Navigating conflict often feels like stuffing a bedsheet set back into its original packaging. If you manage to return the contents, you realize it’s not the same. The once smooth and compact surface and sharp corners are now bulging with lumps and oddly shaped edges. Though we sincerely believe the gospel makes a difference between two people who love Jesus and are actively walking toward understanding and forgiveness, it seems that reconciliation and restoration are unfortunately, the exception rather than the norm.

Messy Relationships

We feel the weight of how messy and complicated relationships in families, marriages, friendships, coworkers, and neighbors are as we live intertwined lives. Our differing personalities, backgrounds, desires, biases, and emotional triggers are potential sources of conflict. Furthermore, the less we know about the other person, the more inaccurate assumptions fill the gaps of understanding and in turn, taint the relationship.

Even with the best intentions, we are still insensitive. I know this is true of myself. We treat objects or goals more important than people. We burden others with expectations and are convinced our way is better. Sadly, the effects of living in a fallen and broken world become inescapable.

And yet, the gospel is made more beautiful not when we dodge conflict but when we move toward it, seeking resolutions; not when we keep people at arm’s length by being reserved, guarded, or on our best behavior, but when we ask for and extend forgiveness. In doing so, we bear testimony to the very Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead and is living in us (Rom. 8:11) and promises us abundant life  (Jn. 10:10). We tell the story of Christ who reconciled to himself all things in his body (1Col. 1:20). We reenact the gospel and declare that the gospel alone redeems and restores. We do this from a posture of humility toward others and honest reflections of ourselves.

The Importance of Humble and Honest Reflection

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out our hypocrisy to make greater the faults and failures of others while minimizing and justifying our own:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5).

We hear but struggle to listen well. We forget God’s invitation to his kindness. We are selective with our applications of mercy and grace when it has been lavished on us like a luxurious, fragrant lotion. If something is obstructing our ability to see clearly, we believe it is the speck. But Jesus disagrees; it’s the log.

In one marital conflict, my husband brought to attention some piercing truths about how I parent. I needed to listen and yet, every muscle in me stiffened up. I wanted to scurry and hide in dirty dishes, laundry, vacuuming, and organizing. I was desperate to disconnect from my reality because I didn’t want to see myself through someone else’s eyes. Thankfully, a desire for relationship with my children outweighed the temptation to shut down and turn inward to shame. So, I stepped outside into the familiar sights and smells of my neighborhood and began to walk.

The change of scenery and movement in my body helped me to utter a prayer. “Jesus, help me to wrestle with the log in my eye before obsessing over the speck in my husband’s.” I began to ask myself questions: What triggered this? How did I react and how did my body respond? What was I thinking and feeling when I reacted that way? Do I react this way often? What makes it so hard to hear feedback? Sifting, discerning, and putting words to what we did and why is laborious. It’s tempting to quit, acquiesce to futility, and resign to shame. But such honest reflections are necessary.

Grace in the Struggle

As I asked Jesus to see my log more clearly, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ prayer for Peter (Lk. 22:32) before he did the unimaginable—denied Jesus, three times. I felt ashamedly naked with my flaws exposed but Jesus had already prayed for me. My faith would not fail for His faithfulness is exceedingly greater.

When we surrender to Jesus’ truthful diagnosis of the log and the speck, we are able to move toward others with genuine help. And when we are honest in confession and repentance about our proclivity to argue and defend, judge unfairly, attribute blame to others and external circumstances, we can know the refreshment found in the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19-20). If we are prone to isolate in self-contempt and shame during conflict, and have little to no capacity to see how others may feel helpless, frustrated, and abandoned, we are not without hope. Octavius Winslow reminds us, “He who pleads the blood of Jesus in prayer may have ten thousand of tongues all pleading against him, but the blood of Jesus speaks better things (Heb. 12:24) and drowns their every voice.”[1]

Our posture of humility and honesty does not require nor demand agreement in all matters and circumstances. It can, however, communicate a sincere desire to listen, understand, and grow in our compassion for one another. This is what it means to move toward the heartbeat of the gospel, embodying the hard but glorious work of working through conflict.

[1] Winslow, O., Morning Thoughts. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), 133.

Photo by taylor hernandez on Unsplash

Alice Kim

Alice Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Emmaus Counseling and Consulting Services ( where she offers gospel-centered therapy to the DC Metro area. She finds deep fulfillment in engaging people’s stories and bearing witness to the good work of God to redeem and restore. She is also working toward Certificate Programs in New Testament and Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, DC. She is married to Sam Kim, pastor at Christ Central Presbyterian Church, VA and they raise their two daughters. Her past times include treasure hunting at thrift stores, sharing a cup of coffee with friends, and watching sports with her family.