Praying Through Conflict
About the Guest
How do you handle conflict? Authors Joel and Nina Schmidgall want couples to know that prayer is their ally when facing marital conflict. They encourage couples to prayerfully seek the Lord for the root of their conflict and ask Him for His wisdom in solving it. Couples need to intentionally create a safe environment to bring up hard topics, and affirm each other daily.
Joel and Nina SchmidgallJoel Schmidgall is Executive Pastor of National Community Church (NCC) in Washington DC. He oversees the pastoral staff for NCC’s seven locations and pastors the Capitol Hill location. Joel founded and now serves as President of the board of the DC Dream Center, a community center committed to inspiring and equipping youth and adults to reach their God-given potential. Joel was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois. He is an unpaid marketer for all things Chicago, especially the Cubs, Mal...more
Joel and Nina Schmidgall want couples to know that prayer is their ally when facing marital conflict. They encourage couples to prayerfully seek the Lord for the root of their conflict.
Praying Through Conflict
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 22nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. When we take time and ask God to give us a vision for what is good, and true, and beautiful about each other/about our spouse, that can change virtually every dynamic about our marriage. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We are circling up this week; aren’t we?
Dave: We’re circling up.
Bob: Yes; you’ve known circles all your athletic life; because, before you run the play—
Ann: Circles and x’s.
Dave: You’re talking about x’s and o’s on the chalkboard.
Bob: —before you run the play, you’ve got the x’s and o’s; but then—
Dave: Do you want me to draw you up one right now?
Bob: I don’t! [Laughter]
Bob: Everybody gets in the huddle—
Dave: Right; circles.
Bob: —and circles up before you go out and run the play.
Dave: Yes; and it’s—honestly, think about it—that moment in that circle is ultra-important to the game; right? Yet, I always say at church: “It’s like we don’t just come to get in a circle, and pray, and sing. People come to a game to watch what you do after the circle; right? What are you going to do in the community? What are you going to do to take your faith to the streets?”
Same thing in a marriage; right? You’ve got to circle up; you’ve got to pray; but then you’ve got to live this thing out.
Bob: There are some teams that run a no-huddle offensive.
Dave: Oh, I love those teams.
Bob: But when they are running the no-huddle, they’ve had their communication ahead of time to know what’s going on; right?
Ann: And they are continually looking to the sidelines/to the coach to tell them what the play is.
Bob: We could stretch this metaphor.
Ann: We could! [Laughter]
Bob: Let’s go to a different metaphor. We’ve got Joel and Nina Schmidgall joining us on FamilyLife Today this week. Guys, welcome back.
Joel: Good to be here.
Nina: Thank you.
Bob: Joel is the Executive Director at National Community Church in Washington, DC. Nina is the head of Family Ministry at the church. In your book, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage, one of the circles you talk about is the war circle. This is how we handle conflict and how prayer comes into the midst of those clashes that happen in marriage; right?
Dave: So, what do you do? Do you just pray that you win the conflict? Is that how it works? [Laughter]
Bob: That’s how you do it!
Dave: That’s what I do. [Laughter]
Nina: That’s how the prayer usually starts; yes. No; our prayer and hope, in this particular chapter, is that, you know, couples would prayerfully seek the Lord for revelation about the true source of conflict at work in their—we know, quite often, when we are in disagreement, or we’re facing things that cause conflict, or division, or frustration—that usually what we’re navigating is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much happening under the surface.
One of our biggest hopes and prayers for the chapter is that couples would approach conflict with a holy curiosity/a true desire for the Lord to reveal to them: “What are the real things that work?” We were actually talking with one of your staff this morning about how—even as they age in marriage, or then some of the things are from work, or from family relationships are actually are still there, and even there in a new way now—as caring for older parents or parents that are aging.
Then, of course, that couples would see that conflict can be healthy—that it’s not just to be avoided. We know that it is one of the most feared things in marriage and in relationship. We know that the Lord can use those things for our full refining and development and to bring us to our best version of ourselves. So—
Ann: What does that look like for you guys?—that holy curiosity? You’re in this big fight; you don’t agree with one another. I’m not thinking, “Oh, that’s interesting—what he said”; you know? I’m thinking, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Ann: So, how do you take it from: you’re emotional and you’re in it; how are you praying through that?
