Have you ever been a part of a toxic environment? The kind that is full of fighting, gossip, anger, and backbiting? It could be a workplace, a team, or even your home. We have all experienced them. These types of places seem to pull people in and wrap them up in drama.
When we are surrounded by unhealthy behavior it is very easy to be sucked right into it. It is also easy to blame our own behavior on the situation, the environment, or the actions of others. This kind of thinking is exactly what James addresses when he writes to the early church. In chapter 4, James begins with this question, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” Then he gives an answer that probably surprised his readers, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrongly, to spend it on your own passions.” -James 4:1-3 ESV
How do you react when you find yourself in the middle of negativity or conflict? Do you run away? Do you blame others? Do you blow up? Or do you solve it?
James makes it really clear, when you are involved in fighting and quarreling it is a reflection of what is going on inside you. In other words, you cannot blame the conflict on anyone else. If you are personally engaged in the fight, it is because you are personally unhealthy. It is much easier to find someone to blame, but our strong reactions, pointed words, and rude behavior are not present because of what someone else has done or said.
As a teenager, I remember hearing my pastor explain that our reactions are solely our responsibility. No one can provoke any behavior out of me that I am not in control of. He compared it to an orange. If you squeeze an orange what will come out? Only orange juice because that is what is already inside. When life “squeezes” you, or the people in your life “squeeze” you, that will only produce what is already inside of you.
In college, one of my jobs was in what I would consider a toxic environment. People didn’t trust each other, in fact, at one point the board fired the director. It seemed everyone had something to say and most of it was very negative. I found all too quickly I would get pulled into the talk about who said what and who did what. But in the middle of all of this, I remember one lady who stood out. She always had kinds words to say. I never heard her slander anyone or join in the chatter. To this day, anytime I think of positive speech, she is one of the first people that comes to mind. Despite the negative surroundings, she was able to remain positive and joyful. Why? I believe it was because her heart was right. Inside she was full of God so that is what overflowed from her life.
Next time you find yourself engrossed in conflict, take some time to check your heart. Use James 4 as a guide to ask a few questions, such as:
● What is my motivation for engaging in this argument?
● Why is this bothering me so much?
● What unrealistic expectations do I have?
● Why do I have so much to say about this?
● What is it that I want to gain out of this situation?
● Is there anything on my mind that I need to bring to God?
● What is shaping my negative thinking?
● What can I learn about myself through this?
● How can I grow closer to God through this?
If you keep reading in James 4, James gives us some encouragement, “[God] gives more grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” -James 4:6-7 When you find yourself involved in conflict don’t look around you. Instead, even though it might be painful, look inside your heart and look up to God for healing. When you do, you will find that God is full of grace. He will bring healing. And He will give you the strength to overcome.