My husband turned to me after separate discussions with our teenagers. “I feel like the different values our whole country’s struggling with are coming to a head right in our living room.”
Tell me we’re not the only ones. I’ve got extended and immediate family members driving stakes in the ground on all sorts of stances—from what they consider parochial values, to the NFL’s politics, to emphatic ideals about vaccines or masks or lack thereof. See? Even reading this paragraph might raise your hackles.
Maybe you, like us, are exploring new, disappointing, even divisive territory in your family. Family we’ve respected or sat next to in church or sought advice from. They’re now voicing different values that feel untenable to us and our interpretation of the Bible. We’re alienated. Hurt. Disturbed.
Some of the gaps feel generational: Parents leave us shaking our heads after a phone conversation, or our teens ascribe to values we would never have dreamed of after so many all-in years of careful parenting and discipleship.
So few of these different values feel nonessential. At my house, some of the hard conversations have left me both in prayer and deep grief.
Somewhere amidst the family conflict, we’ve lost each other. And that loss tears at us (at me, at least). We’ve lost respect, trust, and connection with people who represented “home.”
Different values: This is your soul on conflict
Conflict begs an overhaul of what I want to do: like hand someone the estrangement they have so justly deserved. Eloquently let a family member know exactly how they have trodden on my kingdom. Burn a bridge that isn’t important to me anyway, I’ve decided.
Family conflicts are full of such loss. But could they be an opportunity?
Conflict, more specifically God’s conflict, is at the center of why God sent Jesus. And in family conflict, God’s passed on to us this expression of what He’s done. It’s a chance to honor God, to love others well, to grow more like Jesus, and for both parties to shape each other.
Second Corinthians 5:18-20 puts it this way: “Through Christ [God] reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (emphasis added).
See, this conflict flays open what pushes and pulls me (see James 4:1)—like my passionate longing for my kids to love God.
Conflict is a kind way of God to expose some of my soul-holes, desires swollen out of proportion, becoming too valuable to me. More valuable than loving well through differences or trusting God’s plan rather than mine—the work of His Holy Spirit in my kids’ hearts more than my control. More valuable than finding “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8) with other members of God’s Body or compassion for those who don’t know Him yet.
Family conflict: Ain’t nobody got time for that
While contemplating someone whose different values feel like they’re taking a cheese grater to my liver—complete with the anxiety and anger—I remembered Romans 5:8: While I was still God’s enemy, God closed the gap between us. He demonstrated His love by dying for me.
I had to ask God, Help me treat my “enemies” how you treat Yours.
But some of our family members are primarily part of Christ’s Body—not just the opposition. And “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).
Paul frequently dives into thoughtful conversation with those who disagree vehemently about values in the church. Though admittedly, his supreme value is Christ.
Talking about the feud over food sacrificed to idols, Paul writes, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him…Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another.”
And then the kicker: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7, emphasis added).
Wondering what you can do to feed unity with all these different values? Try these ideas.
1. Don’t waste your conflict.
Mary, mother of Jesus, is said to have “treasured” her confusing circumstances allowed by God, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19). The original Greek word, translated to pondering in English, means to “throw together/encounter/consider/discuss.”
The conflict in our lives could be an intentional assignment from God. So chew on it. Do the heart work.
Prayerfully consider questions like,
- What’s broken about this situation?
- What is this family conflict revealing about me, what I want or hope for, what I’m afraid of, my heart, and how I think about God?
- How do God’s character and the Bible speak truth to my situation?
- What’s He want to do in this and in me?
- What do I need to confess to Him?
- How do I need to trust Him with this strong desire?
- Where is God calling me to dramatically new ways of thinking and acting?
For a week, meditate through Romans 12:9-21. Ask God, What does it look for me to “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:8)?
2. Think: Why is your family member provoked?
Beneath a possibly disproportionate reaction over different values, what’s being stepped on? Consider how well your family member senses your empathy toward the rejection, disappointment, or injustice below their anger.
What’s the “log in your eye” (Matthew 7:3) you need to own and remove before you analyze the speck in theirs?
A common social psychological principle: When we mess up, we tend to attribute it to our circumstances. But when other people mess up, we tend to attribute it to their character. Gently asking questions about others’ motivations, rather than assuming they meant harm, can save us tremendous misunderstanding.
And perhaps more to the point, think about how heard your family member feels. Are you logging the hours to ask questions, hear this person’s story, and communicate your love through active listening, empathy, and vulnerability—some of the greatest apologetics at our disposal (Colossians 4:6, 1 Peter 3:15)?
3. Opt for in-person conversations over text or social media—but keep an eye on your tone.
Text-only convos subtract presence, thoughtful expression, humanity, and understanding from our interactions. But in person, tone of voice can be one barometer of self-control. It’s also usually an immediate de-escalator: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
4. Continue to move toward the other person.
Undeserved kindness has this way of prying open our eyes, of humbling both sides. “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22).
How could you tangibly, generously show love right now? Maybe it’s making an effort to go to a family function where you build positive memories rather than belabor the conflict. Maybe it’s stopping by with a meal or special snack or sending a care package in the mail.
5. Stop being a peace-faker.
We can fake peace for our own comfort, to seem right, or because we’re indifferent enough to the relationship we don’t care to dive deeper into the opportunity that is family conflict. But God didn’t fake the severity of our conflict with Him. He chose to change us through it and increase our closeness.
Rather than truly overlooking and graciously forgiving, we harden and distance ourselves. Are we truly extending grace, or glossing over, stuffing deeper? (That’s a river in Egypt.) Don’t just clean the surface. Address the true interests, hurts, and questions beneath the presenting problem.
6. Have a “lion’s heart” and a “duck’s back.”
Be courageously kind in receiving criticism, letting it roll off. And bravely choose to be authentic rather than wearing a mask of passivity.
When entering an unhealthy or loaded situation, chew on Ephesians 6:10-20 and 2 Peter 1:3-4. Pray:
- For God’s power to return a blessing in the face of every insult (1 Peter 3:9).
- To speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
- To be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
- That you will only use words that build up, give grace, and are right for the occasion, employing the Holy Spirit’s kindness and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 4:29)—rather than shaming, gaining control, or punishing. “Being honest” can be a weak excuse for not “speaking the truth in love.”
What issues could stand between a family member and them experiencing Jesus?
In the “front yard” of your life, what sign about your politics or values would others need to step over to get to Him? Chances are, your family already intuits what would define your top priority.
Rather than focus on what you’re longing to receive from this person you love, ask God to give you both eyes that see, ears that hear. Ask, “Lord, what do you want to do here with these different values between us? How can I love people well and show them You?” Move forward as a giver rather than a taker.
And in your efforts for true peace and genuine love, move further into God’s heart toward both of you.
Copyright © 2022 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills for Work-in-Progress Families (Harvest House), released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.