Love's role in resolving conflict

A Christian Science perspective: When even the best words aren't enough.

Recently I was asked for my professional advice in an academic setting. I wrote a detailed report in all fairness, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of a project, carrying it further to the next level of action with full approval. A few days later I was taken totally off guard by a flaming e-mail of disappointment and anger directed toward me, accusing me of mean motives and the desire to destroy a good candidate.

That statement was so utterly wrong that my emotions started to run wild between disbelief (why?), anger (how could he?), fear (is our working relationship now damaged forever?), and disappointment (I never knew...). This swirl of emotions bubbled, and the first step toward peace of mind was to turn toward the cool, calming presence of divine Love. This turning enabled me to refuse to attach this angry reaction to my colleague. Instead, I opened myself to seeing him in the pure shining reality of God’s qualities expressed effortlessly in infinite ways.

My dear husband volunteered to join in prayerful support of me. He told me to listen to God, who is speaking to each of us. He said that the Word of God would “sing the truth” to me and to everyone involved in this situation. As a musician, I was touched that I could hear God’s truth – the truth of our God-given love for one another, the truth of harmony in our relationships – as God’s “song” to me. A comforting psalm says, [T]he Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me” (Psalms 42:8). 

I listened, and my heartbeat calmed and went back to normal. I was able to write a short, loving reply, expressing my disbelief in what I was reading in his e-mail, offering to talk in person and saying I was looking forward to future teamwork on this project and others.

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I received an even worse e-mail in response, using terms such as “invidious” and “spiteful.”

Now here was a challenge. My heartbeat was up again, and I pushed aside – with all spiritual commitment – anger, resentment, disbelief, and fear, and I took ample time to pray. I vehemently refused to search for a cause or psychological logic for such an outburst. I searched the Bible and found this account of someone asking Jesus a question: “[B]ehold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:16, 17).

Could it be that Jesus detected within the question, “What good thing shall I do?” the misconception that eternal life is the result of moral efforts and of good human behavior – of simply pleasing another human being? I believe that from Jesus’ point of view, eternal life is the natural effect of God being our creator. The Christ, which Jesus fully exemplified, in all time, witnesses not to human effort to do good but to the power of Love itself, expressing itself and needing no intermediary. I prayed to see that there is divine Love before there is love among one another, and that it is humility that enables words to express peace. Peacemaking ultimately is God’s job and Love’s prerogative, not mine.

This realization took the responsibility off my shoulders – having seen in the first place that even the best human words didn’t have the power of divine Love itself. This power is felt in one’s heart more than it is actually heard.

A second insight was equally meaningful: This conflict could be de-escalated by one side now. I had witnessed this type of conflict before in the academic world. These conflicts had turned into frictions spanning years. I realized that by refusing to attach the conflict to any individual or setting or circumstance, it could be ended immediately. Conflict is a destructive imposition, not a normal part of relationships.

Because of this insight, I removed the e-mails from my server and smart phone, leaving no trace of the conflict, not storing it. This was not an attempt to turn my head and bury the problem. Instead, it cleaned the slate for a fresh start. And so it was. While I continued to pray, even at the gym, I bowed before the Christ to let it act as the one and only peacemaker. I took an active stand for the presence of the Christ with me, with my colleague, and with everyone.

I found on my return home a third e-mail, this time totally different – reformed, humble, sweet. My colleague apologized profusely for his tone, for his misunderstanding – having reread my response and my report he now saw the true meaning of what I’d written. He asked for forgiveness, asking me to accept his apology. I replied that the whole incident was not only forgiven but already forgotten. The next day he urged me to accept a hug and presented me with a lovely book and sweet card.

God is Love. Love is neither personal nor subjective. Love is not the product of something we’ve done in the past or something that will come in the future. I’m encouraged to explore further the endless possibilities of Love, Spirit, by stepping aside and letting divine Love shine. You could say that resolving conflict is the “specialty of the house” – the house of Love, the consciousness of good.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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