Originally written for Coalesce Magazine
I spent a season avoiding my Bible when I was in college. It wouldn’t be the first time I avoided my Bible, or God, for that matter. That long season of avoidance felt like the dark early evenings of Winter and persistent static in my hair. My soul had become dry. Instead of reaching for the only thing that would quench it, I ran from it for fear of confrontation.
Months before, I had decided to continue on in a relationship that I knew I needed to let go of. It was a comfortable place for me, but one that wouldn’t allow me room to move forward in the ways God had invited me to step out and trust Him in. So, I politely declined by way of ignoring and left my Bible under a stack of class books. It sat there patiently and persistently present, holding up all of the weight of my evasion.
I was afraid to engage in conflict with God.
Growing up, conflict was something scary. I became an expert at circumventing it. My earliest encounters with conflict showed me that those who engage in it don’t always come out of it for the better. Conflict sounded like the extremes of volume and silence: words screaming loud like scissors and then cut short after an abrupt silence on the other end of the line when someone hung up. It felt like running into dead ends and walking on eggshells.
Conflict made me question the ground I stood on. It taught me to tip-toe around the questions I was too afraid to ask out loud: Am I still loved when the face looking back at me is scrunched up and hot with anger? How do I find footing and make the room we are in stop feeling unsteady like the early tremors of a coming earthquake?
After months of walking by my Bible and looking away, one morning, I stopped. My desperation pushed me to reach for it. Days before, I ended the relationship I had been clinging to. Like a prodigal daughter, who became so hungry and was now undistracted with nowhere else to turn, I opened it again. I was ready to go back, no matter the reprimand and shame.
Instead, I found the book of Hosea.
Through that book, God spoke to me with passion and kindness. I pored over the book and read these verses in Hosea 2:14-15, and wept, “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” The words were for His people in another time and day, and they were for me. I learned about the way God used the prophet Hosea’s life calling of being married to a prostitute, to show His people the way he felt about them and how he would pursue them despite everything they had done. The confrontation and conflict were necessary guides on the path of relational restoration and redemption. There were passionate words used in the exchange between God and his people, but there was also tenderness, pursuit, forgiveness, and hope.
A few years later, during training for a job, I learned about healthy conflict resolution and was given tools for how to engage. It was eye-opening to learn about how the language and posture I used during conflict would either help bring resolution or make things worse. The right tools helped me learn to engage when I didn’t want to, and reminded me that the end goal of conflict is to bring greater depths of understanding, love and intimacy. I thought about the way God had pursued me by engaging in conflict with me, not because I was unloved, but because of how much more I needed to know that I was loved. Conflict is still hard for me. I don’t run and hide like I used to, but now when I feel those tendencies, I try to remember how far God’s tenderness has brought me. His continued pursuit of me through conflict has made me confident that the ground we stand on is firmly fixed with His gentle and determined love.
Think about what conflict looked like and sounded like when you were growing up. How does that affect the way you approach conflict with others and with God now?
God’s love for you is perfect. He is tender, passionate, intimate, steady and good. How does knowing those things change your willingness to engage with him honestly, no matter the conflict and confrontation it may bring?