Resolving Conflicts of Purpose
What happens when a vacationing family prays for sunshine while a farming family is praying for rain? What about when two charities are vying for the same patron? Or when a young lawyer is torn between staying late at the office to make partner and getting home in time to help his children with their homework? The answer for these examples and many like them is that a conflict of PURPOSE arises. In addressing the sources of conflict, we have already covered two of the four: Power and Preservation. The third is equally important. If you believe that life is more than just chance, that you are here for a reason, then you will acknowledge that your life has purpose: an overarching purpose (to love one another, to glorify God…), a contextual purpose (as a spouse, member of a church, worker, parent, friend, etc.), and a pragmatic or immediate purpose (pick up the kids from soccer practice, pay bills, handle crises…). We engage in conflict when one purpose appears to oppose another. This happens on two planes: 1. when an immediate purpose collides with an overarching purpose and 2. when our contextual purposes pull us in different directions.
Example 1: Your friend really wants you to spend the night out with her to celebrate her birthday (Immediate purpose: celebrate, make a memory, encourage your friend), but you have a deadline at the office the next day which could jeopardize your job if not completed (overarching purpose: provide for your family, maintain stability emotionally and socially). So which do you chose?
Example 2: Your church is in the middle of a fundraising campaign for an orphanage in Sudan. Because of your business experience, they would really like you to help out. Unfortunately, you’d be spending a lot of late nights trying to do event planning. You know it would be a strain on your marriage and kids, but it’s for God and the orphans, right? What do you do? (Contextual purposes: Parent and Spouse vs. Minister and Philanthropist)
Let’s face it. You may think you have an easy solution for the two scenarios above, but I guarantee you that real life gets very complicated. Whenever you find yourself asking the question, “What should I do here?” you are questioning your purpose. Let me give you a few tips as you struggle with the subsequent conflict:
1. Put Your Purpose on Paper – When you write a mission statement, you are essentially asking, “Why do I exist?” Can you articulate it in a sentence or two? How does this overarching purpose trickle down to your contextual and pragmatic purposes each day? Writing out a mission statement for your life can help bring clarity to the choices you make on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. You will be far more equipped to avoid unnecessary conflict and overcome the unavoidable conflict in your life if you have something tangible to which you can refer. There are two important questions to ask when writing your mission statement: 1. Who do I want to be? and 2. What do I want to do? Remember, that your purpose is essentially relational, so in writing a mission statement it is helpful to use your context to guide you: 1. Who do I want to be in relation to God, my family, my friends, my coworkers and boss? and 2. What do I want to do as a creation of God, a member of my family, a friend, coworker etc? When conflict arises, ask yourself how well you are living up to whom you want to be and what you want to do as outlined.
2. Clear away the Clutter – What are you willing to give up in pursuit of your purpose? Conflict of purpose is about making sacrifices and drawing boundaries. As a finite individual, you must choose what you will do and not do. This will inevitably (and usually temporarily) hurt others in your life who would like you to do or to be what they want you to do or be. It takes a certain resolve to stand up to these challenges, staying single-minded and entering commitments and obligations with eyes open and counting the cost. My rule of thumb is “When in doubt, think it over.” Don’t say yes or no unless you are willing to “let your yes be yes and your no be no!” (Matthew 5:37)
3. Clarify Expectations – No one can cover every angle, but as a rule, clarify the expectations of those whose purpose you choose to fulfill. Try to have the facts before making commitments. Don’t be afraid to clarify expectations along the way. It can also be helpful to set a time limit to reevaluate your circumstances. Once you have committed, give the task your all and see it to completion. Trust that God led you to this place with the knowledge you had at the time and He will give you the strength to see it through. If you feel discouraged, share those feelings with someone you can trust, someone who will empower you to keep moving forward.
4. Maximize through Compromise – When our purposes conflict, compromise can help align our goals. Compromise is not a dirty word. There is more “gray” to life than you might think. If you are willing to compromise when appropriate, then people will respect you more during those times when you must take a stand and refuse to back down.
5. Concede to the Higher Purpose – When you face a conflict of Purpose that cannot be resolved through the above means, always concede to the higher purpose. As a kid, my dad had a saying. “If your friends want you to do something with which you don’t feel comfortable, feel free to blame me!” Essentially, he was saying, your purpose as a son supersedes your purpose as a friend. As adults, we too, need a higher purpose to “blame” for the choices we make. Others may not agree with the decision, but they will understand if we live out our choices with integrity, submitting to our ultimate purpose of glorifying God.
Question: What conflicts of purpose are you experiencing? What tough decisions have you had to make and what was the outcome?