The Tension: This Could Get Messy! | Midtown

The Tension: This Could Get Messy! | Midtown

February 05, 2023 • Rev. Mindie Moore

Genesis 32: 6-12 

Today we are starting a new series called Tug of War and we’re going to be exploring the role that Conflict plays in our relationships. And I want to be clear that we’re talking about ALL relationships over the next few weeks—this is not just a series for couples. And as I was thinking about relationships that experienced conflict, there were a few famous ones that came to my mind: 

Toby and Michael (SLIDE) 

Patriots and Colts (SLIDE) 

Steve Urkel and Mr. Winslow (SLIDE) 

NSYNC and Backstreet (SLIDE) 

Pepper and June (SLIDE) 

Ok, that last one isn’t that famous, but it is happening at all times in my home right now! 

I think MOST of us probably prefer WATCHING conflict to engaging with it. I’m just curious: 

How many of you like conflict?  

How many of you avoid it? 

We’ve all got different ways of approaching conflict. Some of us yell. Some of us shrink away. Some of us try to act like everything is fine but it’s NOT fine and once you realize it’s not fine, things have gotten really bad. The truth is that no matter WHO we are or HOW we do it- at some point conflict is going to happen. 

And that doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong. Sometimes we think harmony, unity, smooth sailing is the goal, but here’s the truth- 

(SLIDE) Conflict is a normal and necessary part of relationships- but many of us don’t know how to navigate it.  

And not only do some of us not know how to navigate it but we just straight up dread it. We avoid it at all costs, we get a knot in our stomach when someone says we need to talk—Maybe the worst sentence in the English language! We will do anything not to engage in conflict because it makes us so anxious. 

And here’s what I need you to know- is that if you feel that’re not alone. The possibility of conflict can cause a lot of tension for us- not just BETWEEN us but INSIDE of us. I mean, we see it in this scripture we read today.  

Jacob is about to have what feels like a big conflict with his brother and he is dreading this conversation so much that it says (SLIDE) Jacob was terrified and felt trapped.” 

Have you ever felt that way going into a hard conversation? 

Now I don’t know why YOU felt like that or have felt that way, but Jacob has a pretty good reason. Because he is about to reunite with his brother who he has majorly betrayed. Now, not all conflicts have a clear right and wrong, but this one- it's Jacob who is at fault FOR SURE! 

If you’ve never heard this story, what you need to know is that these brothers were in DEEP conflict with each other for a LONG time. Basically a LIFETIME. They had like a classic sibling rivalry growing up, where one parent favored one over the other, but as they grew older, it went from just being mom or dad’s favorite to some really high stakes. And as their dad aged, and conversations about inheritance came up- which by the way, it wasn’t much of a conversation in those days, the oldest was the heir- but it wasn’t quite that clearcut in this house. Because Jacob and Esau’s mom BLATANTLY favored Jacob. And so they tricked the dad and stole the blessing and inheritance.   

It’s not just about a blessing or a formality- it's money, it’s status, it’s identity. It’s the kind of things that when we feel like they’re threatened, set us up for some pretty fierce conflict.  

So they have this HUGE blow up and some of the last words Esau says to Jacob is that he wants to kill him. 

So this is a bad situation. And even though a decent amount of time has passed here, there’s really no reason it should go well. Except... 

It does. 

If you kept reading in this story, you’d read a story about not two brothers who get in a fistfight or start screaming at each other. This isn’t reality TV- it's a really hearfelt, repentant, tearful reunion. They meet each other’s families and it is this beautiful picture of what forgiveness can look like. 

So the question for us is- HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? How did it go so well when it should have went so poorly? 

And the biggest factor, I think, for why this conflcit went exactly opposite of what everyone would that they did their own work. 

They did their own work.  

Look, I KNOW that when we are in a conflict with someone else, we can get obsessively focused on what the OTHER person’s problem is. And I am NOT discounting that sometimes we have conflicts with people who are absolutely at fault.  

BUT- here's the tension...I might be able to NAME all your faults, I might be able to come up with a thousand different solutions for how you could be better...BUT WE CAN’T CHANGE PEOPLE. 

We can’t change people.  

We can only work on ourselves.  

And the hard truth that some of us need to realize is that (SLIDE) It’s hard for unhealthy people to have healthy relationships. 

And this is something we need to be aware of for ourselves AND for the people around us. Because if it’s true for them, it’s true for us too. And I think we have to be willing to tell the truth about where we are and what that means for the ways that we engage in conflict with each other. 

I was going through a conflict recently where I just felt STUCK. I was angry and frustrated and just felt like the whole thing was going in circles of disappointment. Maybe you’ve had a conflict like that! And as I was processing this, one of my friends suggested I go back and listen to an episode of Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us. (SLIDE- picture of Unlocking Us) 

Now, if you know me, you know that my dream some day is to be the president of the Brene Brown fan club so I was here for this advice. If you don’t know who Brene is, first of all, let me introduce you to my imaginary best friend, but also she is a social worker and researcher who looks at our relationships. Her work is SO good. 