Nina: Well, one thing that comes up—and this is more just anecdotally, I guess, to mention on that—is a lot of couples I know—and this is true for us, too—that if Joel is too quick to apologize, I’m like: “Err! No; you don’t even know what I’m really feeling or thinking, or what’s really at work!”
I think, sometimes, if we don’t approach things with a true desire to understand what’s really at work here: one, we miss a lot of the teaching work that the Lord wants to do in our lives/the revealing work. Two, we’re probably going to have the same conflict again later.
Joel: So, as couples you advise or that you counsel—they haven’t had a fight yet or regular conflict—that like scares me more than anything.
Joel: Wow. “You guys have something coming—a day of destiny coming”; right?
I think there is an element of conflict that reveals the depths of the person that you’re with that nothing else can. For me, I know if I am in the right place—if while Nina’s sharing her piece, I’m usually building my five-point PowerPoint response. [Laughter]
Joel: You know, I’ve got the zinger and the whole thing. [Laughter] If my natural response is a statement versus a question, that’s my personal evaluator if I know I’m truly seeking to know her/to understand her. We also talk about being a student of your spouse—
Joel: “What does that look like to truly try to understand where she’s coming from?” I think that’s the common thing in marriages and relationships—is that one of the primary things that we hear is that, “I don’t feel understood.
Joel: “Yes, I’ll be heard but not understood.”
Bob: Here is what I am hearing you guys say—and I think this is really important. In the midst of conflict, if we would all say, “Time out. What’s really going on here?”
I was sitting down with somebody recently, and we were talking about some patterns in his life/some sin patterns that were persistent. I said: “You know, we’re looking at the surface behavior; but what’s driving that? What’s fueling that? What’s behind that? Let’s not focus on, ‘How do we curb the behavior?’”—we want to get there—“but the way to curb the behavior is to figure out: ‘What’s the fuel that’s driving the behavior?’”
Dave: You know, we wrote, I think, a whole chapter in our Vertical Marriage book about a fight we had. I won’t go into the details, but it is exactly what you’re talking about; because the fight was about Ann parking in a parking spot near the front door of our church, which we don’t do. This—that’s for the guests, not for the members, and especially not for the pastor’s wife!
But what is really interesting—as we were talking about this, the thing that helped me in the middle of this fight—because when I got home from church, it was a full-on loud yelling, which we don’t do a lot. It got so loud, and we were in such angst; she/Ann left and went upstairs.
Ann: I was creating my five-point strategy—
Ann: —what I was going to say.
Joel: Come on. I bet you had more than five.
Nina: Circles and x’s.
Ann: Oh, I had many. [Laughter]
Dave: So, she goes upstairs; and I actually yell as she leaves: “You should go upstairs.” That’s how bad it was; but while she was gone, I didn’t even know what I was doing; but I did it. While she was gone, I calmed down until she was—
Ann: It was good to have space, too.
Dave: The space was important. It took me ten minutes/fifteen minutes, and I prayed. I literally prayed: “God, what am I missing? I’m obviously missing something. Help me to see what I’m missing.” I have no idea how He was going to answer that prayer. You know, I’m listening; I don’t really sense anything.
She comes downstairs. She gives this tirade of: “I do everything around here. I go to church by myself,”—blah, blah, blah, blah—she could give it to you right now. But here is what happened: as she said that, it hit me; now, I realize, “He answered the prayer right there”; because when she said that, I’m just listening. I finally asked her a question and said, “Do you feel like Kensington”—our church—“do you feel like Kensington is more important to me than you are?” All she did was nod her head. I’m like: “Thank You, Jesus. There it is.” This whole fight was never about a parking spot.
We talked earlier about, sometimes, God will speak through a person. That day, it was through my wife. I didn’t hear a, you know, different tone of voice. It was just Ann speaking. Yet, God entered the room, in a sense, and said: “Here’s the issue. Now, let’s deal with that.” That’s what you’re talking about.
Nina: Well, she didn’t say anything new; you had new ears.
Nina: The Lord gave you new ears.
Dave: Yes; now, talk about this because you mention this in your book about fighting healthy and even fighting fair.
