I’ve gone too long between posts (something that will no doubt occur time and time again – you’ve been warned) but the reason is that I have been stuck in an ongoing conflict with the local school system over my son’s education. Many of you know that my son, Jacob, is autistic. This year, Jacob has been in a separate setting classroom for students with autism and it has been a tremendous blessing. He has made remarkable growth both academically and socially during this time and he seems to enjoy school more and more. His teacher is also the parent of a special-needs child and so that gives Jeana and me an extra level of comfort as she helps Jacob along.
For reasons that are still unclear, the school system has announced that Jacob’s class will not be autism-specific next year and we won’t know who his teacher is going to be until a few more weeks go by. As you might imagine, this has caused us a great deal of stress and frustration and we have been telling anyone who will listen and might be able to change this decision that we think it is a terrible idea. Every person, and especially every parent, will from time to time find themselves in a situation where they feel they must stand up for their “rights” or their family or for what they think is just. Many people seemingly subscribe to the theory that all’s fair in war and will yell and fight and retaliate and go back and forth in an attempt to get their way. Christians, however, must always try and respond the way Christ would want them to act. And what is the first scripture that comes to mind when Christians think about how to respond to conflict? Matthew 5:39-41
But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
That’s certainly a good starting point, but some have interpreted this to mean that Christians should be passive “doormats,” allowing others to walk over them and never objecting. Certainly there is a line where this is taken too far. I feel confident if someone is breaking into your house to harm your family, it is not un-Christian to defend them. We are not required to allow someone to physically injure us without defending ourselves, but we are not allowed to retaliate for the sake of getting even. Most importantly, the manner in which we respond is extremely important.
I wrestle with where this line actually is. I want to do what God’s Word tells me to do on one hand but I don’t want to go to the extreme of being a “wimp for Christ” because He hasn’t called us to that. A wimp would have no need to “put on the whole armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:11) Here are three thoughts I have as I work through this:
- The fight should not be about my rights, but about what is right. If you are upset because you didn’t get treated fairly, that you didn’t get the respect you deserved, or something similar, you have picked the wrong fight. If you are speaking up because something is not morally right, or there is a more just way to do something, or someone is being oppressed or taken advantage of, then take your stand. Remember at Jesus’ trial? He remained silent in the face of mockery and pain – the battle was not about His rights. He had a mission to accomplish.
- Speak the truth in love. Regardless of the reason for the conflict, you are not free to hate the person on the other side or pursue a “scorched earth” battle where nothing is held back. Christians should not be about blessing someone out or giving them a piece of your mind or exchanging harsh words. Instead, we are called to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15). In the midst of the conflict, you must keep praying for the other side. (Matt. 5:44) Pray that God will open their minds and hearts, certainly, but also pray for their benefit. Pray for God to comfort them in whatever they are going through. This is extremely hard to do in the midst of battle, but if you practice this virtue, it will be very difficult for you to get carried away in anger when discussing the issue.
- Understand that the real conflict is greater. Ultimately for Christians, the real conflict is not a worldly one. Jesus told us that the world is going to bring us trouble and we shouldn’t be surprised by that. (1 Peter 4:12, John 16:33) Paul puts it this way: “[o]ur struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Don’t lose the BIG battle by losing sight of Christ in the little battles.
I was discussing this struggle with a friend – the difficulty of trying to resolve conflicts in a Christian way while speaking the truth and she put it this way: “You should strive to be the sweetest squeaky wheel that there ever was.” I thought that was an excellent way of summing it up.