Fighting With Family | Different Perspectives
As we get started this morning, we’re going to show you a few different pictures on the screen. And, as you look at these pictures, I want you to think about the first thing that you see. Okay, here’s the first picture.
So, what do you see first in this picture? If you’re joining us online right now, you can share your answer in the comments thread on Facebook or YouTube. And if you’re joining us in-person, why don’t you raise your hand if the first thing you saw was the old woman in this picture. And, by show of hands, how many of you saw the young woman first?
Alright, let’s try another one.
When you look at this image, what do you see first? How many of you see the two faces first? And how many of you see the candelstick?
Or how about this picture?
When you look at this picture, what do you see first? How many of you see the word “liar” first? And how many of you see the face?
Okay, I’ve got one last picture to show you, and this one is actually the logo for the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Now, when you look at this picture, what do you see first? How many of you see the tree first? How many of you see the gorilla first? How many of you see the lion first? How many of you saw the birds first? How many of you saw the fish first? And how many of you think that I’m lying about there being birds or fish in this picture? Well, they’re there. The birds are at the top and the fish are at the bottom...but that’s not really the point.
So what is the point? Well, today is Mother’s Day. And since we know that we have some moms and their families joining us both in-person and online right now, it seems like today is a pretty good day to start into a series of sermons where we’ll be talking about an issue that every family faces.
So, what’s that issue? It’s conflict. Now, I know that none of us like to admit that our families aren’t perfect. None of us like to admit that our families have problems. But, whether we want to admit it or not, all families have conflict. Or, to put it another way, all families fight.
All families fight.
The truth is that some of you even had some little fights before you made it to church today. You may have argued about where to get breakfast on the way over to our campus this morning. Or you may have had to fight with your kids to get them to find their shoes. Or you may have gotten upset with your spouse because they used all the hot water before you got in the shower.
So all families fight...but not all families fight fair. So, over the next few weeks, we’re going to be looking at some of the things that keep us from fighting fair. And we’re going to be talking about these weaknesses that show up when we experience conflict, and then we’re going to look at what we can do to handle the conflict in our families - or in any other relationship - in healthier ways.
All families fight...but not all families fight fair.
But what does that have to do with the pictures that we showed you to start this sermon? Well, we showed you those pictures to illustrate one of the biggest issues that keep us from fighting fair. Now, in each of the pictures that we showed you, there was more than one thing or subject that you could’ve seen first. You could’ve seen an old woman or a young woman. You could’ve seen two faces or a candelabra. You could’ve seen a face or the word “liar”. You could’ve seen a tree, a gorilla, a lion, some fish or some birds. But no matter which picture we showed you, you saw one of those images first...but that does not mean that your way was the only way to see that picture.
And, a lot of the times when we have a conflict in our family - or in other relationships - we can only see the problem from our own perspective. So we don’t fight fair because we think there is only one way to see a problem...our way.
We don’t fight fair because we think there is only one way to see a problem...our way.
I can remember an example of this playing out right before my eyes when I managed a toy store after graduating college. It was a Saturday morning in December, and one of our employees - a guy named Clifford - was running late for his shift. And when Clifford pulled into the parking lot, it was already filled with cars...I mean it was a Saturday in December, so everyone was out doing some last-minute Christmas shopping.
But, as he drove around the parking lot trying to find a space, Clifford noticed that nearly every single car in the entire parking lot was parked incorrectly. Nearly every single car had parked outside of their designated parking lines. And he told me a little later on that day that, at first, he thought we had all somehow got together to plan this giant practical joke on him.
But, as he continued to circle the lot, desperately trying to find a spot, Clifford found himself getting more and more upset. It was bad enough that he was running late to work, but now that he got there he couldn’t find a parking spot so he didn’t know if he was actually going to make it into work at all that day. And it was all because none of the people at the mall knew how to park their cars! How could all of these people be so incompetent?
Well, eventually Clifford managed to find a spot where he could park his car. And, later in the day when things had slowed down a little bit, I heard him complaining to some of our other employees about how poorly everyone had parked.
And one of those employees looked at Clifford and said, “Well, all of those people weren’t parked the right way because of the snow.”
“What snow?” Clifford asked with a huge look of confusion on his face.
“It snowed last night, so the parking lot had a thin layer of snow on it this morning. It’s all melted now, but when I got here today you couldn’t see any of the spaces.”
So Clifford had been upset all day about how terribly everyone else had parked because he could only see the problem from his perspective. But for those of us who made it in first thing that morning, we understood how hard it was to park that day because the snow had covered all the lines.
So our inability to see another person’s perspective keeps us from fighting fair...it keeps us from having healthier conflicts. And I had to remind myself of this fact just a couple of weeks ago when my daughter, Hannah, got a little upset with me one morning while she was with me in my office.
Now, like just about everyone else in Jefferson County Public Schools, my daughter has only been going to school in-person two days a week. So she spends most of her other days with me when I’m at work. And, one morning, she was working on a math assignment where she needed to round numbers up or down. She was working on three-digit numbers and sometimes the teacher wanted her to round to the nearest ten and other times she wanted her to round to the nearest hundred.
Now, Hannah’s a very diligent student, o she wanted to make sure she was doing the assignment right. So she came over to me and asked if she was supposed to write her answer to the nearest ten or the nearest hundred. Now, Hannah wanted to know if she needed to write down two digits or three digits in her response...but that’s not what I thought she was asking. I thought she needed to know whether she was rounding to the tens or the hundreds in this problem. So, I quickly looked at the problem and told her she was supposed to round to the tens.
So Hannah only wrote down two digits in her response - and that meant that she got a few questions wrong. And she wasn’t particularly happy with me because she knew all the right answers, she just misunderstood how the teacher wanted them written down. So, I had to take a step back and apologize to my daughter that I didn’t see things from her perspective and that I misunderstood the question she had asked me.
