Peacemaking takes practice… I was teaching some peacemaking principles to some primary-school age kids recently, and we went through an imaginary scenario where two kids were fighting about something. We talked about their responses – blaming each other and getting into a physical fight. We then discussed what some other responses might be and the kids really got it. They said some options might be to try and talk about why they were upset (peacemaking). Thinking about what they might contributed to the problem (getting the log out). And if they couldn’t do that, they could ask a teacher or other adult for help (mediation).
Next, I asked them to get into groups and role-play a better way of working out the conflict. But when it came to putting it into practice, they forgot all about the ideas they came up with! All the groups acted out the conflict, and then just shook hands and ‘made up’. This was without talking about the problem at all or owning their own contribution. I felt like my lesson was a big failure, but it taught me something very important – peacemaking takes practice!
We all follow our natural instincts or habits we’ve built over the years
When it comes to actually resolving conflict, we all follow our natural instincts or habits we’ve built over the years. This article’s principle: ‘Go and Be Reconciled’. This is summarised helpfully in the Peacemaking Principles brochure. It says,
“Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation…”
Often as believers, we think we should just ‘shake hands and make up’, without addressing any of the real issues. After all this is scary and uncomfortable. But this doesn’t lead to real peace. It may lead to ongoing feelings of resentment and distance in the relationship, meaning we might just let the relationship wither. This would be sad and will not lead to God’s glory. Rather we need to do the hard work of searching our own hearts as well as gently restoring others, before we can ‘go and be reconciled.’
Secondly, sometimes we can think reconciling with others is just giving in to what the other person wants. As the often repeated phrase goes, a husband should just learn to say to his wife, ‘Yes, Dear…’ This may be good advice sometimes, as there are often things we argue about which are so small that we can easily overlook them. But as a general rule, apart from being a somewhat outdated and perhaps sexist phrase, this is not helpful advice.
As the peacemaking principles brochure goes on to say,
“… forgiving others as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences…”
True peacemaking will create an atmosphere of mutual openness and love
True peacemaking will create an atmosphere of mutual openness and love where people are keen to serve each other and find ways forward which is better for both parties. As believers we should be growing more and more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul says we should value others above ourselves,
“not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:4
Simply compromising to what the other person wants doesn’t help them grow to be more like Christ. It also doesn’t help us practise seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences.
A number of conflict management programs teach useful communication and negotiation skills. However, because the source of much on-going conflict is not having our deepest desires met, these strategies are limited in their helpfulness. Deep and lasting personal change, which leads to true inner peace, can only occur when we understand and believe the gospel. That because we are fully accepted, loved and forgiven by God through Jesus, we can choose to accept, love and forgive others and work with them to resolve our differences.
What I’ve learned over the years is that I don’t do conflict well naturally. Often when I am in conflict, I actually forget how God has treated me. So I respond to others according to my selfishly formed habits. We need to continually ask God to remind us of his acceptance, love and forgiveness, and so help us choose to respond in like manner in a world full of conflict. As with most things in life, you can’t get better at real peacemaking without God’s perspective and putting in a lot of hard work and practice!
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2