The above phrase has been a top cliché for years; indicating acceptance and the need to move on. Understandably, it shows up as #2 in Alex Wong’s (sportsonearth.com) “64 Top Sport’s Clichés Ranked” (March 2017). This statement is not only a cliché, but it can immediately stifle any further consideration of the situation. But what if it isn’t what it is? What if your assessment of a painful situation is not accurate? As an athlete, fresh off a loss, trying to move on in an interview is adequate (though predictable). But what if you are in a relationship that is failing due to unresolved conflict? In this case, it is more likely a resignation that there is no hope that things are going to improve; and a sign that acceptance and moving on is probably not going to be a good thing.
I grew up fearing conflict and doing all in my power to avoid it or escape it. I quit many teams and relationships when things got a bit more challenging than I had planned. I never uttered the words “it is what it is” (the phrase was not popular back then), but I lived out its most negative connotations. Since then, God has helped me to see conflict as more than something to fear. Here are three truths about conflict that can help you really see what it is:
- It is an opportunity to bring glory to God. We are told to do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Reconciliation with God is supernatural. There is no fleshly reason or means for us to be right with a holy God. Similarly, there are times when personal reconciliation between two bitter people can only be done supernaturally. Even though we do not have control over the other person, we can have hope during the conflict. We have an option to please God with our own actions. Peace, comfort, progress, and unity are all great goals. However, when we are motivated by a drive to glorify God, we can avoid the pitfalls of manipulation, anger, pride, and other sins that may crop up in our pursuit of peace, comfort, progress, or unity.
- It is an opportunity to become more like Jesus. Being shaped into God’s image can be painful. If you consider what typically happens to shape something – carving, compression, sanding, testing – none of that sounds pleasant. Conflicts are trials that should not be wasted. They can be intense, complicated, and inconsistent, but they can be beneficial. Financial and physical conflicts tend to have black and white solutions – professional help for each abounds. People pain is harder to address – where can you buy a solution for this? Choosing to lean on God through a conflict (James 1:2-4), rather than trying to escape the trial is an effective route to character development. Consider viewing conflict as a part of the spiritual growth process. You can’t always gain peace with someone (Romans 12:18), but you can grow as you pursue peace.
- It is an opportunity to refine your ability to love and serve. Despite our calling to love others, Christians are not that great at loving. We are far better at trading kindness for kindness and calling it love. We determine how we want to be treated, treat others accordingly, but become resentful or angry when their response falls short. They simply did not trade properly. Jesus said that loving those that love you is no different from what unbelievers do (Luke 6). Biblical love is the capacity to love someone out of the overflow of love we have from Jesus. Conflict is an excellent place to test and grow that type of love.
God uses difficult relationships for three main things: to bring glory to Himself; help us become more like His Son; and to teach us how to love and serve like Jesus does. A proper focus on these three aspects of conflict keeps us from blame-shifting, resentment, or fearful fleeing of difficult circumstances. It also gives us a clear picture of what “is” really is.