Trouble in Paradise: When Disciples Just Can’t Get Along

As the Campus Minister at a Catholic School, I have the unique opportunity of being present for all the little arguments and disagreements that happen throughout the day with the kids I minister to. Sometimes these conflicts are minor; a girl snaps at her friend, or a boy brushes past a classmate a little too quickly. Other conflicts, such as gossip, betrayal, and rejection, feel at the time to be of “major” importance to many of these kids. Often, I find myself having to mediate a conflict between two friends who are in a situation where we all know that they both should have known better.

I am still learning this art of conflict mediation, but there are a few nuggets of truth that I know may be helpful to my fellow workers in the vineyard.

 

  1. When a student comes to you with a conflict, encourage them to first try to resolve it on their own.

Give that student the tools to work it out with their friend, and go from there. Our youth culture’s obsession with screens has diminished their ability to handle a conflict face to face. Real-life drama needs to be handled in person, and your youth’s conflict with their friend is a great time to practice.

Here are some words and phrases I’ve found helpful. They may be blatantly obvious to us, but they are revolutionary to youth:

“Do you think this person might be acting out of a place of hurt?”

“Have you tried talking to the person about it?

“What happened?”

“How have you been reacting to how this person treats you?”

“When did it start?” “Does this person do this to other people?”

“If you haven’t talked to them about it yet, try pulling them aside and saying, ‘Hey, have I hurt you in some way? If I have, I’m really sorry’”.

 

  1. Make sure the student knows that gossiping about the situation with their other friends will only make the situation worse.

A conflict between two friends already causes pain. Adding others into the situation will only force their friends to choose sides, and their peers will naturally choose to hear only one side of the story. Chances are, the entire story isn’t clear without both perspectives of the people involved. Remind your youth that gossip is the #1 killer of friendships, and breeds distrust and suspicion.

If your youth say they want someone to talk to about it, point them to their parents and to prayer. Remind them that while it might be temporarily stress relieving to unload on a friend, only God comes with a peace that surpasses understanding. If your youth have a conflict with a friend, encourage them to pray about it, talk to their parents for advice, and then to approach their friend without bringing any of their other friends into the situation.

 

  1. Don’t jump to conclusions!

I have had several situations where a student has come to me and told me something bad her friend did. Each time, I’ve been tempted to think, “Wow, that person was really in the wrong, that was really horrible!” But remember that you, as the youth minister, are the advocate for BOTH youth. Remember that your student has interpreted this experience in a particular way, and that you don’t know both sides of the story. Maybe there was exaggeration, or maybe that person acted that way for a reason. Keep an open mind, while acknowledging that the person in front of you is still hurting.

 

  1. Remember that even if it doesn’t seem that big of a deal to you, it’s a big deal to them

You will have youth that come to you crying their eyes out about a problem that really isn’t a big deal. Remember that even if it’s not a big deal to you, it’s a big deal to them! Don’t affirm the student’s fears of the “gravity” of the situation, but don’t laugh it off either. Listen with compassion, and be there for them. Offer them hope.

 

  1. Know when to step in and mediate

Crucial conversations are based off a book of the same name. The idea is that you want to bring fullness to relationships. If a situation is persistent, and things aren’t getting any better, you can offer to mediate a crucial conversation.

Crucial conversations happen when an action or comment that someone made was hurtful, someone failed to do something and it hurt you, you feel someone is being hostile towards you, and to correct a misunderstanding.

Before mediating a crucial conversation, have the student that came to you to pray for the conversation. Have them ask themselves:

Am I guilty of the same thing? Am I assuming the best or the worst of them? Is it about something deeper? Is my motive to restore this relationship or to prove myself right? Am I approaching this in love? Do I need to repent for something?

Before you mediate a crucial conversation, make sure that you talk to the other person involved so that they aren’t ambushed. Some useful phrases are, “Hey, can we set aside a time for me to talk with you and your friend?” If they are aware something is wrong with the friendship, they may just share with you their side right there. Your job isn’t to tattle on the other person. Your job is to listen, and help them work it out in person.

 

  1. Mediate a crucial conversation

Carve out time for mediation. Conflicts where feelings are hurt aren’t going to be resolved in 10 minutes. Make sure mediation doesn’t happen in public! When you mediate a crucial conversation, begin in prayer.

 

Give the youth some guidelines. Here are some I’ve found helpful:

-No interrupting

-Let the person finish saying what they need to say before you respond to them

-Listen to understand, not to respond

-Be humble and open

-Don’t accuse or blame

-Take your time

 

Give the youth these 3 steps to follow when stating their perspective:

  1. When you… (said or did a SPECIFIC thing on a specific instance)
  2. I felt… (specific emotion)
  3. Because… (explanation)

 

Let the youth be the ones to talk it out. You are there to make sure we get to the end goal of understanding one another. Guide them through the steps of “When you…I felt…because” if you see that they’re starting to accuse or blame. If you’ve come to a standstill, try asking, “How do you feel about that?”

Tears are therapeutic. Let them happen if they’re going to. If someone says, “I’m sorry”, encourage the other person to say the words, “I forgive you” instead of “it’s okay”. Doing something that hurt someone is NOT okay.

Have the students end in prayer, and with a plan to make things better in the future.

Mediation isn’t meant to cure all relationship issues, so don’t expect it to. It’s a STEP towards a good relationship.

For more information on this topic, check out the book Crucial Conversations!

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Our youth are still learning how to navigate friendships, and are still learning that how they behave affects other people. Be patient with them, and continually ask God to give you the words to say. God didn’t create humanity to be best friends all the time, but He did create us to love. Hopefully these tips will help you teach your youth how to love, especially when it’s most difficult.

 

 

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