Resolving Conflict Peaceably
From the series Keeping Love Alive - Volume 2
How do you handle conflict? Are you a person who bursts out in anger or are you someone who completely shuts down? In this message, Chip explains why neither of those approaches work well and offers a third option to resolve conflict in marriage. Don't miss how you can radically transform your relationship!
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About this series
Keeping Love Alive - Volume 2
Four Biblical Skills Great Marriages Have in Common
It’s hard to believe there are couples who’ve been married for thirty, forty, or even fifty years. So, what’s their secret? In this series, Chip shares the newest volume in his ongoing series, “Keeping Love Alive.” As he teaches from the book of Colossians, he'll highlight 4 important skills every healthy marriage has in common. Learn how to be better connected spiritually… communicate more effectively… resolve conflict peaceably... and manage your finances wisely. Discover what you need to improve your relationship and start making a change or two, today!More from this series
We are looking at skill number three. It’s how to resolve conflict – are you ready for this? Peaceably. You know, so nobody gets hurt.
Number one, here’s a biblical perspective of conflict. Number one, it is inevitable. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation,” so we wouldn’t be surprised. Second, it flows from our differences in perspective. Paul and Barnabas, remember? John Mark was a flake. He went back the next trip, Barnabas says, “Hey, I think we should take John Mark.” He’s the son of encouragement, his gifts, his philosophy, everyone fails sometimes. Let’s bring him along.
Paul is very mission, A-type, you know what? We are not going to sacrifice the mission. He blew it one time. The mission is more important. If you want to help him, you stick around and help him. And it says they had such a sharp disagreement; we get our word schism. And Paul and Barnabas went different ways. I don’t think either of them were wrong.
One was an encourager that needed to help a guy. The other realized, you know what? Jesus told me to take the gospel to all the world and I can’t risk the mission on a guy that I can’t depend on. So, there are differences in perspective.
Sometimes it’s just selfish desires. James would say, “What are the causes of fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires or your lusts that battle within you? You want something and you don’t get it. You kill, you covet, but you can’t have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. And when you do ask God, you ask with the wrong motives, that you can spend it on your pleasures.” Behind a lot of conflict is just plain old selfishness and sin.
And then finally, sometimes it’s just personality differences. Paul has a couple ladies and Euodia and Syntyche and he says they are both great, they are both helpers, they are both wonderful people. But they can’t get along. Maybe it’s personality. We don’t know. But they needed an outside help. They needed a counselor, according to Paul. I want you to get these two ladies together. They are both super. But together, they just rub each other the wrong way.
All I want you to get is this: Conflict is normal and healthy conflict produces and opportunity for growth, but can be destructive unless addressed wisely, lovingly, and with rules to govern the process.
How many of you have a very clear pattern that you follow when there’s conflict? Yeah. This is what we do when we have, you know, when we have a “discussion”. What you really mean is an argument is about to burst out. But you have a plan when you disagree. All I’m going to do is I’m going to give you a plan.
So uh, our text is Colossians chapter 3 verses 12 through 17. If you’re kind of getting it is, “So, as those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved,” that’s who we are, “we are putting on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; forgiving one another, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which you have been called into one body; and be thankful.”
The command is, here’s the command, it’s really simple. We are to deal with our mates as Christ has dealt with us and deals with us. Okay? That’s the issue. If you get nothing else, what would that look like if you would say, “There’s a conflict, there’s a disagreement, I’m angry, I’m bitter, I’m resentful. Why did she do that again? I can’t believe he did that. We have talked about it a hundred times.” And when you come together, your one goal is, “I want to treat him,” or, “I want to treat her the way Christ treats me.”
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have conflict, but I’ll guarantee if you bear with one another, if you forgive one another; if you, beyond all these things, put on love; and if you let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, it’ll come out a lot differently.
Let me show you what these words mean. “Bearing with one another” is just basically: What are things that cause tension? And they’re not necessarily moral or wrong, but they are just, there are certain things, unless you’ve been married, like, six months – right? And they are still in la-la land. “Oh, no, she’s so wonderful. She has never done anything wrong ever.” “He’s so strong. He’s so handsome. I can’t believe he loves me!”
Eighteen months later, “I can’t believe…” Right? But this is – how do you put up with the things that people do, some that might be wrong but more this is the idea of idiosyncrasies, of things that rub you the wrong way that we have talked about them and they just keep doing them. And he says, “Bear with one another.”
