Make It a Fair Fight - The Warrior's Journey®

Make It a Fair Fight

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

Virginia Guard chaplain support teams support military personnel in Louisiana. Photo by Coast Guard is licensed under CC By 2.0

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.  (James 4:1–2)

People around the world have been very gracious to us regarding feedback on Daily Strength for the Battle. Perhaps the aspect receiving the most favorable feedback has been the stories at the beginning of each section. Our hopes have been that we would “put skin on” on what we write. The Word of God is living and powerful, and so incredibly relevant. We want to speak about God’s Word as it impacts the lives of real people.

So, fasten your seatbelts! I have reserved this article about conflict and submission as one I would write. Why? Because throughout our marriage God has needed to teach me much about these two topics. I can now report that after 37 years of marriage, I know something about handling conflict and a little bit about submission as well.

My wife, Judy, has been the dear saint who has been the training vehicle for my learning. I thank God for her precious life. She has been so patient, so kind, so forgiving.

Let’s get started. No fluff, no frills, no dodging the issue. Marriage and family issues are truly the Lord’s best primer for learning how to manage conflict and how to submit. I don’t have to tell you, “It ain’t easy!” I chuckle when I think back to a newly married couple at Fort Bragg. They had come to me for counseling, but I was never sure why. I could tell there was tension in their relationship. This was no surprise because they had only been married for a few weeks.

A few minutes into our conversation, I asked them point blank: “Do you fight often?”

The soldier quickly answered, “No, sir! We have never even had an argument.”

His wife nodded in approval.

I responded, “Really? Never even had an argument?”

“That’s right,” they responded in unison.

“Well, don’t worry. You will, and it probably won’t be long from now.”

Our session ended. I wasn’t sure we had really accomplished anything constructive. They seemed to be in complete denial that they would ever have friction, let alone a serious argument. After all, they were “in love.” Interestingly, a few months later I learned that the couple had divorced. I was not hugely surprised.

Conflict is inevitable in this life, and certainly in any healthy marriage relationship. It will happen in family matters as well. The Bible never promises the absence of conflict, but it does provide great wisdom and guidance for how to handle it in a godly manner. James, the New Testament writer who penned the Book of James, must have been a direct kind of guy. Look at the first two verses of chapter 4 as he addresses the question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Not a lot of spin placed on his answer. No beating around the bush. Just plain truth. Paraphrasing, James says it’s an internal issue. It’s a matter of the heart. People want what they want, and they will do whatever it takes to get it, including killing.

Now remember: James is writing to Christian people. Is he being too hard? Has he missed it? As human beings, are we really this way? No, James is not being too hard. No, James didn’t miss it. Yes, our hearts can be this wicked. Just take a good look at our world. Sin and evil are around every corner. People commit unspeakable crimes against each other. Marriages are not immune. Nor are families. It’s tragic, but it’s reality. Is there still hope for your marriage and your family? I say, “yes!” God is omnipresent (present everywhere), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful). And He is very much alive and dialed into our situation. He knows you and me inside and out — better than we know ourselves. He knows about your mate and every member of your family. He knows what makes us tick, and He knows what gets us “ticked off.” So, let me reiterate by asking a question: Are you doomed in your rocky marriage or unhealthy family relationships? No. “Can God really help you?” Absolutely! So let’s keep moving.

Military problem solving always starts with identifying the problem. You can’t fix it if you don’t know the problem. Fortunately, as cited above, we know the overall problem. We are selfish, controlling, and determined to get our way. Yes, even as Christians we tend to act this way. The young couple I mentioned earlier who wound up getting divorced was no better or no worse than any other pair. But they weren’t willing to acknowledge the problem. And if you are not willing to do that, nothing changes. It’s not even win-lose. It’s lose-lose, and the devil smiles. Another marriage bites the dust.

Step one: acknowledge the problem. And if you are married, let me give you a tip. Chances are you and your spouse are both contributors to your conflict. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “No matter how thin the pancake, it still has two sides.”

