Little Times of Trouble
Even the best of homes will face times of struggle, times of conflict. It’s just one of the facts of life in a fallen world. Simple things, such as whose turn it is to take out the trash, whether your teenage daughter finished her homework, whether your son has done his chores, are bothersome but relatively minor issues that can, generally, be resolved with minimal disruption. But other issues can threaten to disrupt family life. The mother-in-law whose abuse and manipulation threatens to destroy a woman’s marriage and her health; the father with mental illness who abuses his children; the son who abandons all his religious upbringing to give himself to a promiscuous lifestyle; or the daughter who becomes a substance abuser.
Repeatedly in the New Testament we are told to love one another (John 13:34, Rom. 12:10), to live in peace and harmony with one another (Rom. 15:5, Heb. 12:14), to be patient, kind, and tenderhearted toward one another (1 Cor. 13:4), to consider others before ourselves (Phil. 2:3), and to bear one another’s burdens (Eph. 4:2). Of course, all this is easier said than done, even with our own family members. In this lesson, we will look at some ways to help mollify little times of trouble, especially in the family.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 8.
The writer of Proverbs makes a very astute observation: “The start of an argument is like a water leak—so stop it before real trouble breaks out” (Prov. 17:14, CEV). Once begun, a conflict can become incredibly hard to shut down. According to Romans 14:19, we can prevent conflict by following after two things: that which makes for peace and that with which one may edify another. How much more so are these principles crucial to harmony in the family?
Sometimes when you admit your responsibility in a conflict, it may cause the other party to soften. Take a step back and consider if it’s even a worthy battle. Proverbs states, “Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11, NRSV). At the same time, consider what difference this is going to make in your life in three days. Better yet, what impact will it have in 5 or 10 years? How many marriages, for instance, have had difficult times over issues that today seem so trivial?
Instead of letting conflict drag on for a long time, as you speak with the other person, a spouse, a child, a friend, a coworker, you may want to clearly define the problem or issue under discussion and stay on the immediate topic. Conflict often deteriorates when the issue that started the conflict gets lost in angry words; meanwhile, past issues or past hurts are tossed into the mix (this can be deadly, especially to a marriage). One way to have a better and softer start to the discussion is to affirm your relationship. Let the other person know that you care deeply about them and about your relationship. Once you have stated your positive feelings, you can move to the issue at hand; however, be careful not to use the word but. Stating a positive thought and then saying “but” negates what you just stated. Once you share your feelings, listen to the other person’s perspective, reflect on what he or she has said, and only then propose a solution that keeps everyone’s best interests in mind (Phil. 2:4, 5).
Marriage, like the Sabbath, is a gift of God to humanity that goes back to Eden. And, as Seventh-day Adventists, we know what the enemy of souls has done, and is still doing, to both the Sabbath and to marriage. Even the best of marriages are, at times, going to suffer from conflict.
What follow are a few principles that can help couples work through these issues.
You must learn to forgive, especially when your spouse doesn’t deserve it. Anyone can forgive the deserving: in fact, that’s hardly forgiveness. True forgiveness is forgiving those who don’t warrant it, the way the Lord forgives us through Christ. We must do likewise. Otherwise, our marriage, if it survives (which isn’t likely), will seem like purgatory.
You must accept that you’re married to a sinner, to a being who has been damaged to some degree emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Get used to it. Accept your spouse’s faults. Pray your way through them. You might have to live with those faults, but you don’t have to obsess over them. If you do, they will eat you alive. A holy and perfect God, through Christ, accepts us as we are: you, who are hardly holy and perfect, must do the same with your spouse.
Who hasn’t experienced anger at one point or another? What makes it harder is when that anger is directed at a family member. Along with refusing to forgive, anger can turn into a poison that will wreak great pain and suffering on the home and family and relationships in general.
If you’re angry about something, instead of letting it hover like a dark cloud over your life, turn it into something positive. Pray for those who hurt and abuse you, forgive them and become a blessing to them. It probably won’t be easy at first, but when you make the decision and stick with it, God will take care of the rest.
