Lesson 8: Go and Restore, Part 2
Topic: Topical Passage: 2 Samuel 14
Go and Restore, Part 2
[Note: This lesson is adapted from Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004). For more information, see Peacemaker® Ministries (https://pm.training).]
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 2 Samuel 14. Last week was our first lesson on confrontation, and I urged you if you have a conflict with another individual to go to him or her and talk about it in private, if possible face-to-face, and with the right heart attitude. Of course, that can be difficult at times, but it’s often necessary in order to preserve relationships. Why do you think many people avoid these types of conversations? (They require humility. They’re awkward. They’re too much work. They don’t value the relationship enough. They don’t know what to say. They aren’t committed enough to obeying God. They don’t understand what God says about these types of situations. They’ve given up on the relationship. They’ve tried before and it didn’t work. They’ve written the other person off. They’ve given up on the relationship.)
One reason that I think some people fail to have this type of conversation is that they assume doing so will make the situation worse, rather than better. And that can certainly be the case if the conversation is handled poorly. However, God’s Word indicates that ignoring the problem can be a very costly mistake. You’re in 2 Samuel 14. The events leading up this chapter are Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar and Absalom’s consequent murder of Amnon when their father David refused to deal with him. After killing Amnon, Absalom fled to Geshur, where he stayed for three years. And once again, David did? Nothing. 2 Samuel 13:39 says that David longed to go to Absalom, but he seems to have had a hard time reconciling his sense of love with his sense of justice.
Finally, Joab senses David’s concern and puts together an elaborate acted-out parable similar to the one Nathan the prophet had constructed years earlier in order to convince David to bring Absalom back. In the end, David settled on a sort of compromise: he invited Absalom home to Jerusalem but also refused to speak with him (vv. 21, 23-24). Not surprisingly, Absalom wasn’t happy with this arrangement so he sent for Joab (vv. 28-33). So finally, after five years, Absalom gets to see David again. However, there is no indication from the text that any kind of substantial conversation takes place. Both parties certainly bore blame–David for failing to deal with Amnon and for not being upfront with Absalom, and Absalom for taking the law into his own hands and killing his brother. And yet, in this long-awaited meeting, there is no acknowledgement of the elephant in the room, no talk of wrongdoing, no confession of sins, no forgiveness, and thus no real reconciliation. And what does the very next chapter describe? Absalom’s rebellion against David. David’s strategy of, “I can be polite in public, but we can’t be friends anymore” had failed miserably. What can we learn from this story?
To me, the primary take-away from this story is the urgency of the command that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:23-26. If there is something significant between you and another person, you must go to him and deal with it. If you know you’ve done something wrong, confess it. If the other person has done something wrong, talk to him about it. If you think the other person is mad at you but you don’t know why, ask him about it. But whatever the case, if it’s something significant, you need to go and have the conversation. Sometimes, as was the case with Absalom, the other person would love to talk to you about the situation; he just doesn’t know what to say or how to go about it.
Ken Sande tells a story about two ranchers who had an argument about where to run a fence line. When the one rancher refused to move the fence, the other one stomped away, and they never talked to each for two years afterwards. The first rancher assumed that since he was in the right, it was the other guy’s responsibility to come to him when he was ready to apologize. But then he came across this passage in Matthew 5 and became convicted that he needed to go to his neighbor, so he did. And to his surprise, his neighbor thanked him profusely. He said, “I have felt bad about that for years! I wanted to come talk to you about it, but I didn’t know how to go about it!” So do the other person a favor and initiate the conversation.
Last week, we talked about four practical guidelines concerning how to confront, so now let’s pick up where we left off.
How to Confront
- Go Tentatively.
Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.” Sometimes, what appears to you to be sin will turn out to be just a misunderstanding, so you shouldn’t go into the conversation with guns blazing. For instance, let’s say that you hear that someone is gossiping about you behind your back. Instead of leading with, “You are gossiping about me, and that’s sin,” you could say, “So and so told me that she overheard you say X. Is that true?” And then stop talking and listen. You often don’t need to say much. As soon as you mention the observed behavior, the other person with will feel the need to either justify himself or confess wrongdoing. Ken Sande says, “Unless you have clear, firsthand knowledge that wrong has been done, give the other person the benefit of the doubt and be open to the possibility that you have not assessed the situation correctly. A cautious, fair-minded manner will usually promote a more relaxed atmosphere and encourage honest dialogue rather than defensive rebuttals.”
