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Remember that day I wrote about? That day when the kids were arguing and I wanted to just smack them around with a few Bible verses? Yea, that day. Matthew 18 was a mama-lesson then. But since then, it’s also been a great place to bring the kids for some heart-instruction in handling conflicts. It’s not about how to win the argument; it’s about how to win your brother!
For the next little while, the Mama Marriage Counselor series is going to focus on conflict resolution. Today we’re going to start with that first verse that I was looking for in Matthew 18.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. ~Matthew 18:15
In other versions, this verse says, “If he listens, you have won your brother”. So, how do we help our kids to start a conversation about a problem with the focus on winning the other, not just winning the argument? This verse has four important components.
So, who is supposed to initiate? Who should be the first one to start a conversation when something has disrupted the relationship? I’ll give you a hint. If you’re reading this verse, the answer is, it’s you! Earlier in Matthew, Jesus says:
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. ~Matthew 5:23-24
Whether you have something against him, or he has something against you, the first step is clear: go. Even the act of going demonstrates that the relationship is important to you and that you are willing to take a risk to seek to repair the breach. Don’t sit around sulking hoping the other person will pick up on your cold glowering stares or gloomy silence. If this relationship is important to you (as relationships with siblings should be) put forth the effort to fight for it!
Hey, if someone’s wronged you, shouldn’t they know what they’ve done? Isn’t it a little ridiculous that you should have to tell them what the problem is? Remember, this isn’t about scoring points. It isn’t about getting satisfaction or coming out ahead. It’s about healing relationships. And the best way to start a healthy and helpful conversation about a wound someone has caused is to be plain and up-front about what was done and how it affected you.
Notice that the verse says “tell him his fault”. We’re not taking about making general remarks about a person’s character or tendencies. We’re talking about naming a specific incident. It’s often difficult for kids (and even adults) to know how to verbalize carefully and so a framework can be helpful. I use the same phrasing with my kids that my mother used with us:
When you [specific action] I felt [emotion]. For example, “When you laughed at my artwork, I felt hurt.”
This isn’t by any means an original idea. It doesn’t cover all that might need to be said or explained. And it doesn’t guarantee a “cheery disposition”. But it does provide a plan that can be put into place by a sibling who genuinely wants to seek reconciliation.
Though this verse actually says “gained your brother” I’ve focused on the synonym “win” used in other versions. Why? Because of the lovely related adjectival form: “winsome“. If you are going with the desire to “win” someone, how will you carry yourself? You will be “winsome”!
win-some (adj.): generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence
We’re not talking about manipulation or guile. We’re talking about a sincere and open desire to clear the air and restore unity in relationship, a simple, forthright innocence. And yet, being winsome does include a pleasing and engaging demeanor. Learning how to winsomely approach someone who has wronged you is the lesson of a lifetime. It takes experience and practice. But the verse above does include one important clue:
There may be a time when the help of another is needed. But in order to give the initial attempt the best chance, the first approach should be private. To help your children understand what this might look like, here are a few suggestions:
- Yelling is, by its very nature, not private, and it definitely isn’t winsome! In our house, the cousin of yelling is the loud wailing cry that proclaims to the whole household “I’ve been wronged!”
Proverbs 15:1 says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 15: 4 says “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
- If you aren’t ready to speak privately and winsomely, you might need to take some time alone.
Psalm 4:4 says “Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.”
- The right time to go is when you can truly say that what you most want is reconciliation, not justice, satisfaction or revenge.
Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”