Sometimes the root of anger stems from the homes we grew up in. Angry people often come from angry families because they learn from their role models and carry on the same behavior in their own lives, eventually passing it on to their children. At times anger may be the result of unmet needs or due to jealousy, as was Cain’s case, which led to the murder of his brother.
Sometimes unresolved conflict and anger may develop into a very negative, destructive dynamic, even an abusive relationship. Abuse can take a number of forms—physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, et cetera. But any form of abuse is contrary to the central principle of God’s kingdom—unselfish love.
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19, NIV). The word harsh in the original Greek language refers to one’s being angry or bitter toward the partner, causing continued pain, intense hostility, and expressions of hatred toward the other. Paul is very clear that a spouse is not to be hostile or violent. Emotional, sexual, and physical abuse is not acceptable behavior for a Christian husband or partner. Instead, what is acceptable is to love your spouse. Paul also makes it clear that love is patient and kind and that love does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, does not keep record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. None of the attributes of love even remotely condones or accepts abuse in any way, shape, or form.
A healthy relationship is one in which both partners feel protected and safe, in which anger is managed in a healthy way, and in which serving one another is the norm. Often victims of abuse feel guilty, as if they were responsible for provoking their abuser or that perhaps they somehow deserve the abuse they receive. Abusers can be quite controlling and often skillful at making their victims feel responsible. The truth is that no one deserves to be abused by another, and abusers are responsible for their own choices and actions. The good news is that the Bible offers comfort, not guilt, for the victims of abuse. In some situations, in which the problem gets unmanageable, people should not be afraid to seek outside help.
The writer of Hebrews counseled, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14, NKJV). Even when we take all the steps necessary, some people who have hurt us will still not listen and change. Perhaps some may offer an apology, but others will not. Either way, it is to our benefit, especially when it is a family member, that we take the journey of forgiveness talked about earlier.
In fact, forgiveness is an essential part of conflict resolution, especially in the family. When a person sins against us, God’s enemy loves to place a wall between us and that person, a roadblock that prevents us from loving that person as Christ loved us. Forgiveness is a choice that we make to get around that roadblock.
“We are not forgiven because we forgive, but as we forgive. The ground of all forgiveness is found in the unmerited love of God, but by our attitude toward others we show whether we have made that love our own. Wherefore Christ says, ‘With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’ Matt. 7:2.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 251.
At the same time, when we are the ones at fault, we need to try to restore the broken relationship with another person, which may involve going to the other person and telling him or her that you regret what you’ve done and asking for their forgiveness. That’s what Jesus said: “So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God” (Matt. 5:23, 24, CEV). It is nice when someone who has hurt us apologizes and asks for forgiveness. Likewise, it is nice when we give others the same type of care.
Further Thought: “Too often the parents are not united in their family government. The father, who is with his children but little, and is ignorant of their peculiarities of disposition and temperament, is harsh and severe. He does not control his temper, but corrects in passion. The child knows this, and instead of being subdued, the punishment fills him with anger. The mother allows misdemeanors to pass at one time for which she will severely punish at another. The children never know just what to expect, and are tempted to see how far they can transgress with impunity. Thus are sown seeds of evil that spring up and bear fruit.”—Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, pp. 314, 315.
“Home is to be the center of the purest and most elevated affection. Peace, harmony, affection, and happiness should be perseveringly cherished every day, until these precious things abide in the hearts of those who compose the family. The plant of love must be carefully nourished, else it will die. Every good principle must be cherished if we would have it thrive in the soul. That which Satan plants in the heart—envy, jealousy, evil surmising, evil speaking, impatience, prejudice, selfishness, covetousness, and vanity—must be uprooted. If these evil things are allowed to remain in the soul, they will bear fruit by which many shall be defiled. Oh, how many cultivate the poisonous plants that kill out the precious fruits of love and defile the soul!”—Pages 195, 196.