In other words, it’s: Deal with tension and things that bother you in a constructive way. And then forgive one another. This is a hurt or offense. The New Testament word for “forgive” literally is “to release”.
And I’m going to dig in a bit more to forgiveness a little bit later, because get clear. Forgiveness is a choice to not pay the other person back for what they have done. I release you. And what comes up in our minds is: That’s not fair! I’m not going to let them off the hook. No, you don’t let them off the hook. What you do is you say, “I’m going to take this offense and I’m going to release it, and I’m going to put you on God’s hook. He’s the just One.”
And you do, people who refuse to forgive are people who drink poison and think it’s going to kill the other person. When you don’t forgive, I mean, it’s medical. It’s ulcers, it’s migraines, it’s low immune system. Lack of forgiveness will destroy your life. It’ll destroy your soul. By the way, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins,” or, “trespasses as we…”
Remember what Jesus said? “If you do not forgive your brother from the heart, your heavenly Father will not forgive you.” This is really important. So, we’ll talk about – it doesn’t mean, by the way, forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t the same thing. You can forgive a person, that doesn’t mean that everything goes back to normal. Sometimes trust has to be rebuilt. Or sometimes a person in some other circumstances are dangerous, and you forgive them, but that abuser can’t be in your life anymore, or in one of your kids’ lives.
We’ll clarify that, but I just want to get through the passage. “Whoever has a complaint.” In other words, just, it bothers you! It just really bothers – what they have done really bothers you. It’s personalized and it’s ongoing.
And so, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And then he goes on to say, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”
And that word “rule”, it’s the idea of a sentry walking back and forth and literally the idea is in the midst of a conflict, instead of you are right and they are right, it’s a picture of: Let God be the umpire. What does He think? What is His estimation? We will learn in just a minute that every conflict in marriage, there’s never a winner and a loser. There are either two winners and two losers.
Oh, you might win the argument, you might make them feel bad, you might even get your way. But if you win and they lose, remember? You are one. So, he says, “Let the peace of Christ rule.” Why? You are called into one body; your unity before God.
He’s talking about the whole Church. But, wow, if he’s talking about the Church, how much more a couple? And then this commandment, to be thankful. To focus on what we have instead of what is lacking.
Turn the page, if you will, and I want to give you this picture before I walk through a little acronym that has helped me. I have a – Jim Burns is a good friend and he’s a marriage and family therapist and speaker.
And he says there’s a negative dance and there’s a positive dance. And it’s very predictable. So, you start at the top, there’s tension, friction, problem, pain, misunderstanding. And you can fill it in. In fact, for some of you, you don’t have to think too hard. You can just think some of the real recent ones.
The negative dance is defensive: blaming, anger, control, attack, and the “I” language appears. “I did this. You ought to do that. I did this. I…” It’s very defensive. “Why did you do that?” And it usually escalates in tones of voice, often in yelling. And then when it gets really bad, sometimes it gets physical.
And then there’s a disconnect. Emotional withdraw, avoidance, pouting, acting, feeling superior. And then after that, you get detached, because it’s not resolved. You feel bitter, resentment, contempt, loneliness, unresolved issues, fighting, like a deadness in your soul. And the result: deeper tension and regret.
It doesn’t matter what the issues are. Most of the issues you fight about are symptoms, by the way. They’re not even the real issue. When Theresa and I were having our worst times, when we did that dance almost on a weekly basis. And so, her way was to shut down and she wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t talk to me for two days. And we did the classic couples, you know, you go to bed and you’re both in bed like this and so, she rolls that way and I roll this way. And I had this sort of mechanism that I thought would be very helpful, but was very ineffective is I would sort of, “Huhhhhh.” And that meant, “I’m still awake so you can still apologize.”
And she would shut down and then being I’m in seminary, so I’m learning a lot of verses. And then I would lay there for a while and then that verse, you know, “Resolve it by bedtime.” So, I would get up and I’d turn on the little light and I would walk around the bed and I would tell her, “We’ve got to get this resolved. We’ve got to get this resolved.” And all this. And she would just, she would just ice me out.
And then we’d get up the next morning, and by the way, you go to bed angry, it does something to your soul, then I would feel not attracted to her; felt distant. And we didn’t, would never get anything resolved. By two or three days, we would act like it didn’t happen. We’d just both go on. And what we were doing is we put thin layer upon thin layer upon thin layer of our hearts hardening. We were both very vulnerable to temptation of all kinds.
