Self-Control in the Midst of Conflict

Author: David Wilber

Can you recall times in your life when you’ve lost control of your emotions? Perhaps it happens more often than you’d like to admit. We’ve all had heated moments where we’ve reacted out of anger or pain, often provoking others and dragging out arguments. What guidance do the Scriptures give us in these situations?

In the book of Genesis, we read about Jacob’s son, Joseph. Joseph was a passionate young man who was given amazing dreams by God. In his excitement and immaturity, he shared these dreams with his brothers who were already annoyed with and jealous of Joseph because he was their father’s favorite son. Their hatred of Joseph eventually reached the point where they decided to get rid of him. They pushed him down a pit, sold him into slavery, and convinced their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph was taken to Egypt where he was later falsely accused of a crime and thrown into prison.

While Joseph faced many trials and tribulations—betrayal, loss, being lied about, etc.—God used those difficult situations to bring Joseph to the place where he could be used to accomplish God’s will. Through a series of miraculous events in prison, Joseph was given the opportunity to directly connect with the Pharaoh. And through that contact, Joseph was given authority over all of Egypt. While God orchestrated these events to bring Joseph to this place, these events also served to help Joseph grow in maturity and wisdom.

After several years, a famine had spread over all the land. And once again, God orchestrated this event for His purposes. This famine caused Jacob to send Joseph’s brothers to buy grain from Egypt, and there they encountered Joseph. But, after so many years, they didn’t recognize him. Not yet revealing his true identity to his brothers, Joseph ordered them to bring Benjamin—Joseph’s full brother, the only other son of his mother Rachel—to Egypt. When they arrived again with Benjamin, Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion:

And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” (Genesis 43:29-31)

Can you imagine the flood of emotions Joseph must have felt in this moment? Reconnecting with his family likely brought about immense joy mixed with anger and the ache of betrayal. He was glad to see them, but he most likely still dealt with painful memories of being hated and abandoned. Noticing that he was getting overwhelmed, and not wanting to ruin this chance to reconcile with his family, he excused himself so that he could find “a place to weep.” Indeed, he didn’t ignore or suppress his emotions as if they didn’t matter. He simply chose not to be mastered by them. After removing himself from the situation until he could regain control of his emotions, Joseph was able to return to the company of his brothers without causing any drama.

We’ve all been in sensitive situations where emotions were running high. The lesson here is not that we should bottle our feelings, which certainly wouldn’t be healthy or biblical. Rather, we ought to ask God to help us recognize when we’re about to be pushed beyond what we can handle emotionally. And in those heated moments, when we feel like we are about to fall off the edge, we are to practice self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). A practical way we can do that is to do what Joseph did—that is, step away from the situation for a short time. After we vent, weep, pray, or do whatever we have to do in private to regain control, we can then return to resolve the conflict peacefully.

So next time you find yourself in a heated argument or some other conflict, as you recognize that you’re about to lose control, step away. Go into another room. Take a deep breath and trust the Lord to help you. And then come back when you can address the situation with wisdom and shalom.

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