SLOW DOWN! A practical key to conflict resolution
by David A. Shaffer, D.Min.
Director of Son Shine Ministries
When I was in high school our family lived out in the country, and we sometimes had campfires, which I enjoyed. One evening a quick rain shower literally dampened our plans. I struggled to light the fire, and rather than patiently wait for things to dry or adjust plans, I looked for an instant solution. This led me to a 5-gallon gas tank. I soaked the entire pile of wood with gas and lit a match. Immediately, a dramatic fireball went up and out, causing me to fall backwards. My eyebrows were singed along with much of my hair. I was shocked and fortunate.
Relationships have similarities with my ill-fated story. When things don’t turn out as planned—when conflict arises—it is natural to react in the moment. The last thing we may feel like doing is to step back patiently. Solomon wrote nearly 3,000 years ago that “A hot-tempered person stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Proverbs 15:18, nasb). Reacting with anger is throwing a match onto gasoline-soaked logs.
Solomon recognized that conflict is a natural part of life. Serious conflict is not to be merely ignored or forgotten; it is to be resolved. Solomon certainly understood relationships, knowing how differences in priorities could create disputes. As a master diplomat, he wisely dealt with international leaders and had to work through various backgrounds, cultures, and worldviews. Additionally, he would have known, like we all do, mankind’s selfishness and how it distorts our perspective.
Disagreements can quickly intensify, and Solomon identifies that a “hothead” thrives on disagreements and disputes, perhaps seeking to take control through intimidation or trying to prevent others from taking control themselves. This unrighteous behavior is equated with evil, and Solomon certainly did not want people to behave this way during his peaceful monarchy. But what would we have in common with such a person? While we may not be known for being hot-tempered, the reality is that we all probably have our triggers—those scenarios that cause our anger to rise quickly. We have the potential and perhaps experience of being quick to anger. This is as much a problem today as it was in the 10th century BC! We have all noticed increased conflict in our nation recently. So often healthy debate has been tossed aside, and near-tribal factions vehemently attack their opponents. A large portion of our work in Son Shine Ministries involves marriage ministry, and we have seen a rise in conflict, especially during the last eighteen months. In your churches and ministries, you engage with many who are stressed, hurting, and depressed. No one is immune from a potential conflict flareup.
Fortunately, Solomon leads quickly to the solution in the second half of verse 18 – “But the slow to anger calms a dispute.” Those who patiently manage their anger bring about peace. While hotheads instigate and intensify disagreements, the person who responds (rather than reacts) brings peace. Being slow to anger provides the atmosphere in which conflict may be resolved. It provides the time to hear both perspectives, to consider who is impacted the most, to discuss compromises when appropriate, and to build consensus. The verse describes a peacemaker—the valued and courageous role of one who is willing to walk into a battle to make peace, not a passive pushover. This type of person “fights” for peace. Solomon desired people to be this way. Consider his words in Proverbs 16:32 (nasb): “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules his spirit, than one who captures a city.” To Solomon, a peacemaker—one who was slow to anger—was greater than a man who could defeat a city single-handedly—this from Israel’s king who maintained peace for nearly forty years while maintaining a formidable army. The slow-to-anger resolve conflict. They recognize that God is sovereign, and they release their control to him. They realize that nothing knocks him off his throne or takes him by surprise. He can be completely trusted. This produces not merely the appearance of calm but genuine inner peace during conflict.
My wife, Daniele, and I, like everyone other couple, have had to work on this in our marriage. It is especially easy to react with those closest to us, a sad reality when we recognize those relationships are the ones we value most. Taking a moment to step back when conflict arises (instead of stepping forward into combat) can make a big difference. As odd as this may sound, it may be helpful to literally take a step back when you feel ready to react. For me, this is a physical and practical reminder of a commitment I have made to the Lord and my wife. Slowing down can keep things from exploding, allowing us to remember that our spouse is our partner, that we are on the same side. “Human marriage has always been intended by God to serve as a prophetic whisper of the eternal marriage.”* As Christian marriage represents the relationship that is possible between Christ and people (cf. Ephesians 5:32), how we handle conflict matters. And sometimes the best way forward begins with taking a step back.
*Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (Whe