Be honest: There are people whom you don’t like. There are others who simply annoy you, or maybe there are those who really get on your nerves. All of us have come across people we don’t get along with.
We try to do our best to behave well. We are nice and say the things we should. But when the day ends, there are no magical sparks, no chemistry.
I learned a long time ago that I will not make friends with everyone. That does not mean I can’t be nice to everyone; a smile, handshake and word of encouragement are easy enough. Yet, good diplomacy does not immediately translate into lasting friendships.
The Bible is clear that no matter what type of person with whom we come into contact, that we are to be at peace with everyone. The book of Hebrews tells us: “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that … no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15).
This scripture assumes that there is a difference between simple disagreement and serious bitterness. People can disagree, but bitterness is a root that cuts deeper into a relationship. Bitterness occurs when an enduring conflict festers because people do not seek reconciliation in the midst of hard feelings and profound rifts.
Bitterness is so destructive that it often becomes a toxic element in an entire community. The conflict spreads and people take sides. Communication breaks down, and assumptions replace realistic goals for healing.
Have you ever had a conflict that grew like a weed in the garden of your life to the point that it choked out the beautiful aspects of your community of friends or family?
There are several rules that we Christians can abide by in order to keep the root of bitterness from infecting communities. The first rule is to abide by a biblical roadmap for reconciliation. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives specifics in order to handle conflict. He commands us to go to the person directly. He does not tell us to go to our friends; he does not say that we should build alliances.
Most of us do not even get as far as meeting with the immediate person involved in the conflict. We create excuses for why going to the person is a bad idea: he or she may react in an unreasonable manner; he or she may not listen or may misunderstand us.
It’s when we do not go to the person involved that bitterness takes hold. The other person may not know that there is a problem with him or her in the first place, and the person does not have the opportunity to make things right.
Another rule is to handle conflict promptly and appropriately. E-mailing a person about a conflict is not necessarily appropriate. People can misread the tone of an e-mail or mistake just how serious the conflict really is.
In some instances, a phone call may not suffice either. I personally prefer to handle conflict face-to-face. This allows me to communicate peace with words and use body language to express warmth and healing.
Whenever you find yourself in conflict, do not give it time to grow into full-fledged bitterness. Sure, we may get annoyed with one another here or there, but handling conflict with tact and directness is the only way to keep our communities from becoming, in the words of sacred scripture, “defiled.”