Today, a good friend shared something that sent my mind tumbling in a good way. It was a definition of peacemaking. Here’s what it says.
Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It’s the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.
If there was ever a better definition, I don’t know of it. The whole definition is great, but the parts that stuck out to me are the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, and the phrase arduous pursuit. Let me share some bits of a journey that I’ve been on over the past year.
About a year ago I was asked to help a family out with some internal conflict; to basically mediate for them. Everyone in this situation loves Jesus and has been born again into his family, so everyone wants to do this Biblically. I had some reservations about my ability to remain objective because I know everyone in this situation, but all parties agreed that I was the person they wanted… and at that moment, it was one of the few things on which they could agree. So I agreed to help.
Meetings happened. Conversations happened. One on one counseling happened. One on many counseling happened. And as with a lot of reconciliation stories, there was a lot of one step forward, two steps back that happened. And a year later, there’s some good fruit starting to blossom.
A year? You heard me: a year. Now when I began this journey, I expected a much shorter timeframe in the beginning, but the deeper we went, the more it became apparent that this wouldn’t be fixed in three months. Then three months passed and I began to think this might be done in six months. Then six months passed, and I basically told myself, I have no idea how long this is going to take.
The moment I accepted that reconciliation can’t be saddled with a timeframe of my choosing, a huge burden lifted from my soul. It was then that the bitterness that I felt building in my heart toward all parties in this situation evaporated. I was getting bitter because I didn’t feel like they were listening. But really my bitterness was being fed by my own insistence that they get on board with what I felt like was an acceptable timeframe for healing. And don’t misunderstand: I loved them the whole way, even as I was becoming a little begrudged, and I still love them. It’s a complex relationship between the mediator and the mediated.
So what does this have to do with the definition of peacemaking that I started with? To help people reconcile, and to do it without destroying them, it will be a difficult and arduous journey. Timeframes put pressure on the mediator to coerce conformity. Shame them into taking your advice. Guilt them into apologizing to each other. And do it by throwing Scripture at them so they feel like failure to comply would disappoint Jesus as well. This never works. And any peace that it appears to create, is false peace because it was rooted from shame.
How do you disarm evil without destroying the evildoer?
First, remind everyone involved that everyone involved is still sinning.
No one at the table has achieved perfection, in fact everyone at the table would be straining to say that they’ve achieved a C average when it comes to our moral performance. So because everyone at the table is still broken, still in progress in their sanctification, everyone at the table needs to show grace to each other when we inevitably say or do something hurtful or disappointing.
Second, remind everyone involved that the Devil is in the details.
Because they’re seeking a Biblical reconciliation, the powers of darkness will actively work against them as they work toward closing and healing the relational chasms that have formed between them. Therefore, even more grace toward each other will be required as Satan tries to make a bad situation even worse.
Let me stop here. These two things alone – that we’re all still broken, and that Satan will get in the mix to try preventing real reconciliation – are enough to torpedo all attempts to reconcile if these realities are not taken seriously throughout the journey, not just at the beginning.
To continually take these realities seriously, you have to be willing to scrutinize yourself at a level that you may have never done before. You’ll need to open yourself up to criticism from the people who are at odds with you because though they may not be completely right, they’re almost never completely wrong. Take these criticisms to Jesus, don’t just toss them out as sour grapes from the person who’s angry with you. Let Jesus separate the wheat from the chaff in every criticism. Ask him to show you how your words and actions might have been used by the enemy to widen the chasm between you and your loved one. If you don’t possess this kind of humility, the reconciling journey will be as long as your pride is deep.
Third, don’t trust your feelings.
Feelings are the most easily manipulated part of the human experience. If the Devil is in the details, then you can be sure that your feelings are being toyed with to derail your reconciliation journey. I’m not saying your feelings are irrelevant, I’m just saying they’re easily manipulated so that makes them a very bad measurement of reality. However…
Fourth, don’t discount anyone’s else’s feelings.
As unreliable as your own feelings can be, you cannot discount or disparage the feelings of others, nor should you instruct them in how they should feel about anything. Your own feelings are the only ones you have permission to scrutinize. Everyone else’s feelings are off limits. Sin has made our feelings unreliable, but our feelings are part of the Imago Dei (image of God) in us. As imagers of God, we do possess emotions because God is an emotional being. That makes our feelings important to our emotional and spiritual health, and frankly, important to God. I know it’s popular to say that God isn’t concerned with your feelings, but I think the way we’ve phrased that is really unfortunate. God is concerned that you have right feelings about things. He wants your heart to break over the things that breaks his heart. He wants you to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Our emotions are an inseparable part of our character because that’s how God designed humanity – as imagers of who He is.
So when we come to the table to reconcile, the quickest way to destroy another person is to disregard their feelings by labeling them irrelevant, or by telling them how they should feel about what has happened. The only feelings you have permission to call irrelevant are your own. You cannot destroy the feelings of another person without destroying the person. This is the hard part of reconciliation.
Let me add this caveat that applies to all parties. If reconciliation is going to happen, people must be won over, not dominated and conquered. They must be affirmed, not proven wrong. Affirming someone while hoping to bring some changes… this is what makes the journey long. And winning someone over isn’t accomplished by just caving in, but through gentle persuasion that this relationship is valuable to you and is worth rebuilding. In other words, you win them through words and actions which demonstrate that you value them and love them.
Fifth, don’t come with a list of demands.
Instead come with a spirit of hope and service. Your hopes for the outcome have their best chance when you come to the table to serve rather than be served. A list of demands essentially communicates that you must be served in these ways before you’re willing to have relationship. Whereas if everyone comes to the table to serve the other, then you’ve basically taken one of the Devil’s biggest weapons away, and the journey to reconciliation can be a little less difficult.
[UPDATE]: I need to add this after a few conversations. This doesn’t mean that reconciliation doesn’t include a time for airing the grievances that drove the wedge in the relationship. This must happen. However, the airing of grievances must be done in humility, and receiving the grievances that are directed at you should be received in the spirit of a servant, not in defiance.
Sixth, cultivate love.
The fact that everyone is even sitting down to reconcile means that there’s at least some love at work. That love needs to be stoked. Love is how evil is disarmed.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
The multitude of sins that bring us to the table for reconciliation can easily multiply if we don’t cultivate love for each other. Keep love for one another in our sights. Defy your hurt and do loving things for each other during the journey to reconciliation.
This is how I’ve learned to destroy evil without destroying the evildoer. And because you must take all these things into consideration, the journey will always take more time than you’d like for it to take. The journey cannot be hurried. It’s better to elongate the journey with caution than to destroy it with impatience. You won’t always get to be blunt. You won’t always get to go for the jugular. Preserving life seldom requires amputation. In most cases, preserving life takes surgical precision. You operate with a scalpel, not a hatchet.
And in as in all things, consider how careful and how patient Jesus has been with you in your failures. How often do you deserve a smack, but instead Jesus offers a gentle response? I know we like to say that Jesus hits us hard at times, but let’s be honest: in comparison to what he suffered for us, he’s hardly raised his voice. In all our ways, we should seek to handle things as Jesus would. I know it’s hard to see at times. But that’s why we need to be people of the Book, digging into it, unearthing the precious things that aren’t always apparent on the surface.
I hope this was helpful. I was recently reminded that we are to share all good things with the people we love. This has been a good thing in my life. I may be wrong on a few points because I’m still growing in this, but I hope you understand the direction I’m driving. Hopefully this leads to some good things for you as well.