Families matter to God. That’s why few things are more painful than unresolved family conflict. Domineering in-laws, wayward teens, or jealous stepchildren can turn any happy home into a war zone. Issues such as whose turn it is to take out the trash and whether your teenage daughter finished her homework before she turned on the computer are bothersome but relatively minor issues that can generally be resolved with minimal disruption to family life.
Other issues present a greater challenge—the son who disowns his Christian upbringing to pursue a homosexual relationship; the mother-in-law whose abuse and manipulation threatens to destroy a woman’s marriage and her health; the father with mental illness who abuses his children. These situations are real; sadly, they occurred in Christian families. While some situations are resolved over time, others can go on for months, even years.
Just ask Karen.
Karen and her husband, Paul, a pastor, had just accepted an appointment at a large church in a new community.* Things seemed to be going well until Sarah, their 17-year-old daughter, announced she was pregnant out of wedlock. To complicate matters, Sarah had fallen in love with a young man of another race; the baby was biracial. In the eyes of their new church home, biracial dating was off limits.
The pregnancy drove a wedge between Karen and her daughter. As tensions mounted, discussions gave way to intense arguments. Karen insisted Sarah give the baby up for adoption.
After the birth, Sarah turned the baby over to a social worker who placed him in a foster home. As the birth mother, Sarah was given a fifteen-day grace period to surrender her parental rights. During those fifteen days, God spoke to Karen through His Word, convicting her of her prejudice selfishness, and hypocrisy. “I changed my mind about the adoption,” said Karen. She and Paul spoke and agreed that Sarah’s baby would come home to live with them. “We saw this as God’s perfect will for this precious baby boy and his sweet mother.”
Months of conflict melted away as all three of them rejoiced at the unexpected outcome. God’s grace turned a painful situation into a wonderful blessing.
Unfortunately, Tom’s situation did not turn out as well.
After being led to the Lord by his aunt, Tom was shocked to learn that she had been stealing money from his grandmother’s retirement accounts. His aunt had been given power of attorney as his grandmother was advancing in years. “One of the accounts, which had more than $100,000 in it was drained to $3,000 in three years,” says Tom. Tom’s aunt went on a spending spree while his grandmother’s home lay in ruins—toilets were broken, termites infested the home, and it lay in overall disrepair. After much prayer, Tom confronted his aunt. “I was called rude, my motives were questioned, and my faith was challenged,” he said. Understandably, the situation affected Tom deeply and had a negative impact on his marriage. He was able to forgive his aunt; but to this day, the conflict remains unresolved.
Managing Family Conflict
The closeness of family relationships makes managing conflict more difficult. When faced with family conflict, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
Draw appropriate boundaries. Family conflict often involves blurred boundaries—a young man marries but fails to “leave his parents and cleave to his wife”; an adult child moves away from home but constantly calls home for money; an adult daughter leaves her three children with her mother daily, even though her mother has asked her not to. Appropriate boundaries are biblical and enable you to set limits while still loving the other person.
Appeal to the relationship. When faced with family conflict, always affirm the relationship, and do all that you can to preserve it. For example, when speaking with your adult son, you might say:
Eric, I love you. I hope that you know that. I am sorry you got involved with drugs. You can stay here for a few months, but only if you take responsibility for your problems and get help. If you want my help, you need to see a counselor or go into rehab. Regardless of what you decide to do, I will always love you.
Recognize your limits and relinquish the relationship to God. It takes two soft hearts for reconciliation to occur. If one person continues in sinful behavior and resists correction, the relationship will ultimately suffer. Sometimes the other individual involved walks away from the relationship. If you find yourself in a situation like this, do not give up. Continue to pray, to hope, and to love. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NASB), says God’s Word. When you have done all that you can to restore the relationship but the conflict remains unresolved, release the relationship to God. You are free in Christ.
Families are God’s idea. He is able to guard what you have entrusted to him (2 Tim. 1:12 NIV). We can rest in the knowledge that God loves us and will continue to work out his plan and purpose in our families.
*¬†Some names have been changed¬†to protect the individuals’ privacy.
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