So, exactly how many people does it take to have an ongoing conflict?
Surprising answer: One
The most common relational challenges I observe in ministry have to do with two or more people. It might be husband and wife who argue all the time; or a temperamental child and frustrated parents who battle over most everything; or maybe an overbearing boss and a trying-as-hard-as-I-can employee, each talking to coworkers in a demeaning manner about the other person.
However, sometimes the conflict is totally within a person. When that happens, a person can be totally alone, with no one else anywhere around, and the arguing, the accusations and the rejection still go on. Here is how that might hypothetically look.
As a child I have a vivid imagination, like to draw, love to read books, and thoroughly enjoy playing with my green Army men, creating scenes of strategic battles. However, the boys who are my peers, and the older boys in the neighborhood, think life is all about sports and tackle football and throwing rock hard pinecones at each other while playing “real life” Army in the woods.
Like every kid, I want to be a part of all that is going on. But sadly, I tend to cry when I get hit really hard during a football game; or when I get bombarded with pinecones; or when I don’t know who Mickey Mantle is (go ahead, do the math). When I try to excuse myself to the things I really enjoy, I get laughed at, called wimp and airhead, and literally get beat up.
At some point I make a major internal decision. I choose to hate the part of me that is creative, imaginative and literary, blaming “him” for all the pain and turmoil in my life. Instead, I will become angry and assertive, a daredevil and a fighter.
Interestingly, I begin to treat the other part of me in exactly the same way I was treated by the boys in the neighborhood and school; and that “little boy” part of me begins to despise and fear the aggressive “big boy” within. And so the battle rages. Every time the “little boy” gets excited about a book or being creative, the “big boy” pushes him down and demeans him. And the “little boy” hates being blamed for all the bad or painful things in life. Amazingly, all this is happening with no one else present.
This type of scenario plays out more often than you might think; but because it is an internal conflict, you probably never realize it is going on. But Jesus knows and He has an answer: forgiveness and acceptance.
In situations like this, the Lord consistently encourages individuals to forgive themselves for the real and perceived things that they have done that have made life arduous; then accept the whole of who God made them to be and set aside the artificial coping person that was created to endure daily life. Once those two things are done, there can actually be peace and calm in the inner person.