And one of the big concepts of her work is this idea that people are doing the best that they can. In fact, In her leadership workshops, she asks people to write down the name of someone who fills them with: 



and/or resentment 

And then you know just writing that name gets people all in their feelings. But then she kind of turns the tables and proposes this scenario: You see that name. You feel those feelings about them. And then You accept that this person is doing the best they can. 

And this kind of thinking when we’re in conflict can change everything about the game. Because what it DOESN’T mean is that we just let people off the hook and avoid the hard stuff and accept bad or hurtful behavior. That’s not what this is about.  

What it’s about is the idea that we can have empathy for people and understand that we don’t have to judge them or lash out, but that we can understand what’s heathy and what’s not and set some boundaries in how we interact with people and what we expect.  

To make this really concrete, you might say- 

I know that they are doing the best that they can, and so I can’t trust them with following through on commitments that they’ve made.  

I know that they are doing the best they can, so I will remember to not share sensitive information with them because it will probably get passed around. 

I know that they are doing the best they can and I can stop expecting them to have a breakthrough- this is where they are, and it’s where they’ll probably be for awhile. So how do I show empathy and also set good boundaries while they are at this place? 

And it’s kind of how we see Jacob and Esau approach each other. They’ve known who they are and what to honestly expect. Now, we could say that this is a really negative thing and they should have assumed better. But I think what this kind of truthful reflection lets them do is come to the conflict prepared. Jacob even goes as far as to divide it all up just in case everything goes as bad as he thinks it will. 

But again- it didn’t. Because even though they had seen the worst in each other, even though they thought they knew how each one was going to react, something had happened between the last time they saw each other and that moment. These two people had healed. Who came to the conflict NOT as the person that they were assumed to be, but as the people that only God could HELP them to become.  

This story reminds me that healing is possible. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, it doesn’t mean it’s a given, it doesn’t mean it even always is GOING to happen. BUT- it is possible.  

And it takes work. It took work for Jacob to work on his character and become a different kind of person. In fact, there’s a LOT that happens for Jacob in this section of Genesis. Not only does he reconcile with his brother but he wrestles with God. This feels really symbolic for us because sometimes when we are trying to get to a place of healing, it FEELS like that’s what we’re doing. Sometimes it can wear us out, it can feel impossible. And with Jacob, His healing isn’t quick and it doesn’t come easy.but it happens. And it opens the door not just for him to be in relationship with his brother in a different way, but it lets him connect with God in a new way too.  

And we can’t forget about Esau here. I mean, Esau doesn’t get nearly enough credit in this whole narrative. We’re just like, ok, this is Jacob’s story and Esau is in the background, but hello! Esau FORGIVES Jacob! Instead of showing up ready for revenge, he comes ready to forgive. And it’s a better story because of it. 

The work is worth doing. Whether that is setting boundaries with people and accepting that we can’t change them, or even if it’s doing our OWN healing and growing, this internal work matters. And it especially matters when we’re in conflict. 

One thing I always say about spiritual work is that it’s so much more than quiet time or reading your Bible. That stuff matters, those spritiual practices matter because when we let God do spiritual, healing work in us, it never just stays inside of us. It always pours out. Healthy or unhealthy, who we are on the inside is going to make itself known in every relationship and situation we enter. And when we find ourself in something like a conflict, what is happening to us on the inside can have a direct impact on what goes down around us. 

And it’s worth doing this work because conflict doesn’t HAVE to be this big bad scary thing. Conflict can actually open up doors when we think we’re at a dead end. In fact, it’s almost like sometimes, even though we might be tempted to avoid it, (SLIDE) healthy conflict can lead to healthy relationships. It’s in that breaking, that changing, that honest hard conversation that something new can come to life.  

Have any of you heard of Kintsugi? It’s also known as “golden repair" and is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. And it’s not just about looking pretty- there's actually a really important idea undernearth the art itself. Because Kintsugi says that it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. (explain, what this leads to- Collectors became so enamored of the new art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi. 

Now I am not saying to go start conflict just see what happens. That’s called drama, don’t be that person! 

But I am saying that despite the mess, despite how HARD it can be- that conflict can lead to some beautiful things. And if we let the tension scare us away from these hard moments with the people in our lives, we might miss it. It goes back to what we talked about at the very beginning of our message- that smooth, unbroken, so called perfect might SEEM like the ideal, but there could actually be something more beautiful on the other side.  

And so the question for us today is What is God asking us to face (inner work)? Are there some conversations we’ve been avoiding (conflict we need to have)? 

What would it look like for us to be brave and let God do some healing work in us and in our relationships? 

I know that can feel scary- remember, Jacob was terrified. But I really believe that pushing through the tension is the best way to have the healthiest relationships we can.  

Let’s pray as we go into communion. 

Transition into communion- it might be a little strange to think of communion as a moment of conflict or tension, but Jesus was taking his disciples into a really difficult and strange territory