So, our communication, our emotional connection, and our sex life was all going this direction. Now, when they go that direction, then what happens? Right? Now you have created deeper and the same pattern. And the resentment and the bitterness.
And it can be over, ours was why I was getting home late for dinner. And I thought it was ridiculous. And I was holding down a job, full-time, going to school full-time, and we had kids. And I’m a basketball junkie. I mean, if you’ve ever been in playgrounds, you can go to any inner city and if you’re – especially in the inner city it’s like, there’s all Black guys and there’s at least one skinny, little white guy and a tall white guy. And that’s where – I kept my ball in the back with my shoes and everything. And I would drive by a playground and I would just jump out.
And I played very competitively and played against Olympic teams all throughout South America. And I was a gym rat. I played seven or eight hours a day and I was, and basketball after college practice, I’d go play pickup ball at night. I mean, I just loved it.
And if you win a game, for some of you guys know this, you stay on. So, I would get someplace with a bunch of guys and, of course, “What are you skinny little white guy coming here?” And I’m on, I’m on. And then the skinny little white guy would say, “This is where he played in college and this is why, dude.”
And we’d win a game. Then we’d win another game. Then we’d win another game. Well, I couldn’t leave! And so, Theresa would have fixed – and every time it happened, it’s like it was a special meal. And I had no idea that she was expressing her love for me. And to me, it was all about, “When do you get home?”
And so, over time, I learned a good offense was better than a bad defense. And I would come in, I’d just pick on her. And the moment I got in, so, I’d get mad at her before she could get mad at me.
And really, all the issues were she felt rejected. It triggered things in her life. I felt like, “Don’t tell me what to do. I said five thirty. What’s the difference between five thirty, quarter to six, six? I mean, I’ll eat it cold. I don’t care.” I didn’t get it. That was one of many. But I just want you to get, it doesn’t have to start over something big.
The positive dance is there is tension, friction, problem, pain, misunderstanding. And the response is “we”. We assume responsibility and we work together to resolve the issue. I’m going to give you some tools to do that.
We didn’t know how to do that. In other words, it’s like, okay. How do you bring something up that gets the problem on the table without attacking the person? Because I was super defensive.
And if I raised my voice a little bit, she just shrunk. By the way, in most conflict, you have sharks and turtles. Some by personality, some by gender. And so, in a conflict, there’s some of you that what you do is instinctively because of your background, your personality, you just pull your head in. And, man, all you can get is a shell.
And then there’s those of us, we just swarm the water. And you know what? We are going to win and we are going attack and if we have verbal skills, we are going to reframe it and you did this. By the time we are done, we were the problem and you feel like it’s all your fault. And then you realize it’s not. And then you resent us.
And we have manipulated and we have been unkind. And we haven’t been bearing with another. And we haven’t been forgiving. And we haven’t done – we haven’t been humble. We haven’t been patient.
But here, it’s a “we”. Okay, we have an issue. We’ll talk about getting that on the table. And then the “we” issue goes to resolution without a win or lose.
Okay, yeah, this is a problem. How should we solve it? What are our options? Let’s define the problem together. Let’s calmly talk about it in a way that I’ll show you. And what do we learn from this? What was really going on? And as a result what happens is you learn about each other.
What would God have us do in this situation? You see it this way, I see it that way. And we are at odds. What does the umpire, what does He say about this? Or do we need someone from the outside, since we are at a deadlock, because we want this to go better. Do we need someone on the outside to coach us and help us mentor through this who is objective? Because obviously neither of us are. And if we could have solved it, we probably would have solved it by now.
And when you do that, then the result is authentic oneness and a feeling of being loved. And conflict actually becomes something where you grow closer. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Or one man and one woman sharpen another.
And so, as you turn to the next page, what I want to talk about is how to diffuse conflict in your marriage. And it’s interesting. Defuse and diffuse, it sounds pretty much the same.
See, what happens in marriage is it starts off, I mean, it can start off so small, but once your emotions get in it, then you start looking at the other person through this and you find other faults. And so, what you want to do is – marriages, great marriages, or at least good marriages and people with a good relationship, you can so focus on a five percent problem and forget the ninety-five percent that is good and little by little by little, the more you focus on the problem, it grows and grows and grows. And then it colors and takes away.
