In honor of the upcoming holiday season, I’m serving up a delicious recipe for family conflict. Enjoy!
Take one heaping serving of family members who have avoided each other for the past 12 months. Add in a dash of unresolved baggage that has been pushed under the proverbial rug for the sake of just getting along. Sprinkle with a felt need to align ourselves with one side or the other, whether it’s our job to determine who’s right or not. Add a pinch of political gunpowder Any political issue will suffice (baker’s choice), as long as others in the family disagree. To ensure maximum rise, force the family to make a difficult decision together, like what Christmas movie is best to watch. Mix thoroughly, place in a too-warm, cramped house, and bake until it explodes. And presto! You have just created enough conflict to ensure that these family members avoid one another for the next 12 months!
Every believer was predestined in love to be adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). We have now been called to fellowship with this family, along with fellow adoptees who are now our brothers and sisters in Christ. Being part of a family doesn’t mean that we all supernaturally view issues the same way. We don’t. And being part of a family doesn’t mean that we all are now supernaturally protected from hurting one another. We still sometimes sin and fall short of God’s glory, and the damage reaches beyond ourselves and impacts our family members, too. At times, that damage is slight, and it’s no big deal to work through it. At other times, the damage is severe. When this happens, we tend either to come in with guns blazing, or to hide away and lick our wounds.
Have you ever noticed how a wound from a family member somehow hurts way worse — for way longer — than one from a stranger? So it can be with the family of God, too. I’ve known people who have been so profoundly injured by their church family that they’ve vowed never to set foot inside a church building again. My heart breaks for them because I believe they are missing out on something very important. And it may surprise you to hear what that important thing is. (Hint: It’s not the support that can come from a church family, although that is truly helpful.) Are you ready for it? The vital thing I’m talking about is the opportunity to struggle through conflict. “Ha!” you may be thinking, “Some opportunity that is! Yes, please! Give me another steaming helping of that!”
But actually, I’m convinced that some kinds of growth happen only within the context of difficulty. Within our adoptive church family, we learn what it is like to be uncomfortably challenged. Proverbs describes it like this:
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens the face of another.
— Proverbs 27:17
Sharpens the face of another? That sounds like it would hurt! Make you want to run away screaming? Counterintuitively, the author of Hebrews encourages us with this:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
— Hebrews 10:24-25
Why? Because sharpening makes sparks, but the process also shapes us into better tools in the hand of the Father.
Within our adoptive church family, we learn what it is like to forgive. When we are kind and tenderhearted with our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we forgive them as Christ forgave us, we follow in his footsteps (Ephesians 4:32). Which leads me to a new recipe: within the family of God, we grow in Christ-like maturity, a process known as sanctification. Through conflict in our adoptive family, we sometimes suffer as he suffered, betrayed by one friend, denied by another, abandoned in a garden to face the most painful experience of his life alone. That hurts! At the same time, I know this to be true:
… suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
— Romans 5: 3-5
If you have been hurt by members of your adoptive church family, I want you to know two things. First, you have a brother who also experienced betrayal, denial, and abandonment:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God…
— Hebrews 2:17
Jesus understands your pain, and he overflows with compassion for your suffering. You’re not alone, not at all! Second, you have been given an opportunity to struggle through conflict, to be sanctified, to forgive. And in Christ, you have been given everything you need to accomplish this difficult task. My sibling, you can do this. He will help you do this. Seek true reconciliation. Don’t allow another day in this stressful, chaotic time to go by without becoming a bit more like Jesus. It’s a recipe for something beautiful!