Hostility Radar: on how to not be harsh in conflict

“…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life…Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes…get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words…Instead, be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:22-23, 31-32

These used to be words I read over easily and nodded my head, “yes, yes, don’t let anger control you, be kind and forgiving, got it.” But in this season of my life, stripped down and rubbed raw by all the moving and transition and stress and adjustment, I have been poring over scripture, desperately searching for help with my anger.

My two sweetest relationships: with the Lord and with Cody, have been riddled with conflict and punctuated with my outbursts. And so this week, I sat long with this passage. It describes the purge of what is harsh and the renewal of tender-heartedness that I so long for.

My response: “Yes, but how?”

The answer provided in the passage is: Instead, let the Spirit.

As I have processed this last year and some of the difficulties I’ve walked through, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to place myself in a stand-off with God, to grow frustrated with Him and accuse Him, and then end up feeling hopeless because I don’t like how He’s doing things, but where else can I turn?

Two verses from Romans helped me to understand this pattern of what I tend to do and what it means to insteadlet the Spirit:

1.  “For the sinful nature is always hostile to God.”  

Romans 8:7

The stand-offs, the arguments, the frustration, the hostility, these are not some new dynamic in my relationship with the Lord that I have to figure out how to navigate. No. The sinful nature IS ALWAYS hostile to God. These attitudes are only the sinful nature’s expected response to trouble. This is how it always acts. It’s that annoying character in the story who takes every opportunity to pick a fight. Hostile thoughts are not cause for alarm, they only signal that I need to adjust who I’m listening to.

2. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?”

Romans 8:35

This is the new nature’s response to trouble: yes, God has allowed something hard, but that does not mean I am separated from his love. It doesn’t mean that I have lost his favor, or that I’m doing something wrong, or that he’s no longer on my side. Trouble does not equal abandonment. The Spirit speaks truth and the new nature clings to it.
One response is filled with suspicion. The other chooses to operate on trust. I can lean into my frustration and my demand for answers, or I can instead, let the Spirit answer my troubled heart with the reassurance that it is not unloved.

And so, I am slowly learning not to put myself at odds with God when I don’t understand my circumstances. It is in hard situations that I most need to let the Spirit speak truth rather than allowing my fear and hurt and confusion to push down his words. I need to recognize that when hostile thoughts crop up, it is a sign I have been listening to the sin nature’s poisonous words and started to distrust the One who is only ever true.

In the same way, I think the how of exchanging harsh for tender-hearted in my marriage lies in recognizing hostility.

Just as hostility toward God is how the sinful nature always responds to trouble, I think that hostility toward each other is how the sinful nature always responds to conflict. Hostility is NOT an inevitable symptom of how serious the disagreement or misunderstanding is.

I have been operating in frustrated, angry helplessness as we face our conflicts, knowing that I’m doing this wrong but not sure how to do it differently. I’m all fired up, but determined to press on because I’m sure we can’t get to a better place until we solve the problem at hand, so it’s bound to be messy until it’s settled.

But I have been wrong.

We can get to a better place before we solve the problem at hand. If I only recognize that the reason I’m angry and harsh and exploding is not because of the conflict, it’s because of the sin nature. If we let the Spirit in, we can then work at the problem while still offering kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness to each other. We can be in the midst of a conflict and at the same time not hostile with each other. We can problem-solve while we walk in the Spirit.

And so, as I walk forward, I must have a radar always operating that checks for hostility with every sweep. Conflict does not equal hostility, and a blip on the radar lets me know it’s time to step back, check who I am listening to, and alter course.


I know there’s a learning curve here, and I desperately want to get it. Please be my teacher. Please show me how to recognize when I am operating out of anger and bitterness. Let my own harsh words catch my attention. Let me not over-complicate what’s going on, but recognize that I have a sin nature, eager to jump into a fight and an enemy, eager to destroy us, who only waits for the foothold anger gives him to force his way in and stir up all sorts of trouble.

Teach us, Lord, to be a team who knows how desperately we need you and who always, always lets you in to our troubles, trusting you to renew our thoughts and attitudes, to give us a fresh beginning at what feels so impossible and new understanding of what feel so hurtful. Remind us that we are working together at this. We are not enemies.

Supply kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness to the point of overflowing so we have plenty to buffer us through the rough spots.

The rapids can be bumpy when you are white water rafting, but if there’s enough water in the river you don’t snag on the stones. Let it be so with the kindness and grace you pour into our relationship, for we have been snagging.

Lord, we need your help and your Spirit living within us to guide us through our conflicts so that we are not waiting until we reach the other side of the rapids for things to be okay in the raft.

Help me to grow toward maturity and learn, in the heat of the moment, to let the Spirit in. May I start to see what a difference you are able to make in the midst of my helplessness and what beauty you are able to craft from my struggles if I only invite you into them.

Approved Of: on how much is enough

“…After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing?…Abraham believed God and God counted him righteous because of his faith.”

Galatians 3:3, 6

Moving brings out the Pharisee in me. I have not figured out how I fit into this new place yet, I am building first impressions, and so I throw myself into things, desperate to prove myself, even when there’s nothing to prove.

I’m on edge in every conversation. I anxiously look around and compare every detail to see if I’m keeping up, measuring up, meeting expectations. I want to impress, but I’m not impressive and it’s hard to ask a whole new group of people to extend the grace I need.

Righteous isn’t a word I use a whole lot in my every-day English, so I looked up the Greek word used for “righteous” in this verse in Galatians to try to get a better sense of its meaning. The definition I found hit home: “approved of.”

How I long to be approved of.

I echo the crowd who asked Jesus for an assignment:

“We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” (John 6:28)

I need His answer just as much as they did:

 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 )

Always, always it comes back to this: I am counted righteous only and ever because I put my trust in Jesus Christ. I am approved of because, like Abraham, I believe God’s words. It is never because of my work or effort or performance, diligent as they may be.

So easily my eyes shift to what I’ve invested, how hard I’ve worked. Always I am asking, “Is it enough? Can I rest yet?”

Always He answers, “I am enough. You can rest in that.”

So much pressure I carry around to accomplish something big and important because I represent the Lord. But I forget that it is HE who chooses to represent me.

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.  Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

(Romans 8:33-34)

I have a Savior who has finished the work of placing me in good standing. And He does not require me to improve on what He has accomplished. I am approved of in Him.

I read these words from Emily P. Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday this week and they caught within me:

“…stand on tiptoe and see…beyond what is to what could be.

And this doesn’t mean I am to dream big and amazing things for God. Rather, it means I am to believe in a big and amazing God, period. I can trust him to be himself even as I dare to be myself.

He is big and important and able and so I do not have to carry the pressure of making sure his plans go off without a hitch, or ensuring that I become all I am meant to be. I am all I am meant to be in Him, and it is enough to just follow.


Take my worries. Help me to leave them in your hands awhile.

Help me choose to just to believe you, and then do whatever the next thing is out of freedom, not out of fear. That is the work you ask of me.

Teach me to savor and hold on tight to the assurance that you approve of me. You call me righteous; not lacking, not disappointing, not inadequate, not a failure.

I need not make an idol of my issues by giving all my attention to them. They present no obstacle to you.

It does not honor you to strive tirelessly. It only shows I do not believe your words.

Lord, teach me what it is to be still and believe in a God who does not need my help and yet invites me on a journey to see what He can do through one willing to take him at his word.

Show me how to walk into this new season with the confidence of one who has been approved of, able to extend and accept grace, at ease with myself and with others, and leaving behind the tireless question of whether I have done enough.

Because your work is enough, and I can rest in that.