Earlier in my marriage—and I would say I was so immature—I would have said this to Ann: “That’s not true! You shouldn’t feel that way!” Because to me, there’s like no way my job is more important; so I would have told her she is wrong to feel that. Thankfully, in that day, I’m like, “That’s the truth.” So, talk about that.
Nina: One of the things you mentioned, when she went upstairs, you said, “First, I calmed down.” That’s something they are actually teaching in our kids’ schools nowadays about your brain and about the amygdala. We’ll even say to our kids, “You’re in your amygdala right now.”
Nina: “You’re in this place where the emotions have so overtaken you that you actually can’t see.” Part of one of our prayers in the holy curiosity is: “Lord, would You allow us to step out of our biology/our amygdala?” One step in that is to calm down. In the book, we talk about these rules of engagement. Some of those have to do with: “In conflict, how do you regain control/how do you regain perspective?” That looks different for different individuals; but I think a portion of stepping way and being able to be out of your amygdala is an important part of that.
But part of the rules, you know, of engagement—or even some of the self-care rules—is: “How do you do the work ahead of time, even?” Creating a space in our marriage, where it was safe to bring things up—like, where, maybe, the conversation of: “Hey, I’m feeling kind of set aside here,” or “I’m feeling overlooked here,” could, maybe, come up in a way that, maybe, didn’t necessarily have to get to that point [of full-blown conflict].
There, for sure, will be the blow-up moments, and learning how to navigate those in a healthy way is really, really important. I, actually, so appreciated how authentic you guys were about some of those in your book of just being fair and truthful about the times when we overstep and when we say hurtful things that we, then, have to do the repair work for.
Dave: One of your rules in conflict or in the war circle is positive affirmation/positive words. I found that very powerful, even as you talked about it. I mean, I love this quote from Dick and Ruth.
Nina: —our mentors; yes.
Dave: I mean, what a quote: “No marriage can survive without affirmation. I didn’t marry Ruth to tell me what I am not. I know what I am not. I need her affirmation to remind me who I am.” It is so easy, in a conflict, to be negative. Again, we’re talking—you know, it’s easy to sit here and talk about it when you’re not in the heat of the war or the battle; but talk about that—how important words are and even positive affirmation in a conflict.
Joel: Yes; and some of it—when I think about my role, Ephesians 5 talks about: “I have a calling to present my wife unto the Lord”; right? How am I seeing in her the
Romans 4:17?—calling into existence those things that [were] not?—that’s what the Lord does. “What’s the vision God has given me for her?” and “How am I constantly calling that out and pulling it out?”
Usually, we see arguments as an affront to myself or to my pride as opposed to an opportunity for me to invest. What you [Dave] did in that conflict that you had—you actually helped her [Ann] identify—
Joel: —something that was deeply disturbing her soul. That was a beautiful moment that—well, you had to ask forgiveness; I guess.
Dave: Oh, yes. [Laughter]
Joel: But you had the wherewithal, in that moment at least, to step aside from your own issues; and you were helping her identify and see something. You know, within a marriage/within a conflict: “How are you, in an affirming way, helping the other person find who they are/understand who they are? Are you asking questions? Are you seeing things about them? Are you allowing them to process?”
When we talk about getting out the amygdala—like, when you ask questions, you just put things on a different plane. For us, we talk about controlling the environment. You know, when you’re a kid, you learn this, too. You wouldn’t ask your dad if you could go over to your friend’s house when he comes home—he’s all angry about work; he comes in, huffing in the house—you know you are not going to ask it then. You’re going to wait until the next morning, when he is feeling good about himself. He woke up; he’s got his paper—
Joel: —his coffee. That’s when you’re going to ask him; right?
We have those conflicts, you know, right as we are stressed; and we’re on our way to work. That’s when we decide to have the conflict instead of controlling our environment, where we can be in our best place to receive and to give within conflict in a healthy manner; but then second, when we’re trying to be proactive with our Sunday night time—and we come together, and we know we’re going to get into some of the dirty stuff—we always try to start in a positive place: “Let’s force ourselves to affirm one another.”
