Resolving conflicts with the currency of grace

A few days ago I spoke with a 28 year-old man who has many broken relationships. He has more than a dozen half- and step-brothers and sisters, but hardly knows any of them and grew up as an only child. He has two fathers, one biological and the other adoptive, but was reared almost solely by his mother. Neither father makes much effort to contact him. He is trying hard to make a success of his life, but is heavily burdened with deep relational conflicts.

Many of us cannot easily relate to this man’s experience. Still, because we are sinners living with other sinners, we have conflicts. It’s axiomatic that the typical ways in which we react to relationship conflicts tend to exacerbate them. Sometimes we avoid, trying (unsuccessfully) to live on an emotional island. In other cases we “declare bankruptcy” and pretend to start over with a clean slate.   

Jon Hagen is an experienced counselor with a generous portion of God-given wisdom and a gift for communicating it. He is sharing this wisdom in a new six-part video series on relational conflict, which you can view here. You don’t need to search long under “Conflict Resolution” on YouTube and other media sources to see how refreshingly different, if not unique, Jon’s approach is. He has a light touch with a heavy subject. He models what he teaches by how he teaches.    

Conflicts arise not from mere differences of opinion, but when one person commits a wrong against another. At that point, the offender incurs a debt. This is captured when someone who is wronged says, or at least thinks, “You owe me!”  

When the relational debt is not promptly repaid, it accumulates with later unpaid offenses. A relationship thus burdened becomes unstable and unsafe. This is true in homes between husbands and wives and between parents and children, in workplaces, schools, churches, neighborhoods.

There is only one way that a broken relationship can be restored. The offended person must clear the offender of the debt. He or she must say, in effect, “You no longer owe me. I accept the cost of your wrong.” This is not the same as saying, “let’s forget it and move on.” This is forgiveness.

By human logic, forgiveness is blatantly unfair. Why should the innocent person absorb the wrong? It is humanly impossible to do continually, yet without forgiveness, our relationships become crippled with debt.

Jon answers this problem without religious clichés. By dying in our place Jesus accepted the cost of all our wrongs, and offers us His forgiveness. Once received, this forgiveness becomes the “currency of grace” with which we can accept the cost of wrongs done to us. God’s action to restore our relationship with Him gives both the model and the resource for restoring our relationships with others.

Jon walks us through all the practical steps involved in the offense-confession-repentance-forgiveness cycle. He acknowledges the reality that some sins are easier to forgive than others and shows us how to respond to the differences.

He refutes common platitudes such as “forgive and forget” and “we must learn to forgive ourselves,” and replaces them with Biblical solutions that work. He addresses a wide range of problems that could derail reconciliation, such as cases when the offender is no longer available. These insights are relevant for the range of conflicts from ordinary to long-term relational breakdown.

Jon asked me to help him edit study guides for the series so that small groups, couples and individuals could reflect on the principles and how to apply them. The guides organize his key points, provide additional resources, and present questions to provoke thought, discussion and action. They can be downloaded here. As I studied his talks, I was humbled by my own need to learn and apply, and became excited at the prospect of sharing this precious resource.

Each video lasts 10 minutes. The takeaway lessons last for as long as you need guidance on resolving conflicts.

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