In my article entitled The Priceless Value of Conflict, I suggested there are three arenas of conflict we struggle through while we are on this un-peaceful planet called earth: conflict with others, conflict with ourselves, and conflict with God. In this article I would like to explore the second on the list – conflict with ourselves.
Life: the “strenuous briefness”
The poet e.e.cummings (yes, I know, but that’s how he spells it) describes life as “the strenuous briefness.” James and Paul said something similar in their letters to the churches, calling life “a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” and that “we groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Jas.4:14; Rom.8:23). In light of eternity, we can understand its briefness, but why does it have to be so “strenuous?”
Aside from the many strenuous conflicts we have with others, there are also many strenuous conflicts we have within ourselves. Fear, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, despair and pain are just a few of the conflicts we will experience or have experienced on this sad planet.
Can these struggles be in any way redeemed? Are we forever saddled with these pathologies? What is the reason we are crippled with fear, riddled with anxiety, or crushed with despair?
Be thankful for your turmoil
The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians “in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess.5:18). Give thanks for our fear, our anxiety, our loneliness? That does seem kind of strange. But if we look beyond our sorrow and pain to the reason we are left to struggle through them, we find that God uses them to give us a richer relationship with Himself.
The reason for our inner turmoil is that it helps us to grow. It forces us to reach up to God for help, and to reach out for help through God’s people. Working through our fear, anxiety, guilt or shame helps us to realize that we need Him and provides the context for our relationship with Him. Through the un-pretzeling of our problems we come to know His power, provision and presence in a greater way. Praise God for the conflicts, for the resolution of our inner conflict is the bricks and mortar of relationship building.
Working through our fears
Each one of us starts out in life with a measure of fear. Fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, and fear of strangers are common traits among all the young. I assume those who die in the womb, waking up in heaven, do not have the same experience as those of us who are born on planet earth. Fear is the common lot of humanity.
But fear need not dominate us for a lifetime. Just as we outgrew our fear of the dark, so we need to outgrow our fear of the unknown as well. As we physically matured, we stopped fearing the bogeyman under the bed, overcoming our fear of the dark. As we spiritually mature, we can do the same. We will not always be afraid to love, worry about the future, or despair our situation. Through faith, we can again realize there is no “bogeyman under the bed” and move on from the paralysis that fear causes in our lives.
Let conflict have its perfect work
Let’s take guilt as another example. Why are we burdened with guilt? Why do we wrestle with what happened several years ago? Perhaps it’s because guilt causes us to reflect upon our own moral failure and points us to the One who can forgive. But guilt is stopped short of its perfect work if it does not drive us to God for forgiveness. Burdens of guilt are given so that they can be forgiven.
The problem occurs when we don’t believe the very forgiveness we have received. The problem occurs when we wallow in guilt, never applying the forgiveness we have received. Some continue carrying the guilt long after forgiveness, in God’s eyes, has occurred. By faith we must move through the feeling of guilt into the fact of His forgiveness.
Again, we must ask ourselves the question: why do we have inner conflict? Why do we wrestle with these things? It is because God wants us to grow, but not in the same way our bodies grow. God intends that our faith and trust would grow in our relationship with Him, and for that to happen, we need our inner conflict, or rather, we need to take our inner conflict to Him and lay it at His feet.
We desperately need His counsel to make it through the “strenuous briefness” we call life. To move from fear to faith, from worry to confidence, or from despair to hope, we will need the grace and help of our loving Redeemer.