I listened to Nancy Ortberg at the Catalyst Labs in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Her workshop was titled “Authentic Leadership” and was good, but one sentence became defining for me this past week. “Conflict is the only way to intimacy.” I was intrigued by it at the time, but it has come to embody so much of what we have been through for nine years.

I am not drawn to categorical statements like this one. I tend to see things in shades of gray rather than black and white. “Conflict can’t be the only way to intimacy,” I thought, there must be some other paths. There may be, but we experienced the power of conflict in a leadership meeting last week and it did bring us to the place of intimacy. And there are other applications as well.

The first and most obvious reality here is that the determinate conflict of the cross produced the ultimate opportunity for intimacy for the entire human race- any who will respond. The battle raged in the twisted and bloodied body of the Savior and broke a course for us to enjoy the real and awesome, intimate and personal presence of the Father.

Likewise, a birthing mother emerges from the grueling battle to tenderly embrace the little one in the epitomic act of intimacy. Without her struggle there would be stillbirth. Her conflict forces life out of her and into the child. We pray for her in the struggle, and celebrate with her in motherhood.

I am testing this truth in other places too. As I enter the conflict of my 50th winter, with all it’s winds and bitterness, I do so anticipating the tender quiet walks in the warming spring air that will inevitably be possible on the other side. The conflict helps me appreciate the peace and growth that will surely come.

In our leadership meeting last week we were reviewing a recent conflict that ended with the departure of one family. I had not the slightest idea how the meeting would develop, but simply trusted God to lead us. There were some extremely tense moments, and the Lord had to prophetically intervene, but the conclusion was tears and revelation that had the effect of creating a new intimacy among us. I was exhausted at the conclusion, kind of like giving birth.

Our church is located in an old coal mining culture that has made an art out of conflict. Our church family has been through some major battles in the past 25 years, and some casualties have fallen. Having weathered some conflicts here myself in the past nine years I have wondered if anything good can ever come from the splits and quarrels that have sometimes divided us. Now I have some hope that we can transition into a culture of peace and close relationship, modeled by our leadership, if we will learn to allow the conflict to create intimacy.

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