When our four sons were 3 to 13 years old, my husband, Dan, and I sold everything and moved onto a boat with our family for one year. One of the main catalysts we had for embarking on this adventure was for Dan and me to know each other and our kids fully. Life had gotten out of control, and we felt a driving need to make a radical change that would give us time—and space—to get to know each other again.
As we travelled from port to port along inland waterways and then out into the deep blue sea and down through the Bahama Islands, we made a most troubling discovery: Our sons didn't like each other very much. Sometimes not at all. One time our youngest son, Eli, got so mad at his older brothers that he wove an intricate web with boat lines around the doors of the "head" (aka bathroom), trapping at least two of them in there at once. I had never seen this little boy so angry before. Thanks to the lessons my husband had given our sons on marine knots, his brothers were stuck in the head for quite some time.
That's what sibling rivalry and tight living quarters will do to a family. It'll cause three-year-olds to tie themselves (and others) up in knots, and older kids to yell and say horrible things to each other.
Our first month on the boat was by far the hardest. We all had to learn how to live in a 12' x 40' space. Each of us shared a bed with one other person, and we were allowed only one bin apiece for our personal belongings. Our family was together 24/7, and being on the water, there was nowhere to run and hide.
Thankfully, I stumbled onto a verse, maybe even in that first month, that changed us: "How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!"(Psalm 133:1). This was an aspirational prayer, to be sure. Up to that point, I had seen very little firsthand evidence of the wonder and pleasantness of brothers living in harmony. But I prayed that prayer every day for that entire year, and I begged God to make it true about our sons.
And you know what? It became true. Over time our boys realized that they were all each of them had. No amount of fighting was going to change the fact that they were stuck on that boat. At some point they seemed to decide that they'd embrace this new, temporary way of life at sea, knowing there would be a day when we'd be on terra firma again, and they could decide from there how close or far they wanted to be from each other.
Our discovery about how much our kids didn't like each other is nothing new. Sibling rivalry has been a thing since at least Cain and Abel. In Caryn Rivadeneira's Q&A, "Is Living in Harmony Even Possible?" she broadens the scope of sibling rivalry to include all of us brothers and sisters in Christ. I can pray Psalm 133:1 for the whole church as much as for my own kids.
Conflict is inevitable. Whether you have friends, work with other people, or are raising a family, the potential for conflict exists in every sphere of life. Including our life with God. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
In Amy and Trevor Simpson's article, "A Family Worth Fighting For," they show how conflict isn't something to avoid. Instead, we can learn to embrace it and let it do a teaching in us—and in our family. They go so far as to show how conflict can be a calling, especially when we can use it to teach our children to fight well.
I'm not a fighter by nature. In my family growing up, conflict was avoided at all costs, and I didn't come away with skills for fighting well. Over the years I've had to learn conflict resolution skills, both at home and at work.
Diane Paddison's article, "5 Ways to Avoid Losing Your Cool with a Coworker," is especially helpful in navigating workplace disputes. If you've ever bottled up your anger for too long, only to have it erupt in inappropriate, unprofessional ways, you'll be grateful for her sage—and sane—advice.
Disagreeing with other fellow humans is one thing, but is it ever wise to pick a fight with God? Nicole Unice writes about how to face-off with the Almighty—and even maybe win. Her insights, along with these other authors' perspectives, create a compelling call to conflict. I'm starting to understand the gift of conflict, and as Amy and Trevor Simpson so wisely note, conflict "is a chance at holiness."
It's also a chance to see God's goodness. More than a decade has passed since we lived on the boat. Today, our sons are best friends with each other. Three of them have even moved cross-country and chosen to live together—presumably in harmony.
Marian V. Liautaud