I mean, because of the way we did it, our conversation was terrible. Because of the way we handled it, emotionally we weren’t connected. Because of the way we handled it, she didn’t want to have sex with me and I still wanted to have sex with her. And she used it like a club. And she’d withdraw. And then I was passive-aggressive. And I would know that the trash is full. Tell you what, I would just…shucks, I didn’t see it. She likes to be on time, knowingly and unknowingly, when we were fighting, I just made sure we were just a little bit late.
See, when you’re passive-aggressive, you take the way to payback on a different field that is safer. Sarcasm, late, we push their buttons. And then if you push them and they respond, “Oh, I was just kidding.” We play lots of games. And you know what it does? It destroys your soul and it destroys your relationship.
So, how do you take a problem and diffuse it? Spread it out so you get God’s perspective and you deal with it. Well, here’s the acronym. The “D” is for: Define the problem on your own. Define the problem on your own.
Proverbs 15:4 says, “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” When you have a disagreement, don’t start by solving it with the person. Get by yourself and ask, “What is bothering me? How do I feel? When did this all begin?”
Journaling may not be for everyone; I journal. A lot of times, I don’t, I just know I have feelings and I don’t like them. And I’ll just, I’ll write myself clear. “This happened yesterday and it was just a look and she said this and we were going about that and we were driving in the car and just out of the blue, ‘Go here! Park here! Do that!’ And I didn’t say anything but I just, something inside me was like, Shut up! I know how to drive the car. We’ve been married forty-two years. Hey, I don’t need a guide to tell me which spot.” And why that bothered me is, well, probably…
So, rather than there, it’s I write that out and I figure out: What is going on? Why? Why is this making me so angry? And then pray and ask God for insight.
Proverbs 21:2 says, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.” If you didn’t do anything other than “D” of “Diffuse”, man, you would have so many less arguments. If you just define. What we do is we react. If you have a tension, a pain, a problem, a situation – if you can just go, “Stop. I am going to define what is going on here.”
The “I” is for: Initiate a time to talk. Matthew 5:23 and 24 says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember your brother,” or mate, “has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother,” or your mate, “and then come and offer your offering.”
And when I say “Initiate a time to talk,” jot these down. Right time, right place. Trying to solve a complex problem at the wrong time and the wrong place will not go well. It’s a time that is good for both of you. Don’t be pushy, but don’t procrastinate. “No, we really need to meet.” “Well, I’m exhausted now and I go to pick up the kids and I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do that.” “Yeah, and I’ve got a big meeting.” “Okay, okay, then, Friday morning, okay? There are some things that are on my heart I just want to discuss.” So, you have defined it, you’re clear, you’ve talked with the Lord, you initiate a time to talk.
The “F” is: Focus on the perceived problem, not the person. Proverbs 18:19 says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city and disputes are like the barbed gates of a citadel.”
One of the huge issues in our marriage was we, neither of us – her family didn’t have any conflict, because it was illegal.
And my folks, they would have conflict, but they came from the school: “Let’s not do it in front of the kids.” So, we never saw how conflict got resolved. And my dad blew up and my mom stuffed. And you do understand that left to yourself you pretty much do what, not what people told you, but what was modeled.
And so, you’ve got to, when I said, “Some of you, you’ve got to break out of old patterns and develop new ones.” And so, jot this down, this is going to be important. The way you bring up a problem without attacking the person is called an “I feel” message. This was on our refrigerator for two years. An “I feel” message.
Let me tell you, and I’ll just make it, because I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be over a big thing. It’s usually big stuff under the surface.
So, I’m late. “Why are you late again? Don’t you even care? You should come home on time! I fixed all this food and you don’t even care. You don’t even give a rip.” “Who are you to tell me what to do all the time? My lands, I’m working full-time, I’m going to school full-time, I’m supporting the kids, I’m up late, I’m up early, I’m studying Greek. Man, I’ve got to have some fun too!” “Well,” silence, bedroom, here we go. Three-day journey.
All over dinner, except it wasn’t. What I would learn later is, “I spent all day doing something to say, ‘I love you,’ and I fixed it and you didn’t show up and you didn’t even call.” And what I heard was there’s no room for me to have a life of my own and I’m busting it like crazy. I’m already insecure about figuring out how to be a dad to two kids that I adopted a year ago.
And when you start with that, “You should/you ought,” man, those are, for a man, those are fighting words. You ought, you should, you always, you never. That’s how mothers talk to sons. Let me tell you, those are fighting words both directions. Adults don’t talk to adults like that. That’s authority to inferiors.
