The grand arc of Paul’s thought in Ephesians 1-3 brings us to this point: the church is an oasis of healing and reconciliation in the vast desert of hurt (suffered and inflicted).
At least, that’s what it’s meant to be.
But if your experience is anything like mine, this can seem like a mouth-watering mirage.
The everyday experience of Christian community can be anything but peaceful. For it groans under the strains of our competing desires — to win, to be right, to be recognised, to be comfortable and secure.
How can we enter into the reality Paul describes when the wounds are still raw? When the insults are still ringing in our ears? When we’re struggling to trust … again?
Here are two simple strategies that have helped me take small but significant steps:
1. Treat conflict as an opportunity to understand not blame, judge or condemn
Because we belong to Jesus, we don’t need to go all out to win. And we don’t need to get frustrated or crushed when we don’t (appear to) win.
Instead of getting frustrated we can get fascinated and seek to discover what happened — in a spirit not of fault-finding but of working out how we got to this point so we can increase our chances of not ending up here again.
Hence, it can be helpful to talk about the different contribution different people may have made (rather than simply who’s to blame).
2. Distinguish between feeling hurt and being hurt
It’s all too easy to read motive into actions or words that hurt. When we’re hurting it’s hard not to assume the worst and put the worst construction on what’s been said or done.
So it’s at least worth pausing before we draw too direct a line from our experience to the other person’s intentions.
If we want to work with the grain of God’s grace, we need to verbally and mentally train ourselves for this.
“I” statements are the classic way to do this. E.g., “I felt humiliated when you said…”
They let us take ownership of our feelings, while giving space for the other person to identify the gap between intention and outcome.
This is good practice even if the other person did intend to hurt us. At the very least, it can slow things down enough to explore what happened.