do. One day, when they started pulling hair and scratching, the mother had had enough of the nonsense. She stood them toe to toe and said, “Look—you two love each other too much to just hurt each other randomly. So instead, you—go ahead and hit your sister. Then once you’re done, she’ll take a turn and hit you. And you can have a fight in a nice civilized way.” The girls stared at each other, then looked back at their mom with tears in their eyes, “Don’t make me hit my sister,” they pleaded. “I love her!”
I don’t recommend this as good parenting, but it does bring up a point about changing our focus during times of conflict. In a strange way, this mother used irony to make her children think about the fact that they really did love each other, and would never actually want to hurt each other.
In Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” In our final discussion on conflict resolution, we look at Paul’s suggestion that when you’re in conflict you can make a decision to change your focus.
I can’t tell you how many times in pastoral counseling sessions, someone has said to me, “He makes me so angry,” or “She makes me so sad.” In actuality, nobody can make you feel anything. You choose what to feel, and you choose what to think. You’re not a slave of the other person—you can choose to shift your focus to the positive.
Another mother I know took her two fighting children and stood them toe to toe, saying to one, “You need to tell your brother something good about him.” Then, after the child reluctantly came up with some positive thing about his brother, the mother said to the other one, “Now, you need to tell your brother something you admire about him.” And on it went. One compliment followed another until the brothers had developed a mutual admiration society.
Whether you’re experiencing conflict in your marriage, at work, at church, with friends or neighbors or anyone else, Paul says that you can change your focus. Instead of dwelling on the things that irritate or infuriate you about the other person, meditate on those things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. You’ll be able to say, “I can’t change their attitude towards me, but I can change my outlook on them.” And that will make all the difference in the world.