"If you marry him, I know you're just gonna take him for everything he's got and then drop him on one of our doorsteps!" My future husband's daughter-in-law Annie (not her real name) raised her voice in anger.
Seated by a window in a charming Greek restaurant, I felt the heat rise to the top of my head. I glanced around, grateful the restaurant hadn't yet filled. I was completely surprised by Annie's spiteful words, so I quickly prayed for guidance.
Remain quiet, God encouraged me. So I didn't say anything in response to Annie's accusation.
Annie's eyes flashed fire. "Your reaction isn't normal. I'm attacking you and you're not even fighting back."
"How would it help if I did?" I asked, as I thought of Jesus' example. Scripture tells us that Jesus "did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered" (1 Peter 2:23).
Annie was right. Refusing to respond to hostility in kind is not a normal response. But it is Christlike. I swallowed hard and prayed for grace. How could I glorify God in this situation where the hostility was thick enough to slice?
Conflict Is Unavoidable
In our fallen world, we all face conflict. It simmers between spouses and erupts in family relationships. It festers in long-term friendships. It seethes in the workplace.
I'd grown to love Annie's father-in-law who, like me, was widowed. Richard and I began seeing each other about nine months after his wife's passing. Now two years after her mother-in-law's death, Annie was still hostile.
For days after her attack, I was angry. Over lunch with a few friends, I shared the experience and described my anger over Richard's kids.
My friend Sara challenged me, saying, "I won't feel good about your relationship until you love Richard's kids."
That was a stretch. My mind was so filled with conflict, it was difficult to imagine. I asked God, Is that what you want, Lord? How can I love someone who treats me with such contempt?
"Even thought it's hard, I think you're right where God wants you," my friend Cathy told me. "You've always wanted to please everyone. Now you can't, and this situation will stretch you to understand where your worth really lies. You need to recognize—but not own—their feelings."
Conflict. I hate it! And too many times I've responded poorly when faced with it. I'd much rather avoid it. But in life there are times when we simply can't.
So what do we do when we have to face conflict? How do we handle it with courage and a God-honoring attitude? The apostle Paul challenges us this way: "Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone" (Romans 12:17-18, emphasis added).