A Necessary Cool-Off Period: How to Address Interpersonal Conflict

If you have ever been angry with someone or about something and then reacted in a way that you regretted afterward, then you can understand the importance of taking time to think things through (in observance of the wisdom of Proverbs 19:2). However, just as it is important to observe a “cool-off” period, it is equally important not to let so much time pass that the purpose of addressing the issue is diminished (Ephesians 4:26). God, the author and perfecter of time, provides a blueprint for how to address difficult issues with reasoning and accountability while still loving those He confronted. As I read through the popular bible story, commonly referred to as “The Curse,” I gleaned a few life lessons and made some interesting observations regarding how God went about addressing a difficult issue with Adam and Eve. Let’s take a closer look.

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8 NKJV)

The verses directly prior to this described the incident that created the issue God will now address in the remainder of this passage. The mention of it being the “cool of the day” allows us to understand that some time has passed and/or does the minimum of providing additional context (Note: This can also be seen as an example of what it looks like to not allow the sun to go down on your anger). Within this same verse, we are confronted with our first lesson.

Lesson #1: Don’t run from relationship/accountability.

As believers, we are called to address all disagreements with one another (Colossians 3:12-13), even to the extent of sorting out our grievances prior to bringing something new to God (Matthew 5:23-24). Essentially, God wants us to be in right relationship with one another. The only way for this to be established and maintained is for us to put aside our fear and pride so that we can address the broken relationship and work together to repair the damage and restore mutual trust. God does such a beautiful job of exhibiting what Colossians 3:12 describes as He addresses the issue between Himself and His creation:

“Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ ” (Genesis 3:9 NKJV)

Being that God is omniscient, which means that He knows everything, we can safely assume that He already knew where Adam was. So why did God ask the question? As I understand it, God was calling Adam into accountability. You may be familiar with the example of a parent asking their child what happened to a broken item found in the house or asking a teenage child where they were, when, all along, they knew the truth. Like those parents questioning their children, God is questioning Adam about his present circumstance. In doing so, God gives Adam the opportunity to speak for himself and to be honest.

Observation #1: God models a way to address interpersonal conflict in a gentle and respectful way.

While parents are authority figures in their children’s lives, they still have a responsibility to model what effective and loving communication looks like. Jumping to conclusions, even when you have an understanding of what happened, prevents the other party from expressing their intentions and addressing the outcome of their behavior on their own. To put it another way, when we jump to conclusions, we take the matter into our own hands, removing the responsibility of addressing the problem from the person who caused it, which does not benefit anyone involved. Back to the story:

Adam responded to God, saying, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10 NKJV)

When someone responds to your question, hear them out. It’s respectful. However, don’t get so caught up in their personal experience (though valid) that you miss the point of the discussion. Adam didn’t answer the question God asked him (a point of frustration, I’m sure) and instead gave an account of his personal experience, which God still used to keep the focus of the conversation on track:

“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Genesis 3:11 NKJV)

Because Adam did share his personal experience (often regarded only as an excuse), it provided an opportunity to address the issue more seamlessly (this won’t always be the case, but is quite useful when it does occur). God got straight to the heart of the matter, using what Adam mentioned to directly question his disobedience of the command God previously gave him.

Observation #2: God exhibits an even temperament, not getting distracted by irrelevant information, and directly confronts the issue.

Note: This is important if you have the tendency to fall prey to the “sob-stories” of others or succumb to any of the various forms of manipulation that some people use to deflect responsibility from themselves (i.e. gaslighting). This can be intensified when issues are addressed in the height of emotion, rather than after you have taken some time to process the situation. It’s easier to redirect a ship that is already in motion than one that is anchored.

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” 13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Now, this is the point when many people (myself included) would probably lose their cool, becoming frustrated with the “blame-game” antics and failure to accept responsibility. Yet, God allowed both Adam and Eve to say their piece. He heard them out, even after Adam tried to shift the responsibility of his headship (as the husband in his union) to God in his apparent, “well, you gave her to me, so…” response. God maintains patience as he continues down the path of accountability, unable to identify one willing to accept it. Then, He addresses each of them, according to what they have done wrong (note that He does not blame one for the other’s sin).

“So the Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, You are cursed…” (Genesis 3:14 NKJV)

Observation #3: God models the appropriate way to respond to an issue and express boundaries.

Many times, we miss the opportunity to help others learn from a mistake because of the way that we address our grievances. Using the aforementioned parenting example, telling children why they are receiving discipline, while being mindful of timing and temperament is crucial to produce effective results. Similarly, we’ve all either experienced ourselves or known someone who was scarred by an ill-timed confrontation regarding an interpersonal issue. When addressing boundary breaches, it is also important to keep these factors in mind so that the other person is able to make the connection between what happened and what you are requesting. God continues to exemplify this as he addresses Eve and then Adam.

Lesson #2: The goal of addressing interpersonal conflict is to restore balance to the relationship.

In our “call-out” culture, it can be easy to adopt the mindset that we have a right to “drag” someone, even if only for a short time, for something they have done wrong. However, when addressing other’s wrongs we are not to incriminate ourselves as we admonish them. Pride is a tricky culprit that often invades the heart of many as they point out the flaws in other’s lives. The Bible instructs us to take the “plank” out of our own eye before trying to help someone remove the “speck” from theirs (Matthew 7:3-5 NKJV).

Though not completely related to this post, I wanted to share one last thing with you. The enemy is counting on you to lose sight of the reason you were upset during the “cool-down” period. The purpose of this time frame is not to simply forget why you were angry, but rather to take the time to allow wisdom and discernment to have their say. Being swift to react in anger is considered foolish and often produces guilt and regret. However, allowing an important issue to go unaddressed is a recipe for resentment, hatred and division. These things are not of God. In order to bear God’s fruit, we need to do things God’s way. This means seeking Him in prayer with a humble heart, petitioning Him on behalf of the issue, and then responding in the way that He directs us to. This is the formula for (re)establishing right relationship with God and others.

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