This can be extremely helpful advice in marriage. When talking to your spouse about a perceived wrong, try to phrase yourself in terms of what you understood rather than what he or she intended. For instance, “Honey, can I talk to you about something? When you said you didn’t have time for that family activity but then you accepted the invitation from your friend to watch the game at his house the next night, it made me feel like the kids and I aren’t as important to you as your friends are. Could we talk about that?” As stinging as suggestion as that is, it’s still just a suggestion. You haven’t assumed motives, you’ve just communicated how the action came across. There could still be a reasonable explanation. “Well, I didn’t have time to spend all day Saturday at the beach, but once I got the car fixed, I was able to relax and Sunday afternoon was freed up.” Or, “I’ve turned Jim down to watch the Super Bowl together three years in a row. I felt that I owed it to him to show up this time.” Or whatever. Nothing is lost by going tentatively. If nothing else, your husband may be convicted that you’ve given him the benefit of the doubt when he’s been such a jerk! And if there is a good explanation behind his actions, you may have just avoided an unnecessary argument.
- Be Patient.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” Depending on the situation, you shouldn’t necessarily expect an immediate reversal of all the wrongdoing that has occurred. Sometimes, your initial attempt at a conversation will seem like a failure, and yet your words will slowly sink in and lead to change over time. Maybe the change is not as drastic as you had hoped for. Maybe you never even get a full confession. But you can at least see a softening in the other individual, and you can tell that he or she is trying to do better. At that point, you may be able just to forgive in your heart and move on. Are there any questions about that?
- Be Quick to Listen.
James 4:14 says with reference to God’s Word that we ought to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. The same applies to our conversations, as well. In fact, it is pretty widely accepted that the most important communication skill is what? Listening! Going back to the life of David, do you remember the story about David’s conflict with Nabal? Do you remember what Nabal’s servants say about him when they run to warn his wife Abigail? They say, “For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him.” He will not listen. He is totally unapproachable. God forbid that any of us should be like that!
When you raise an issue with someone, he may very well share his own grievances or even attack you. In that case, it is very important that you listen well. So here are some practical tips to improve your listening skills.
- Discipline yourself not to interrupt as much as possible, and don’t feel like you need to fill every dead space in the conversation. Sometimes, a moment of silence is a positive thing. The other person may remember something else he has to say. That’s fine! Give him plenty of time to get it all out there. Also, don’t jump to conclusions prematurely and avoid trying to offer quick fixes and immediate solutions.
- Pay Attention. Apparently, the human brain can think four times faster than the mouth can speak. So while the other person is monologuing, you might start to get bored. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted! People can usually tell when the person they’re talking to isn’t listening. What are some signs that the other person is getting distracted? (fidgeting, glancing around the room, etc.) What are some things you can do to show the other person that you’re listening? (turn off the TV, take out your headphones, or set down your phone; maintain eye contact; avoid body language that tends to communicate negatively, like folding your arms or tapping your foot; nod your head occasionally; say, “okay,” “hmm,” etc.; lean forward) All of these things will communicate to the other person, “You’re important to me, and I really want to understand what you’re saying.”
- Ask Clarifying Questions. Here are some examples. “Are you saying that…?” “Tell me more about…” “I’m not following. Can you give an example?” “I confused about X.” It’s amazing how far statements and questions like these can go toward helping you get a full grasp of the situation. But there’s even more to it than that. Ken Sande says, “Because these responses also show interest in getting further information, they encourage the other person to share emotions and perceptions more fully. If he or she responds to that invitation, you can often get beyond the surface issues and discern more clearly underlying concerns, motives, and feelings.”
- Reflect the Person’s Thoughts and Feelings Back to Him. Reflecting is very similar to clarifying, but instead of asking the other person to repeat himself, reflecting involves rephrasing what the other person said in your own words. Here are some examples Ken Sande gives. “So you believe I didn’t take time to hear you out.” “From your perspective, I was wrong when I said that about you.” “The way you see it, then, is that there isn’t much hope.” “This situation has created a lot of problems for you and your family.” “You seem to believe I was being dishonest about…” “You must really care about this project.” “I get the impression I’ve really disappointed you.” “You were really hurt by my comment about you in front of the class.” “It sounds like you are upset because I gave John the job instead of you.”