Well, then, if that’s true then how do you get it on the table without saying, “You ought, you should,” raising your voice? It’s an “I feel” message. So, here’s the picture.
These are – the stories you’re about to hear, the names have not been changed to protect not the innocent. Okay? So, this was, we are in counseling and we are working through all this. And so, it’s another time and I’m feeling bad and I’m feeling guilty and I’m not going to attack her. But I walk in and it was such a great game. I mean, we just kept winning. It was so wonderful. And there’s a brotherhood, there’s something about hanging with guys you haven’t met and doing it that I just loved.
And so, I walk in and the kids aren’t around and the table is set and there are candles lit. And I’m going, “Oh, gosh. Why does she always do this when I play basketball?” And she is thinking, Why does he always play basketball when I do this?
And so, I came in and she goes, she was calm, in her right mind. No, no, no fire in here eyes. “Hey,” it’s like, “hey, something is wrong here.” Like, you’re on patrol and you know, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I can feel it. Something is wrong.
And she goes, “Are you still hungry?” I said, “Yeah.” “Well, it’s in the oven. I’ll get it for you. No, sit down.” The candles are still lit. Oooh. So, she gets it out of the oven and puts it on the table and then she sits down. She doesn’t look mad. Is this reverse psychology? What is coming on here? This is really starting to scare me.
So, I eat and she lets me eat and, “Do you like it?” “Yeah.” And I’m thinking, I think I’m just going to get by with this. And so, right time. She processed personally what the real issue was, right time, right way, candles.
And then she looks at me, leans over, eyeball to eyeball, she said, “Chip, can I tell you something?” I said, “Sure.” She said, “I spent half of the day preparing this meal for you, because I love you. I feel hurt when you don’t call and you don’t get to enjoy this meal that I made to express my love for you. I feel hurt.” See, you can’t argue with someone’s feelings.
And because she did it in that way, “A gentle answer turns away wrath,” Proverbs 15. And it was like God used it to, Tchoo! Ooh! I mean, I just, get up and fight like a real man! That was unfair! And for the first time, I made the connection between my lateness and her heart and what she was experiencing.
And she didn’t nag, she didn’t attack, she gave an “I feel” message. And I can remember, oh, dozens of times later. “Guy! Bros! Man, it’s been great, super, man, I’ve got a hot date with my wife. I’ve got to run. You want to take my place?” And I bet wasn’t late three or four times in the next five years, because now it’s not about being late. I don’t want to wound my wife.
You do understand that your whole life changes, too, with the Lord when you realize that sin is never a behavioral issue. It’s not, “I should stop watching porn,” or, “I should stop cussing,” or, “I’ve got to break this addiction,” or, “I need to stop losing my temper.” Those are behaviors. You’ll never, never change until you realize Ephesians says, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.” It talks about all those abusive words and language and malice and slander and all those negative things.
It breaks God’s heart. When you could realize that when you sin and when I sin, what really happens, Jesus already took my punishment. It doesn’t make God mad when you sin. It makes Him sad. See, He wants to be closer to you than you want to be closer to Him.
And when you begin to realize, “Should I do this or not do this?” When I knew it was going to break my wife’s heart, my heart changed. I mean, I may be a jerk, but I’m not going to treat her like that. But if she wants to fight about time you eat supper and if she wants to control my life, right? All those things I say. How did she do it? Can you imagine?
“I feel frustrated when you raise your voice. I feel hurt when you bring that up in front of the children. I feel wounded when after we have talked about that and you said you forgave me, in a moment of heat, you bring that up about my failure in the past.”
“I feel.” We had it on the refrigerator, and we learned, we learned when there was a problem, get alone, define what the problem is, process the whole thing first, and before the Lord. Initiate the right time and right place to talk. And then focus on the perceived problem.
By the way, I have a little note. Eliminate “you should, you ought, you always, you never.” And it’s always a win-win or a lose-lose.
The second “F” is for: Feel their pain as though it were your own. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother,” or a spouse or a mate, “was born for adversity.” No matter how angry you are, no matter how hurt, one of the axioms of relationships you have to understand is everyone acts in a way that makes sense to them. I mean, the things that make you nuts about your mate, they, by and large, it makes sense to them. The way their mind, the way their thinking, in the moment, it made sense to them. Unless they are just absolutely evil, they weren’t trying to think, Hey, how can I just totally screw up our marriage? But they just find themselves in the same thing. And as difficult as it is, feel their pain as though it were your own.
