If you are already past the point of anger and still dealing with conflict, then it is time to put away the fists and dial back the dialogue into the language of values. To be fair, this is, in part, an attempt to distance ourselves from the tension and objectify the problem – which is more possible in some cases than others. As an example of the absurdity that proves the rule, let us look at one of the most volatile places on the planet: the Little League Baseball Bleachers.
Can you imagine a parent standing up and shouting,
“Coach, you need to put my son Derek in because building his confidence in playing sports is more important to me than whether the team wins or loses.”?
Or how about,
“Come on Ref! Can’t you just give him that run? My kid is the only one on the team who hasn’t made it to home plate yet!”?
I doubt referees ever hear
“That was a really tough call to make. Keep up the good work!”.
Why? Because although we don’t usually say the things above, we usually are thinking or feeling them at some level. We talk about the importance of fair play, but most of us have values that sometimes contradict and even overshadow fairness, justice, and our sense of right and wrong. We are not machines. Having other values does not have to be wrong. Where we get into trouble is when we have them by deny it to others and even to ourselves. This denial creates a tension and dissonance in ourselves similar to the feeling we might have in debate class if the teacher asked us to switch sides with our opponent and argue their case instead of our own. It’s hard and sometimes there is something inside us that wants us to lose, because the deeper truth is that, while we may believe the words we are saying, there are other words we are not saying that we believe even more. So, by not saying what is truly important to us, we are only sabotaging ourselves.
Of course, we may be keeping those values quiet because, although they represent our true desires, they are either socially unacceptable or something we are ashamed to say out loud. The letter from James in the New Testament has some powerful words to move from anger into speaking the truth to ourselves and to one another. He writes:
”What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:1–12
”Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16
It is those hidden desires that get us into trouble every time. God knows they are there, and if we take the time to look, we will see them there as well. James tells us that we can find healing and forgiveness between one another if we are willing to confess the truth of what is really going on inside us. But, if we have not yet come to the true values and desires within us, we will not find that resolution… and if we are not yet at peace within ourselves, it is not yet time to fight.