As I work with students in college ministry, I am grieved when I see Christians upset with one another but unwilling to resolve their frustrations in the manner God has prescribed. Yet nothing gives me more joy when I see two students go directly to one another to confess, ask forgiveness, and experience restored friendship as a result.
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Jesus said peacemakers will actually be blessed (Matthew 5:9). Yet we do not naturally make peace. When we feel hurt by someone, we may respond in one of these ways:
- Avoidance: We may completely ignore the person, not making eye contact or pretending that we just don't see him or her. There may be an "elephant in the room," but it feels more comfortable to pretend the issue doesn't exist. We brush it under the rug and may even build up walls of bitterness in our hearts. Perhaps we gossip about the person who hurt us, making the issue even more dramatic. Avoidance can be driven by a fear of confrontation.
- Accusation: When we respond with accusation, we aren't afraid to address the ways we have been hurt, but we do it in a way that lacks love and grace. We are harsh and abrasive, coming at the other person with an accusatory tone. Our hearts are far from humble. We have no problem telling the other person that he was completely out of line, essentially saying, "How could you do such a thing?" There is no category for imperfection in our minds. We expect other people never to fail and are devastated when they not only fail but directly harm us in the process. Accusation is often driven by pride and anger.
Rather than giving into avoidance or accusation, Christ presents us with a better way. He has given his disciples the ministry of reconciliation as described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:18. Rather than venting to others, reconciliation means we go directly to the person, following Matthew 18:15-17. Meeting with the person one-on-one can be scary and therefore requires courage that can only come from the Lord. If we pray with sincerity about our conflict, God delights to not only give us perspective on the situation, but also the strength and courage we need to go directly to the person and resolve the issue. When we meet with the one who has wronged us, we express the ways in which we have sinned and ask for forgiveness. Although we may need to graciously and gently share how we have personally been hurt, our primary goal is reconciliation. Indeed, we forgive because Christ has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Grateful for God's canceling the debt we owe, we extend mercy to others. Peacemaking is driven by love.
I once had a roommate who made my life miserable. Her behavior and speech made me feel as though she hated the world, including me. Stomach in knots, I was filled with fear in the very place that should have been a refuge to me. I would go and work out at the gym just to get out, because there was so much tension in our apartment. Thanks to my roommate, I ended up in great shape physically. I was stronger and burned a ton of calories. But if I was honest with myself, I knew I was handling the situation poorly. Not only was I giving into the "avoidance" pattern in response to conflict, I was also developing a lot of bitterness in my heart toward her. When our lease was up and it was time for us to move out, I was more than slightly excited that I'd never have to live with her again. I may have even taken a picture of her empty room to remind myself that she was gone.
A few years passed and I rarely thought about that awful situation, except for an occasional, "I'm so thankful I don't live with her anymore!" But in my times of prayer, God began to bring my old roommate to mind. I would ask the Lord to "please reveal any area in my life that is displeasing to you," and he kept bringing her to mind. God wanted me to ask her to forgive me for ways I had not loved her well when we lived together. I thought, But she is the one who needs forgiveness! For several months he reminded me of my former roommate and called me to action. With God's strength, I finally wrote and asked for her forgiveness over ways I sinned while we lived together. To my surprise, she quickly responded with grace and ended up saying that she should be the one asking for forgiveness.
Several months later, this same old roommate asked if we could talk. She needed counsel and encouragement while going through a tough situation. I listened and tried to comfort her as she poured out her heart to me. After I hung up the phone, I thought, Wow. Now that is the power of reconciliation! All I did was write her and ask that she forgive me, and now she felt that she could be vulnerable with me—that I wouldn't condemn her when she was struggling. I am still amazed at God's faithfulness in restoring that relationship. Before pursuing peace with her, I would have not been able to look her in the eye if I ran into her somewhere. I would not have been able to smile at her with sincerity. But after the effort at peacemaking, a weight was taken off my shoulder and doors for ministry with her opened up.
I praise God for using me to bring reconciliation in even a small way. I am far from perfect, but by his grace I seek to obey God's command to "live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18). God wants every one of his children to embrace the ministry of peacemaking. This ministry is so crucial because it testifies to the validity of the gospel of Christ. Not only does peacemaking in relationships remind us of the truth of the gospel in our own lives, it also can be evangelistic. If the watching world sees Christians bickering with one another, holding grudges and gossiping about one another, they will have a hard time seeing the beauty of the gospel. If we only know how to deal with conflict through avoidance or accusation, what kind of message do we send? But if nonbelievers see Christians work through their hurts when they are wronged and ultimately respond with grace and forgiveness, they will observe the outworking of the gospel in action. Peacemaking, driven by love, is essentially living out the gospel in our relationships.