You don’t have to understand it, it doesn’t have to be logical – that was a big one for me. And my wife is very intelligent, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re wounded and when you’re hurt or when things are happening or when you have been through things – and we all have, and you all have – sometimes two plus two equals seven. And in your brain somehow, that makes sense. And if you’re on the receiving end of that…
And what I came to is I need to feel what she feels. I need to understand. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be logical, but I want to identify and I want to empathize with what she is actually feeling.
One of the other little tools – if you think I have a lot of tools, we had a lot of work to do and one of the other ones was we had a hard time connecting our worlds. And so, one of the tools, if you will, is using a word picture or a metaphor. Sometimes, remember when Nathan – I don’t know how much you all know the Bible. I didn’t grow up reading the Bible, but David was this really great king and he commits adultery with this guy’s wife.
And then she gets pregnant and the story is pretty quick. So, he wants to cover it up, so he has her husband come back off the battlefield, gets him drunk, and sends him home to sleep with his wife so when the baby comes, he thinks it’s his. And he is so honorable he says, “Man, I’m not sleeping with my wife with all the other men are out in the battlefield.” And he tries to get it going two or three different days. It doesn’t work.
And so, he sends him back with a note, “Put the guy on the front lines; make sure he gets killed.” Not exactly a godly king moment.
So, it’s about a year. And the – not quite a year – the prophet Nathan comes. And that’s a culture where, you confront the king? Like, death is a very high probability. And so, sometimes the way to help someone understand something where you know they are going to be defensive is by a story or a metaphor.
And so, Nathan comes and he goes, “Oh, king, I have to tell you this great story and it’s so sad.” And, “Well, what is it?” And he goes, “It’s happening in your kingdom of all places.” “Well, what is it?” He goes, “There’s a man and he has hundred and hundreds of sheep and he’s very wealthy and a visitor came,” and hospitality was sort of a given. You had to feed someone if they stopped in.
And he said, “This man, instead of his sheep, there was one man, he had one tiny little lamb. And it was not just a little lamb, but it slept with him and it was like his pet. And it was his friend. And this rich man who had hundreds and hundreds of sheep, he took that man’s lamb and he butchered it for his guest.” And David was livid. “This man shall pay for it.”
And then Nathan says, “Behold, you are the man.” And, see, what he helped him see was the same thing in a different place.
And so, I won’t go into the whole story, but it was another area where my work was consuming me and I was neglecting things in our home. And I can still remember sitting in front of the fireplace and my wife told me this story. And she goes, “I want to talk about something,” but she, “but you’ll get defensive.” “No, no, I won’t.” “No, you will. You’ll get really defensive. I mean, I’m not supposed to say ‘always’ but you often do, okay?” “No, no, I promise I won’t be defensive right now.”
So, she is really setting me up. And then she asked me these questions like, “You know, Chip, when we were driving by the church and it was, I just noticed you commented on the grass and you commented, ‘Wow, that needs painted over there.’ And the remodeling in the back. And you just seemed to notice everything.” She goes, “Boy, it’s really amazing to me, I just think you’re such a good boss.” “Eh, nah. I think you’re right!”
“You know, down to the detail.” And then she said, “Chip, did you know that our dishwasher, when I run it, I put a towel under it because it has been broken for months, so it leaks? And that in the boys’ window and in Annie’s window, when it rains, the water comes in because we have a leak, so I put towels there. And I don’t know if you have noticed, but when you walk by our couch, if you have ever scratched your leg, there’s a spring that is sticking out. And the, I don’t think you really notice, but we did have a dog for a while and the other things and there’s, like, the carpet is soiled everywhere. I was just – I feel like that you see what really needs to be taken care of at work, but you don’t see what needs to be taken care of here. And I know it’s not true, but it feels like your work matters more than our home. And you are in charge of your work, and I’m in charge of our home. And I know this isn’t true, but it makes me feel like you don’t care about me then.” Man, if she keeps doing this, I’m going to just, you know…
Two days later, I’ve got a buddy, I’ve got a friend who was like, okay, you ready? Man, we cleaned all the carpets, I called another buddy, I said, “Man, I don’t think I really have the money,” but, you know, we are replacing the windows, we’ve got the windows done.
Because what happened it was like, “Oh! She’s right! Now, by the way, I’m sharing more of her side of it and I have had a few of my “I feel” messages. And I’ll share a couple of those.
