No Power Over You

By Catiana Nak Kheiyn

I admit I don't like being disliked by anyone. I'm a people pleaser. I like to get along with others and play nice. Days of energy have been wasted in trying to resolve unresolvable conflicts. One of my beloved friends is often upset for some reason or another, and this clash is a frequent thorn in my side. I confess I can't stand unresolved conflict. It eats at my spirit like a nibbling little beast full of spikes and fangs.

Jesus makes it very clear that conflict resolution is important (Matthew 18:15-17). Paul reiterates this in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We have a responsibility to put others before ourselves. However possible, or seemingly impossible, we should strive to live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18).

Easier said than done, right? How often do we face arguments or issues with others and determine that if only we could say enough of the right things, we could make them understand or change to what is "right"? How often have we pleaded with a friend to change his or her perception of the situation...or of us? We fight to change others' attitudes and their emotions. I've attempted to do this with my friend, but eventually problems resurface. How do I know if I've been successful if she isn't happy in the end? How do I measure if the conflict is resolved?

We try so hard to make people feel; sometimes we'll do anything to change them. But only the Holy Spirit has the ability to change a heart (John 14:26). God has granted freedom for us to make our own choices—whether digging ourselves a metaphorical grave or climbing out of it. Who am I to think I can make anyone choose anything?

Even during conflict resolution, it is vital to accept that we have no actual power over the way people respond. Even if I follow Ephesians 4:29 whenever I speak to my friend, I cannot make her forgive me or be joyful or feel anything at all. I can't even make her dislike me. No matter what I do, I cannot affect her emotional choices without her having something to do with it. She must decide if she'll be angry or joyful, bitter or glad, condemning or compassionate. Galatians 6:5 says "we are each responsible for our own conduct" (NLT). What my beloved friend feels is completely up to her—not me.

We human beings might be able to influence each other, yes, but the ultimate responsibility of reaction to action is up to the individual. The only person we can even attempt to control is ourselves, and even that can prove to be extremely difficult. Paul admits the struggle of every heart in Romans 7: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me" (v. 15-17). If we can't even control ourselves, how can we claim to ever control another person?

On the flipside, when someone else offends us through actions or words, we have a decision to make: either wallow in woundedness or forgive, learn, and move on. The choice is ours. Do we dwell on that anger through the night, allowing the enemy to take control? Or do we cast off bitterness, wrath, and malice, giving control back to God (Ephesians 4:31)? We may be lured and enticed by our own desires for revenge and justice, but that way only leads to discontent (James 1:14-15).

Okay, that's not easy either. Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:43–48), but those who oppose us are so unlovable sometimes. We try to stop ourselves from being angry, but it happens anyway. We do things we shouldn't, say things we shouldn't. The tongue "is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8). Ephesians 4:26-27 advises, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." Romans 12:21 says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Still not a pleasant or comfortable task, but no one said it would be easy (John 16:33). Even though I have let go of ever "changing" my beloved friend, I still struggle with the knowledge that I can do nothing to make her happy. My job is to love her as God loves her (1 John 4:7) and forgive her as Christ has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32). End of story.

Changing a heart? Impossible for a mere mortal like me. I leave that to the capable hands of the Holy Spirit. Loving someone unlovable? Difficult, yes, but with God at my side, I think I'm up for the challenge.

Image Credit: Kate Ter Haar; "In summer, the song sings itself."; Creative Commons

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Published 11-7-12