Joel: You know: “What did we see in that person? What do we appreciate throughout the week that we saw?” That’s a foundational reminder that we’re committed to each other; we’re loving one another even in the midst of conflict. That lays the—
Ann: You don’t feel like, as you’re doing that walk, you don’t feel like: “Yes; yes; yes. You’re just saying this. Now, you’re going to hit me something hard”? You don’t feel that? This has become a pattern of trust—is what I am hearing.
Joel: Yes; and we can get there; can’t we though? Like, sometimes, it’s like, “Oh, you’re just going to say that so now you can slap me.”
Bob: “What are you buttering me up for here?” [Laughter]
Nina: Well, and it’s a discipline that every Sunday night walk can’t be going to the hard stuff. I think being intentional to make sure that that’s not always the case. But maybe, I’m just so hungry for words of affirmation that I am willing to receive it. [Laughter]
Ann: It feels so good; yes.
Nina: “That feels so good. You can just bring it anyway!” [Laughter]
Ann: You trust each other that you are speaking truth in love to each other.
Bob: Some of that has to do with how we affirm one another.
Bob: I mean, if all you’re doing is going through the motions, as a husband, and saying, “You know, yes; I appreciate the fact that you did this, and this, and this,”—and it’s the same thing every Sunday night—
Ann: Yes; “You’re a good mom.”
Bob: —after a while, it’s like, “Okay; let’s get past this, and let’s get real”; but if you stop and you go, “Here’s what happened this week that I just want to say, again, ‘I appreciate this.’”
Ann: Yes; “Thanks for doing this.
Ann: “It meant a lot.”
Bob: Yes; get specific.
Ann: Get specific.
Bob: Get specific in those words of affirmation.
Joel: Yes; so good.
Bob: Now, there is a little more sincerity there.
Joel: I do think, like, we are called—all of us are called to be prophets to our spouse to see in them what they can’t see for themselves. So, in Mark 8, when the blind man comes to Christ—and it’s that fun miracle, where Jesus takes him out, and then He spits on his eyes and put His hands. Then he looks around, and he sees trees walking around. Then He’s got to touch him again for the full miracle.
I think, for a lot of us, we have a sense of generally some good things about them. It’s kind of that trees walking around—
Joel: —like, “I can see”; but we don’t have a true vision for our spouse or for our marriage. I think, in prayer,—
Joel: —God gives us a vision. I’m saying like, “What’s your vision for her that she might not even have about for herself?” I think that was a transformative thing. A long time into our marriage, where I didn’t have a vision over my wife, and I didn’t see things that she didn’t see. It was like: “Making small, little observations is nice; but God, Almighty, grant me to see as You see in Nina, and to pull those things out that You have put in her that I can help foster, and pastor, and be a prophet to.”
So, when we talk about affirmation, let’s talk about more than just, “Oh, that was nice when you brought me coffee in the morning.”
Bob: That’s a good word.
Joel: No; what has the Almighty said to you about your spouse?
Dave: It’s interesting—my son, Cody, was preaching last year; and he made this statement—and yes; I know where he got it from—he had to get it from me; but no, I’ve never thought like this—I just remember writing it down. He said just what you said, Joel; he said, “When you see your spouse the way God sees her or him, you will speak to your spouse the way God speaks.” It was words of affirmation. His point was: “It’s all about vision. It’s being able to see it.”
It’s interesting—in my center drawer in my office at home, I have a little spot where I have these cards that Detroit Lions players, or friends, or my wife have written me words of affirmation. I don’t have any anniversary cards or love cards; they are all in the trash. I’ve gotten those every anniversary from Ann; but I don’t remember them: “Oh, I love you. Happy Anniversary.” “Thanks”; click; gone.
But these specific cards from men or from Ann that say: “Here is what I see in you…” and “I love this about you…”—it’s like—“Whoa!” It’s like, “Why are they in a desk drawer?”—because they matter! That’s important in a marriage—to say that, out loud, to one another.
Ann: I think this is huge because there is an enemy of our soul/an enemy of our marriage—that he wants us to live in isolation. So often, when we get married and we hit that reality phase, we start seeing the negative; we think the negative; we start speaking the negative. All we can see are the bad things or the ways that our spouse isn’t meeting our needs. The enemy just gets us in this cycle of the negative.
