As Daniel Goleman writes in his book, Emotional Intelligence, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Goleman suggests that we be self-aware of our emotions. Applying his statement to conflict, it takes maturity to take an unbiased look within, to be aware of where you might be wrong, or what in your life might be causing the rift with whom you are experiencing trouble. If we can’t do this, not only do we not get very far in life, we never know the beauty of reconciliation.
Jesus gave us a process for solving issues that we have with others. “First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:5-6).
You wouldn’t put on your shoes and then put on your socks.
You wouldn’t crack an egg, swallow it, then cook it, would you?
You wouldn’t write a check to pay for something, and then a few days later, put the money in the bank to cover it? (Some people do. Doesn’t fare well for them.)
You wouldn’t read a book backward, would you?
You get the picture. Like with everything, there are steps taken to achieve an end result. Jesus gives us an ordered process to restore a broken relationship.
He gives us two steps forward and one warning.
Step One: Look within. “First take the log out of your eye.” This requires that self-awareness Goleman speaks about in his book. When you disagree with another person, your spouse, your teenager, a co-worker, or your boss, ask yourself, “Are there other factors in my life that might be causing my short fuse with this person? Am I stressed? Am I hungry? Am I anxious? Overwhelmed?
I can easily be irritable with others if these surrounding troubles are infecting me. If I don’t take the time to notice these factors, it is quite likely, I will have less empathy for those around me.
Likewise, check how you are responding to the other person. You, in fact, may be in the right, but how you react is harmful and invalidates your position. I have seen many marriages, families, friendships, and business relationships fall apart because each cannot take that courageous look within. They let their emotions lead and they provoke with their words or actions.
Step Two: Look out. “And then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, you can now calmly be that iron that sharpens iron. Looking inward creates humility of spirit. With clarity and concern, you can address the wrong the other person has done. You are now poised to seek understanding not just be understood. Or, you just might see that you are the problem, and your introspection has given you the courage to apologize.
A severed relationship can have an unholy impact on those around you. For example, a husband and wife in conflict do not just hurt each other; they hurt their kids, extended family, friends, and the unchurched looking on. Our relationships with our family and friends, coworkers, etc. should be sacred. Quite often, though, being right is more divine.
When we don’t look at the impact our brawling has on the outside world, we are tossing what is holy to dogs. We are made to love, and our love for each other communicates to the world around us that we belong to Jesus. But if hate replaces our love, we throw our pearls to pigs.
Unsettled conflicts or conflicts not handled well comes back to bite us. And it bites hard. The way of the ‘dog and pig’ is to ignore the two steps Jesus gave. ‘Dogs and pigs’ trample a relationship by severing it forever.
I know of a son and Father who have not spoken to each other in years, all because of an unfortunate incident and argument that was not handled with love or concern for the other. Now one is bitter, and the other is brokenhearted. This is not as it should be, but sadly it is how many broken relationships end.
As followers of Jesus, we commit to humility, love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice, and restoration. Our mishaps with people may never be completely restored, but following Jesus’ process plants you in a place of peace, because you know you did the right thing.
What does it take to follow this process? In Luke’s account, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about forgiveness as well. The disciples knew how hard it was to forgive one who offends you.
Did they ask Jesus to lighten up on this command to forgive? No. Did they ask for more courage? No. Did they ask for time to process? No.
Their reply was a desperate cry, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
It takes faith that God will deal justly with the one who has offended you.
It takes faith to love the way 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 defines.
It takes faith to look at ourselves honestly.
It takes faith to confess and apologize where we are wrong.
It takes faith to reflect Jesus to them.
To be Jesus means to grant the offender mercy and grace. Mercy is not giving your offender what they deserve which is justice. Instead, we give them grace, what they do not deserve which is forgiveness.