Step two jumps into this thing we call submission. But before we do, do I need to spell out any more about the inevitability of conflict in life? That certainly includes marriage and family. Don’t deny it or act like it’s not happening. Even in silence, conflict can happen in your home. I recommend not only that we admit the reality of conflict, but confess as well that all of us have acted very poorly. Maybe your neighbors or your coworkers don’t know, but your spouse does. And so does your family. And so does the Lord. I want keep some of my dignity, so I won’t tell too much about conflict in our marriage or family. But just to demonstrate that I speak from personal experience about behaving very poorly during times of conflict, listen to this true story. Once during our first few months of marriage, I was having an argument with Judy about something — at this point I don’t even remember what it was. At any rate, I got the bright idea to ramp up the tension and let her know I was pretty angry. I picked up a small bottle of deodorant and proceeded to throw it through our hallway wall. Having been a pretty decent college baseball player with a strong throwing arm, penetrating through the wallboard was no problem.

Results? As best I can recall, I apologized profusely many times and made quick work of getting some spackling compound to repair the physical damage. The emotional damage I caused Judy didn’t heal so quickly. But eventually the Lord healed that as well.

Back to submission. In the episode just described, I did finally submit, but only after considerable damage had been done. I don’t recommend this approach. Rather, it would have been far better if I would have first submitted to the Lord. The power of His Word and His Holy Spirit can put the brakes on selfish thinking and reckless behavior. While Judy and I would have still have argued, it never would have escalated to the level it did. Had I simply given God a few seconds to work on my heart, He would have given me the restraint and wisdom to act in a much calmer and more reasonable fashion.

But submission to the Lord is not all. We must submit to each other — for Jesus’ sake. Husbands submit to wives. Wives submit to husbands. There can be no one-way street. God hasn’t designed relationships, especially marriage, to work that way.

This submission to your spouse starts with an act of the will. It’s a choice you make, and emotions should have nothing to do with it.

Another Fort Bragg story. It was Friday evening about 7:00 PM. The phone rang and I answered it. A young wife in one of our units was very distraught and needed to speak with me. After 2 to 3 minutes I was able to calm her down enough to get the scoop on what had happened. According to her, her husband had just finished physically roughing her up.

Remember I said earlier that every pancake has two sides. So did this one. I asked where her husband was, and to my amazement he was standing near the phone while she talked to me. I asked to speak with him. As calmly as I could, I asked him,

“Specialist, I understand you and your wife have had an argument and that you were getting a bit rough with her. Is that true?”

“Yes, sir, that is true.”

“Was there anything in particular that triggered your anger to the extent that you got physical with your wife?”

“Yes, sir. She stabbed me with her sewing scissors.”

My response: “I see. Do you guys have another phone extension so we could all talk at the same time?”

Over the course of the next 15 to 20 minutes the three of us talked. Although they were steaming mad at each other in the beginning, the longer we talked the more I sensed each was starting to soften. Both husband and wife began talking to each other in a way that was constructive. And to my amazement, each began to submit to the other in an effort to bring an end to their altercation. God was definitely at work. In a few minutes I asked if I needed to drive over to their home. Both said they would be fine and promised there would be no more violence.

Submission to each other — it works! Let me wrap this discussion up with some guidelines for dealing with conflict in marriage:

• Conflict in marriage is inevitable. Don’t be too hard on yourself thinking it can always be avoided. Besides, if handled in a godly manner, conflict resolution can lead to a stronger relationship with greater understanding.

• Solve disagreements as quickly as possible. Don’t let them drag on. Avoid letting any argument carry over to the next morning if at all feasible.

• Violence is never acceptable. Make this decision now. Vow that you will never engage in violent behavior with your spouse or any family member.

• Stick with the issues and don’t assassinate one another with words. Try to discuss the substance of the disagreement without ripping into your spouse with words. Harsh words wound and only hinder resolution.

• Giving each other the silent treatment is not acceptable. Remaining silent can actually cause greater problems. Step up to the plate and talk with each other like adults. • Control your anger. Anger unrestrained is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Remember that anger is really a demand. Ask yourself, “Is my demand reasonable?”

Actions motivated by uncontrolled anger will seldom promote good communication. Conflict in marriage is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be destructive. If you approach conflict by asking the Lord for help, and if you seek to respect your spouse no matter what, you can be victorious in every situation. Your relationship will grow and God will be honored.

Finally, remember that Satan wants your marriage to fail. As you submit to God and to each other, you will defeat him at every turn. You and your spouse can be more than conquerors! Before I conclude this discussion, please realize that conflict in marriage seems to repeat itself. You cover the same ground you’ve covered before. It can feel like being caught in a revolving door. Don’t let this stop you from trying to solve your conflict. You’re human, and all marriages experience repeating challenges that require perseverance to overcome.

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