Most humans really do not like conflict. We often see it as the brokenness of a relationship. Especially as the church, we desire relationship, we desire wholeness. And conflict feels like it brings separation and pain, even death.
But I would say just the opposite! Conflict is life! Conflict brings with it change. It enables us to face ourselves. Conflict can act as a mirror, enabling us to see where change needs to happen within ourselves. Without conflict, we can stay oblivious to areas in which we need to grow! But when we engage with change, we grow! And growth is life.
Just like our physical bodies, our spiritual bodies also need change in order to thrive. As we come across new thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences, we are able to engage in a new way and grow!
Margaret Wheatley, a peacebuilder and quantum physicist, tells a story of one such experience in Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World:
“The daily news is filled with powerful changes, and many of us feel buffeted by forces we cannot control. It was from this place of feeling battered and bruised that I listened one night to a radio interview with a geologist whose specialty was beaches and shorelines. The interview was being conducted as a huge hurricane was pounding the outer banks in the eastern United States. The geologist had studied these banks for many years and spoke fondly about their unique geological features. He was waiting for the storm to abate so he could get out and take a look at the hurricane’s impact. The interviewer asked: ‘What do you expect to find when you go out there?’ Like the interviewer, I assumed he would present a litany of disasters—demolished homes, felled trees, eroded shoreline. Be he surprised me. ‘I expect,’ he said calmly, ‘to find a new beach.’ ”
Conflict is inevitable, and so is change. Let us approach it with curiosity, actively anticipating what new beach God has in store for us!
One of the most shaping moments in the story of our world is named by the symbol worn around many necks, and placed at the front of many houses, buildings, and churches: the cross. The cross helps us remember one of the greatest conflicts: the wrestling of God and death. Its result was a fundamental change in our story, our meaning, our purpose, our understanding of truth. This change is growth, and this growth is life!
I want to encourage the church! No matter what storm you are weathering—if you are engaging with a personal conflict, a congregational impasse or a denominational dispute—you are doing the life-giving work of the kingdom! May you have the patience and curiosity to take a long walk on this new beach!
Rianna Isaak is the associate program director of Camps with Meaning, part of Mennonite Church Manitoba.