The Binding Energy of Conflict
On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was deployed in combat at Hiroshima by the United States in retaliation against Japan. The Manhattan Project used nuclear fission to convert nearly 800 milligrams of matter into 16 kilotons of heat and radiation. During this project, scientists uncovered a way to do what no one had done before, to shatter the stability of an atom by interrupting the binding energy that held it together. The results were explosive.
In science-y words, binding energy is the force that holds an atom together. In certain elements, this force is all that stands between a stable atom, the building block of all matter, and an atomic weapon. Imagine a stable uranium atom simply floating around, minding its own business. Suddenly it encounters a stray neutron, eager to be friends. Some atoms can handle the addition of an extra neutron and merely form an isotope; however, uranium becomes unstable and splits. As the uranium ruptures into two smaller atoms, it also forcefully spits out neutrons that can then impale surrounding uranium atoms, causing a chain reaction of intense heat and radiation. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Conflict is not always negative
Most people see peace and conflict as two polar entities. From this view, peace is merely the absence of conflict. I see it differently. In my imagination, peace is the settling sensation experienced after two very different elements unify and transform into a new element. Conflict, therefore, is not destructive but creative in nature. The issue is not the nature of conflict, but the behavior of the combining elements, the intermingling of these two into one, that can make conflict into a positive or a negative experience. William James said it best when he wrote “whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”
In the same way, a youth program is a uranium atom. The binding energy surrounding this atom is all that stands between the youth group operating as the building block of the Christian faith, or exploding as a weapon of mass spiritual destruction. Like wandering particles, many things can disrupt the binding energy of the program. When this happens, youth, like escaping neutrons, scatter in a thousand directions, usually with great force and destruction.
Paul implored the early church to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (NASV) Because of the destructive power of a spiritual explosion, in Ephesians 4 Paul admonishes believers to be diligent to preserve the unity created by the binding energy.
The unity of the Spirit is established when two very different people come together into the Spirit of God, essentially forming a church.
Paul gives a few ways we can diligently preserve this peace.
1. Embrace Conflict
Conflict is not an outside force. Conflict is the binding force, already established by God, which holds us together, protects us, and enables us to grow. In my youth, we played a trust game where two people sat on the ground, back to back. The purpose of the game was to work together to move both participants up to a stand position. Through much laughter and fun, we discovered that it took the combined force of each of us gently pushing against each other, essentially in conflict, to achieve a standing position. Avoiding conflict is as foolish as avoiding matter. It is part of our essential reality. If we avoid conflict, we never evolve.
[bctt tweet=”Avoiding conflict is as foolish as avoiding matter. It is part of our essential reality. If we avoid conflict, we never evolve. ” username=”ys_scoop”]
2. Teach Respectful Conflict Strategies
Encourage youth leaders to train students that conflict is a given-a positive thing-and we can use it to push each other closer to Christ. Respectful conflict strategies validate the feelings of all participants and encourage respectful expressions of these feelings. When students are learning to monitor their emotions this can be a difficult process. In the end, we are there to teach them how to show patience, humility, and gentleness when engaging in conflict with others. Conflict, like hard work and exercise, is an important and positive part of life. When youth mature with this perspective on conflict, they are more likely to work towards healthy resolutions.
3. Model respectful conflict
Students imitate what they see. When they see youth leaders, and their parents, engage in unhealthy conflict patterns they will do the same. Since negative impressions tend to outlast positive, we need to repeatedly model healthy conflict. As you already know, ministry will give you plenty of opportunities to engage in conflict. Take advantage of these opportunities.
It is very true that conflict, the binding energy of a spiritual atom, must be respected; without it, great damage can be done. When we respect the binding energy and see it as a way to work together to promote heaven here on earth, we preserve the bond of peace as Jesus instructed us through Paul.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.