Conflict: Manage it, or Create it?

“You didn’t tell them you are pregnant?!” I said this with a mix of emotions. I was relieved that my wife had found us an apartment. I was excited to become a new dad. I was terrified we would be homeless as the days of my wife’s pregnancy wore on and her state of being became more obvious. The ad for the apartment had said: “No Children”. We didn’t have jobs. I was a college drop-out. Fast forward six months …

We lay in bed, shuddering, wondering if the next morning we would be evicted. Our new-born son screamed much of his first night at home. Our apartment was directly beneath the apartment where our elderly landlords lived. With eyes wide open, hearts beating, and absolutely no clue what to do or what the future held for us, I realized as I lay there: We are experiencing conflict. We had a wonderful apartment that we could afford – we both had acquired employment that enabled us to almost make ends meet. We had a healthy baby. But if this is how the nights are going to be, will we survive?

I am frequently amazed at how little it takes to upset people – including myself. So often life is like water skiing when you’ve taken a fall. You have to know when to let go of the rope and trust your ability to stay afloat. We cling to our possessions, our programs, our memories – and to our fear. What if we get evicted? Then, we act on those fears, going in to defensive mode, looking for ways to make our case, surrounding our selves with metaphorical sandbags so as to keep the anticipated flood of criticism at bay.

Here is what I learned from the experience of the early days of my first-born child’s life:

  1. When my wife and I did what we did to make a baby, we created conflict. You do not have a baby so that your life can stay the way it always has been.
  2. Other people are far less sensitive to or worried about your fears than you are. The landlords did not evict us.
  3. If you are willing to embrace the uncertainty, you will learn that you can stay afloat. And this gives you the impetus to try again – to stand up on those long, thin pieces of wood or plastic or whatever they are made of, hang on to a rope behind a boat that is about to go very fast and yell “Hit it!” Or … in our case – to have a second baby in an apartment where “No Children” are allowed.

Here is what else I learned: People are “managing” a lot of fear-induced conflict that takes them absolutely no where. I realized that conflict – like babies – can be life-changing, full of blessing, packed with surprises. The right kind of conflict can show you how to love in ways you never had imagined. I subconsciously decided almost 42 years ago that I was not going to spend a lot of time or energy with fear-based conflict – my own, or that of others. Instead, I would create conflict – the kind that pushes me to take risks, to take a chance, to be as honest as I could even in my unedited, rough-around-the-edges sort of way. I’m not looking to be a bull in a china shop. I AM looking for ways to experience wherever I can those “kingdom-of-God” moments, all the ways in which we Christians believe the cross is not the end of the story, but the stairway to new insights, deeper love, and lives lived more fully, faithfully, “abundantly”. Speaking of “stairways” …

We had a second child in that apartment and she could be precocious. As she was learning to navigate on her hands and knees one day, we had inadvertently failed to close tight the door on our apartment. Momentarily preoccupied, my wife suddenly realized that our daughter had gone missing. She raced out the door to find our little girl had climbed the full length of the stairs and was staring up into the eyes of our landlords – the ones who had posted “No Children” on the ad for the apartment we now inhabited. Our apologies were met with smiles, a sense of joy in the connection between one so little and one in the twilight years.

Perhaps the only thing worse than trying to manage meaningless conflict is trying manage conflict when, in truth, there is no conflict at all.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.