Whereas, God is continually pointing out the good, like: “Are you noticing this and this?” We become self-consumed: “They are not doing this,” “They are not doing this”; but when Jesus gets a hold of us—when we go to Him in prayer and ask that/we pray that—“Father, will You show me my husband and what You delight in him?” Then we start thinking about it; we start speaking about it. That’s transformative in our families and our kids.
Nina: I’m so glad you said that, because I do think so much of this work starts with our thought life. The Scriptures, of course, have so much to say about the importance of discipling our thought life, particularly, as women. We have very well-developed inner-narrative. That train can start to develop and run away a little bit and take us to a place we don’t necessarily want to go.
I came up with a prompt question, early on, for myself; and I still use it now. I’ve actually shared it with girlfriends in my life. When I start fussing about anything, they’ll actually echo it back to me. I ask the question: “What do I know to be true?” I ask that in my prayer life with the Lord when I’m starting to—the frustration’s building. That has to do with self-talk also; but: “What do I know to be true?”
When my mind will start to run the way of: “Joel hasn’t done this or done that,” or “I’m having to do all this with the kids,” or “He hasn’t ever asked me”—whatever—is when I say, “What do I know to be true?” I can meditate/discipline the thoughts on: “I know that our family is his first priority,” “I know that he is an incredible dad,” “I know that…” and to really feel/rewrite the narrative with the real perspective/with the real things that are true.
Then, therefore, when I’m stepping into those places—when we come into the situations, where we’re stepping on each other’s toes, or not doing right by one another—you’re coming at it from a place with true understanding.
Dave: It would be so cool—you think about Proverbs 18:21—I’m guessing you know that one—but it says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”
Dave: I know we’re talking about conflict here; but in the middle of conflict, it can be death; we can speak death. What would it be like if the marriages in our homes were places where people heard words of life?
Dave: Our kids would run home. Our spouses would get out of work early because we run to life. I mean, if anything happened as a result of today’s broadcast, it would be: “Wow! What would it be like tonight/today—speak life?”
Nina: Yes; and you may not be able to change anything else about your marriage relationship, or your work situation, or whichever; but if you can start speaking life, your kids will be drawn into you; your spouse will be drawn into you—the Lord will use it.
Bob: For me, the takeaway is: “In the next conflict, to say, “Lord, what’s really going on here?” Not just for me to try to diagnose it; but for me to say, “Lord, I need”—
Nina: —“reveal it.”
Bob: —“I need insight; I need wisdom—
Bob: —“that’s beyond myself.”
Bob: “Lord, what is going on here that has presented itself in parking lot issues when those aren’t the real issues? What’s below the surface there?”
Dave: Be ready for God to say, “It’s you.” [Laughter]
Dave: I thought it was her; “No; it’s you.”
Ann: My takeaway, which I think is brilliant, is: “If I am in a conflict, ask the question—don’t make the statement—just asking a question.” That’s a wise, simple truth.
Bob: Yes; what you guys have done in the book, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage, is you’ve taken important areas of the marriage relationship—having a vision for your marriage; “How do we deal with conflict?” “What about romance and intimacy?” “What about the way we partner together and the dance of marriage?” “What do we do to support one another?” “How do we prepare for the hard times that are inevitably going to come?” and “How do we have a focus on the legacy of our marriage?” Then, with those areas identified, “Now, how does prayer become the foundation to help each of those areas be what God wants it to be?”
Thank you guys for the work on the book. Thanks for being here with us this week, and we appreciate it.
Nina: Thank you.
Joel: Great to be here. Thank you guys.
Bob: The book we’ve been talking about this week is called Praying Circles Around Your Marriage. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Our number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Ask for the book, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage.
Now, we want to ask you to be in prayer for thousands of couples who are joining us this weekend for one of our biggest Weekend to Remember® weekends of the year. There are going to be couples at marriage conferences in the Chesapeake Bay; in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Hartford, Connecticut; in Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento, California; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego; and in Albany, New York. Would you be in prayer for these couples as they gather to spend a weekend focusing on their marriage?
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We hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk with Dennis and Barbara Rainey. The Raineys are back to join us to talk about how to make the most out of the Christmas season for your family. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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