So, if we want to have healthier relationships then we have to learn how to see from another person’s perspective.
And this is something that plays out in the passage of scripture that we’re going to be looking at this morning. The passage that we’re going to be looking at comes from the book of Acts, and the book of Acts tells us how our faith in Jesus grew and spread in the years after his resurrection. And in today’s story two men, one named Paul and the other named Silas, are in a place called Philippi sharing the good news of Jesus.
While they’re there, Paul and Silas will perform a miracle that will actually cause them to end up in jail...but that’s another story for another time. The part of the story I want to focus on is what happens next. So let’s take a look at Acts 16 together. We’ll start reading in verse 23, here’s what it says:
23b The authorities threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to secure them with great care. 24 When he received these instructions, he threw them into the innermost cell and secured their feet in stocks.
25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the open doors of the prison, he thought the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted loudly, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”
29 The jailer called for some lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He led them outside and asked, “Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.”
Acts 16:23b-31 (Common English Bible)
Okay, so in this passage, Paul and Silas are in prison. But they aren’t just in prison, they are in the innermost cell with their feet locked in stocks. And then something unimaginable happens: a violent earthquake shakes the prison to its foundation. And this earthquake causes all of the prison cells to open and everyone’s chains to come loose.
So, from Paul and Silas’ perspective, this would’ve been the perfect opportunity for them to escape. I mean, it’s the middle of the night. Their jail cell just popped open, and their chains fell off. And it’s not like they were even in jail for a good reason - they had been imprisoned for performing a miracle after all.
But Paul and Silas’ perspective isn’t the only one that we need to keep in mind when we read this story. There’s also the perspective of their jailer. And we get a window into what’s happening in his mind in verse 27. That’s where we were told that since he thought the prisoners had escaped that he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. And the jailer felt that way because it was his responsibility to watch over these prisoners and make sure that they were secure. And, if he let any of his prisoners escape, the jailer would’ve been executed for his crime.
So, if Paul and Silas had only looked at this situation through their eyes and used the aftermath of the earthquake as an opportunity to escape, Paul and Silas would’ve been the only ones who benefitted in this situation. They would’ve been free...but their jailer would’ve died. But, since they saw this situation from another perspective, Paul and Silas were able to find a win-win solution to the problem they were facing.
Paul and Silas were able to save their jailer and even lead him into a relationship with Jesus Christ. And, ultimately, Paul and Silas would still be released from prison. But this time, they didn’t have to live the rest of their lives as fugitives from the law.
So, when we face difficult situations in our relationships - when we’re fighting with our family - we can learn a valuable lesson from Paul and Silas. To fight fair we need to see the other person’s side of the story. Or to put it another way, if we want to fight fair, we have to have empathy.
If we want to fight fair, we have to have empathy.
And empathy is just a fancy way of saying that you’re able to identify with someone else’s perspective.
But how can you do that? How can you identify with someone else’s perspective? How can you be more empathetic? Well, let me give you a few tips.
The first thing you need to do to be more empathetic is to admit that your perspective isn’t the only possible perspective. It’s like the pictures we showed you at the beginning of this sermon. Just because you saw an old woman in the picture first, that doesn’t mean that that was the only image you could’ve seen. And whatever area in your life that you’re experiencing a conflict in is the same way. Just because you see the problem one way that does not mean there aren’t other ways to see that problem.
So, when you’re experiencing conflict at home - when you’re fighting with your family - take a step back and remember that your perspective isn’t the only possible perspective.
Next, listen to understand not to respond. Now, this isn’t the way that we as human beings are programmed. When we’re having a conversation our minds naturally want to think about the next thing we’re going to say instead of listening to what the other person is trying to say.
That’s what happened with me and Hannah when we had a little conflict about her math homework. I was listening to respond not to understand. I had plenty of work that I needed to get to that day so I simply wanted to answer Hannah’s question as quickly as I possibly could and then move on to the next thing on my to-do list. So I didn’t understand what she was really asking me. But, if I had slowed down and really listened to her, if I had asked her a few clarifying questions and got to the heart of the problem she was facing, we wouldn’t have got upset with each other, she wouldn’t have had to redo an assignment, and I could’ve got back to my work quicker.
So, to be more empathetic, you have to listen to understand not to respond.
And a final thing you can do that will help you be more empathetic is to practice being empathetic. I mean, this isn’t just something you need to break out when you’re in the heat of an argument. Like any other important skill, it needs to be practiced before it’s really needed. It’s kind of like learning to swim. You don’t wait to learn how to swim until your boat is sinking in the middle of the ocean. No, you learn to swim in a safe environment where you can make some mistakes before you need to use your skills in a more serious situation.
And one of the best ways to practice empathy, believe it or not, is to read fiction books, or watch movies or TV shows and then try to see the story through the perspective of different characters. So, if you want to build empathy, watch some of the Star Wars movies and try to see the story through the eyes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Or pick up a Berenstain Bears book with your kids and think about the story that unfolds from the perspective of Mama, Papa, Sister, and Brother Bear.
And by putting yourself into the shoes of these fictional characters, you’ll start opening your eyes to see the world in different ways. And then, when you need to be able to see a problem through the eyes of your children, your parents, your partner, or your friends; it’ll be a little easier to be empathetic.
And having empathy is the first step we need to take if we want to fight fair, it’s the first we need to take if we want to have healthier relationships. But it’s also only the beginning. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be talking about a few other things that we can do to have healthier conflict and to fight fair with the people we love the most. So we hope you’ll come back and join us in-person or online for those services.
But until then, work on being more empathetic. Remember there is more than one perspective to any problem. Listen to understand other people instead of responding. And practice, practice, practice. And it will help you to have better relationships.