Why would statements like these be helpful? First, they communicate love for the other person because you really want to understand where he or she is coming from. Second, it can help the other person to understand his or her own concerns more accurately, which would allow the two of you to proceed in a more focused manner. For instance, someone may list six things in the course of a three-minute monologue, but you are able to distill all of that into one basic issue: “It seems to me that the main thing bothering you is X.” If the person agrees, then you can proceed to talk about X, rather than about all the other little things. A side benefit of reflecting is that it slows the conversation down, which can be helpful if emotions are high. Also, people are less likely to raise their voices or repeat themselves if they get the impression that they are getting through to you.
- Now, some of you black-and-white people are already saying, “I don’t know about this one. What if I don’t agree with what the other person is saying?” Well, ask yourself this question. Is there any truth to what the other person is saying? I would think it would be rare that 100% of the other person’s assertions are false. So if you can agree with 5% of what he’s saying, agree with that, and then go on to address your differences.
It is especially important to agree with the other person when he is citing a legitimate grievance against you. So you come to someone and say, “I want to talk about X,” and he says, “Ya, but you did Y.” So you say, “You’re right. I should not have done that.” All of a sudden, he’s disarmed because you’re refusing to fight with him. And hopefully, you’re able to get back to the original topic.
One objection people sometimes raise about agreeing, especially when the other person is pointing out my sins or mistakes is that if I admit to them, he is going to think I’m taking responsibility for the entire situation, and I don’t want to give that impression! So here’s how you get around that: be specific. If your fault was not coming to him soon enough, then apologize for not coming to him soon enough. You don’t need to apologize for something you didn’t do, nor would it be right for you to do so.
Learning to look from the kernel of truth in the other person’s complaint will allow you to grow immensely. I just saw a blog article last week with the title, “Complaining Customers Can Be Great for Business.” The article had to do specifically with complaints on social media, but one of the main points was that if you can get past the harshness of what was said, the customer may have a really good point. And if you are able to address the underlying issue and improve as a company, the customer will have done you a great service, even if he didn’t intend it that way. If the business world is willing to handle complaints with that sort of discipline, how much more should we as Christians do the same? God may use a person’s complaint against you as a tremendous source of sanctification, even if 80% of it is false. Any questions or comments?
- Confess Your Own Sins First.
We’ve talked about this in-depth in past lessons, but let me just reiterate that you shouldn’t confront the other person until you have confessed your own contributions to the problem. Jesus said to get the log out of your own eye first.
One of the things we said about confession is that if you start by confessing your own sins, you often won’t need to confront at all, because the other person will respond in kind. But someone brought up the question, “What if they don’t?” In other words, what if they just say, “I forgive you,” and then leave it at that, without offering any kind of an apology for what they have done? That puts you in sort of an awkward position, doesn’t it?
There are four things you can do in that situation.
- You may simply overlook the offense. It could be that once you’ve dealt with your own sin and bitterness, the other person’s sin doesn’t seem to be that bad anymore. If that is the case, then you should just forgive him in your heart and move on.
- You may build on a superficial confession. For instance, after you confess your sins, the other person may say something like, “I’m sure I was partly to blame, as well.” You could reply to that by saying something like, “I appreciate you saying that. What do you think you did wrong?”
- You may need to address the other person’s sins right now. If the conflict is very serious, or the person’s sins are putting him in danger, or someone else is in danger, or God’s reputation is being compromised, or other harmful outcomes are likely to occur very soon, then you may not have time to waste. You will have to talk about the other person’s sins in the same conversation in which you confessed your own sins. If that is the case, make sure to pray a lot, plan your words carefully, and be prepared for the other person to question your motives. He may assume that your confession was just a ploy to get him to make a confession or to soften him up before the blow. You will be need to be prepared to respond to that allegation.
- You may need to postpone the second part of the conversation till later. If the situation is not urgent or if immediate confrontation is unlikely to be productive, it may be best to table the confrontation until later. In the meantime, a few things may take place. 1) God may soften your heart over time so that you decide to just overlook the offense. 2) God may use your sincerity to convict the other person so that he comes to you seeking forgiveness. 3) The other person may repeat the offense. And that’s actually not a bad thing, because it gives you the opportunity to respond correctly this time, so that you don’t need to confess your own faults. That way, when you do go back to confront, it will be much harder for the other person to shift the blame, and he is more likely to be convicted by your testimony and to acknowledge that he is at fault. Any questions?