But are you starting to see the power? But are you starting to see that this is what it looks like to bear with one another. This is what it looks like to forgive anyone who has a complaint against you. This is what it looks like to treat your mate the way Jesus treats you. I mean, when you sin, you don’t get hit by lightning, do you? Holy Spirit, very sensitive, very clear, very specific.
The “U” is: Uncover the root problem. Proverbs 20, verse 5 says, “The purposes in a man’s heart are like deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” There are deep issues. The root problems, if they aren’t dealt with, will just surface again and again and again.
And I put a little chart here, and this is much more for another day. But in general, if the symptom is money, you are arguing about money, usually the root problem has to do with values, priorities, power, and control issues. So, you can argue about money until Jesus comes, but the issue is you don’t share the same values. Or there’s someone that has got some control issues. Or your priorities are really different. One of you thinks, “Wow, I mean, don’t the kids need new shoes? And don’t we need to do this? And don’t we need to do that?” And someone else thinks, “Gosh, don’t, shouldn’t we go to more movies?” I don’t know. One says, “We need to watch every penny and keep track of it,” and the other just sort of – in most marriages there’s a spender and a saver. Why we marry each other, I don’t know why.
If there are sex problems, it’s usually a communication issue, an unmet emotional need, past history, baggage. A lot of times, as we worked through those issues with my wife, it was like, man, I just don’t get it, but I fail to understand what it’s like to be rejected by your father and then be rejected by another man. And her love me very, very much and have struggles in areas in the early years, sexually, because all men were painted with this bad brush.
And it was just like, you talk about rejection. So, those were my “I feel” messages. “Honey, I feel like you don’t love me when I want to be with you and you’re not very responsive. I just feel rejected. And you say it’s not me, it’s not about me. Well, I’m the only other person in the room, right?”
But, okay, are you ready? I’ve got news for you, there are couples that they get stuck there and that’s the way it is. And she perfunctorily will have some sex, because she doesn’t like it. Or, by the way, it goes the other way. It can happen just the opposite. I had a couple in our church, beautiful gal, and really, it was deep insecurity issues with him and all kinds of issues and he struggled and it didn’t have anything to do with her. But I’ll tell you this, they were never going to get that solved by themselves.
In-law issues, usually have to do with loyalty expectations. And children and work usually it’s roles and goals. Who owns what? What are our goals? How are we going to get there? But those are, I mean, those are just generalizations. Those are deep wells. But the majority of couples, they are all on the left side.
My prediction, if you get married, by about twenty-five years, you’ll have every one of those at some point. Every one of them. So, why be embarrassed to get some help or go to a counselor? Because every single person.
Now, the people who don’t do anything about it, what they do is they do what we call the parallel life track. Live in the same home, have these deep unresolved issues, do the best you can. While the kids are young, stay involved in the kids – usually as a woman. Do some things at work. And then when the empty nest is, the two most common times of divorce are the first five years and right about twenty or twenty-two when the nest is empty. Because what you realize, you don’t have anything that pulls you together anymore.
You didn’t develop your relationship. You didn’t deal with issues. And it’s never too late. It’s never too late. In fact, it can be very, very exciting.
The “S” is for: Set things right between you. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man,” or a righteous woman, I’ll add, “is powerful and effective.”
And this is where humility comes. I mean, it took us a long time, but it’s just, own your responsibility. I mean, yes, you feel defensive and there’s this and there’s that. But little by little, when you, since you’re chosen, since you’re already holy and set apart, and since you’re already dearly loved, you know what you can say? “You’re right. I’m wrong. I didn’t see that. I did say that. I was way too loud. When we talked about it earlier, that’s on me. I was defensive. You know what? You’re right. I have rationalized – I have a drinking problem. Alright? But I want you to know those nightmares don’t go away and I feel a little bit better when I drink. And I know it’s not a good solution, but I don’t know what to do.”
And you know what you’ll hear is, “Let me help you. Let me help you.” The most hurting people in the world that end up in the worst places in the world are people that will not let others help them.
And at the heart of that is arrogance or shame. And there is no need for either with the Lord. You’ll never do anything that will ever surprise Him. Every sin that you have ever committed or will ever commit, the worst thought that you have ever had or will ever have, the omniscient, all-powerful God of the universe is already aware of it.
