Jesus is not afraid of conflict. (But I am.)
A Reflection for Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” (Mt 10:34)
What word comes to mind when you think about conflict?
Our staff explored this question recently at a conflict management workshop, and initial responses were somewhat unsurprising. Fear. Anxiety. Discomfort. Stress. Avoidance.
But more than a word, my response when I think about conflict is a physical reaction. It’s the same feeling I get when I read the beginning of today’s Gospel.
Jesus comes in hot today, challenging any ideas we might have that the Gospel is just about “peace on earth.” In just a few lines, he claims the sword over peace, and he preaches that even members of the same family will be at odds.
As we reviewed five styles of conflict at our workshop, mine became immediately obvious. My conflict profile is known as the “accommodator.”
Here’s the good news about my type, according to the conflict assessment we took:
“Accommodators have a harmonizing approach to conflict. They often focus on supporting others in a conflict situation and are adept at placating people in comfortable situations. Accommodators often gain strong appreciation for others involved in a conflict.”
But here’s the not so good news:
“Accommodators may build up resentment from denying their own needs. It also may be difficult for those who want to get to the root of the problem to work with Accommodators who tend to focus on making others happy.”
If our only goal is harmony, what do we sacrifice along the way?
All five styles we learned about have their strengths and their weaknesses, none more or less than any other. (If you’re interested in learning more about the styles and identifying your own, you might take this online assessment.) But when I read my weaknesses, they felt like they had to be the worst weaknesses in the bunch. After a bit of reflection, I think that’s because they not only felt true to me, but they represent a pattern by which I habitually bury my head in the sand, over and over. Intellectually, I know conflict is not only an inevitable part of life, but also healthy and necessary. But in practice, I am focused on keeping the people around me happy above all else.
If our only goal is harmony, what do we sacrifice along the way? Oftentimes, as my assessment results alluded to, we give up any chance of actually getting to the root of a problem. In other words, we don’t fully tell the truth. Any resolution we might come to is only partial, at best.
Here’s what I’m sitting with today: Jesus brought conflict with him. He highlighted its importance. As we navigate the messy middle of a conflict, long before the relief of any resolution, God is undeterred. While I might cringe and feel a little queasy at Jesus’ words about familial tension and his attempts to put peace in its rightful place, God does not share my fear and anxiety.
On the other side of anxiety, let there be connection. On the other side of fear, let there be understanding. On the other side of discomfort, let there be truth—one that we all can share.