And then because of those, He said, “I will go to the cross in your place to pay for your sin. And I will atone,” or, “cover for your sin. And if you will put your faith and trust in Me, then I will pay for those once and for all and you will die and you’ll be risen with Me. And My Spirit will come inside of your physical body and it’ll be a journey and we’ll live this life together. And it’s not about rules, it’s not about church, it’s not about what others…it’s us in relationship. I am the vine, you’re the branch, My Father is the vinedresser. And we are going to get connected, so I left you My Word. My Spirit is going to dwell inside of you and guide you. And when you trip and fall, I am not upset. In fact, every baby step you take toward righteousness, toward forgiveness, toward restoration, I am right there cheering you on.” That’s the Christian life.
So, you own your responsibility, you confess, you ask for forgiveness. And I pushed this a bit, and look the person in the eye, “Will you forgive me?” And don’t settle for, “Yeah, you know, yeah, hey, it’s okay. It wasn’t that big a deal.” No, no, no. That’s not how we do this. “Will you forgive me?” And what you need is, “Yes, I will. I release you for what you did or what you said.” And then, if at all possible, pray together, and out loud, if possible. It’s so healing.
And then “E” is: Establish a specific action plan that addresses the issue discussed and write it down. I know this sounds perfunctory, but can I ask you a question? How is your plan that you don’t have working? Just a thought!
You can be in a meeting and go, “Oh! Admiral or General, I think that’s a terrible plan.” “Well, what’s yours?” The General of the universe says, this is, at least my best understanding from Scripture: This is how to bear with one another. This is how to forgive one another. This is how to, whatever complaint you have, this is how to attack the problem and not the person. This is how to come together and let God be the umpire and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. This is how to, beyond all things, put on love, because you all coming together, getting the relationship right, is ten times more important than who is right.
And so, that’s how you diffuse conflict and that’s a pretty step-by-step process to do it. And the last part of that action plan is I, as a husband, “I will do this,” and I have my wife, she writes down, “I will commit to this,” by when. And then here’s the key, “The next time we’ll meet and talk about this is…”
By the way, some of you just need some rhythms. And we didn’t have any money most all the years growing up, but every Friday, because I taught on Saturday and Sunday, every Friday was my day off. And every Friday I dropped the kids off and I had a date with my wife. It was a breakfast date. And she knew that from breakfast to lunch or beyond, we were going to spend that time together. And, yes, we would eat. We’d take a walk. We would have some fun.
But we had a time where she knew, even if stuff bothered her, we are only six and a half days away from an honest, good talk. If the only time you sit down to have a good talk is when you have junk, pretty soon it’s not very fun.
And so, we would have a couple, three of these fifteen-minute conferences where we are sharing things. And then we had one big time and then Friday we would have a little family night. And we just created a rhythm so the accounts were short.
And you know what? I told you about my dad. I told you about I grew up in an alcoholic home. I told you that I married a woman from an alcoholic home, from a very dysfunctional past, and we’re a blended family, and we didn’t know what we were doing, and we have had lots of problems.
I would like to announce that I am married to one of the most amazing people in the world, that I have a deep, deep relationship with. Spiritual connection, emotional connection, and physical connection.
Our kids are very, very imperfect, but very realistic, and have followed Jesus, determined to marry people that were like-minded, and are in the process of raising their kids where God is the umpire. All I just want you to know is God can take the most dysfunctional, difficult situations and He can restore. I mean, if He can do it for us, my oh, you all have issues, but I understand them.
They didn’t call my wife’s PTSD, but it was. Trauma, trauma, trauma. She needed someone to hang in there with her when he didn’t want to, and when he didn’t understand, and when he felt helpless, but just to be available. And I needed to know that when I made that commitment to Jesus, that He said He would give me whatever I needed, to give her whatever she needed for as long until death do us part.
And one of the things that happens when you say, “Until death do us part,” and really mean it, then there’s option A and option A. And option A is: How in the world are we going to figure this out, because we are not going to give up.
We were in desperate need. But God said, “Draw near to Me, I’ll draw near to you.” All the resources you need to have the marriage that you desire are available.
And there’s a God on the sidelines, or maybe in the center, I’m not sure where in your life, who says, “If you will give Me a chance, and if you will let Me direct, it won’t always feel good, but, yes, you’ll end up happy, but your marriage relationship is the most vivid picture along with the Church that I left the world so they know I’m real. So please don’t let Me down.” Please show the world what Jesus loving the Church and the Church loving Jesus looks like by your relationship.