Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living in peace with each other

Like many of us in this country and abroad, I have been struck by the divisiveness that has overtaken our political decisions. I have stopped watching the news. It even pains me sometimes to read online articles and blogs because the comments sections are so full of venom.  The post might be on a topic that seemingly has nothing to do with politics and before you know it someone draws out a thread that spins into a heated, cutthroat attack on another's views.

Now many of us will say, "I just have a strong belief but I would never set out to hurt someone. I am just passionate about my viewpoint."

But what if what you consider "just passion" and "healthy debate" is really causing another pain? How do you draw the line?


I will speak from experience. The other day a friend of mine was sharing with me how her family is struggling to accept some of the lifestyle choices of her brother. They have chosen not to meet certain people in his life or engage in certain conversations with him because of their disapproval.

Now, because I love my friend, it pained me to hear how hurt she and her family were. I also felt great empathy for her brother. I immediately started telling my friend that her family needed to surrender this situation to God in prayer and continue to show love to her brother.  Something in the way I delivered my message caused her to start becoming  upset. She said she felt like I was saying that she and her family do not love her brother. On the contrary, I was trying to say that because they love her brother, they have to let go. But this caused us to go down a whole "debate" of what love means, what it means to judge and/or correct others, and whether her brother's actions were "wrong" in the first place.

Now a part of me knew we were just going in circles. We were just repeating each other's points, talking past each other, and often making the same point (just in our different ways). But I could feel my voice getting louder, my responses becoming more clipped, my tone more self-righteous or sarcastic as I dismissed her points and suggested scriptures and various readings her family should study.

I later attempted to apologize. Typing this now, I'm like whoa, how did I even get there?

I could look to different experiences in my life that made this  tendency to become combative  easy to latch onto. I could say that my friend pushed my buttons, that I was tired that day and lacked the patience required for the conversation. I could say it was a sensitive topic that evoked emotions.  And those might reasons - but not excuses.

A renewed mind is not stuck on old habits and behaviors. Each day is a new day to try something different. Fortunately, that opportunity to try always comes again!

The Word exhorts us to:
  • bear with one another in love 
  • make every effort  to do what leads to peace and mutual edification
  • build each other up
  • accept each other as Christ accepts us 
  • be humble and gentile

So how do we do this? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) You are a reflection of God. You are made in His image. You may be the only expression of God that a person encounters in any given day. Through your deeds, you exhibit God to others. So, what are you showing them?

2) Each  of us is a unique work of art. God tells us that we are His masterpieces. But each of us were formed intricately with our own individual paths to him. Look around and you can see the great diversity of God's creation. It is a fact that people will have different opinions, beliefs, paths, trials, victories, thoughts, and interests from yours. We are all being molded by the one true Potter. Might you be interrupting the process by insisting that people think and believe the way you do. "Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand."

Remember, God is still working on you too! (I know that is hard for some of us to admit ;))

3) We are One body, united in Spirit, in love. Ephesians 2 reminds us that we are all members of the same one household, a holy temple, being built together to be a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Later in that chapter we are told to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

One way I have learned to build this unity and break a me-versus-them pattern, is to really imagine myself as the other person. What must he/she/they be thinking? Is there a reason that could explain this? How might I also react if I felt that way, held those beliefs, had been through that experience? What would I have needed or wanted? When you pause and start to ask yourself those questions, it becomes much easier to see how you and others are so much more the same. We all have the same fears and pain at some level. And for all of us love is the antidote!  Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

A few months ago, I found myself in a really negative space with a co-worker. Because I didn't allow myself to understand her, I judged. But one day I decided to break the pattern between us. Rather than reacting and perpetuating our cycle of sniping, I stopped. I tried to look at the situation from her perspective, seeing her in the best light I could. I found myself finally empathizing with her. I reached out to her to let her know that I was on her side and wanted to work together to resolve the issues she was having. Since then, our interaction has made a complete turnaround.

4) We are saved to do good . . . not harm by trying to ram our beliefs down people's throat. In Titus 3, Paul writes that we must "be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone." He reminds us that there were times when we too acted foolishly, were disobedient, and were deceived. We hated and were hated by others. BUT when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us not because of anything we had done but because of His mercy. (Can I get an Amen!) Justified by His grace, we are now made known of our inheritance. As Kingdom-builders, we must be careful then to devote ourselves to doing what is good. Specifically, Paul writes that we must "avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless." 

When we keep love in our hearts, the result is pure bliss. (Believe me that this lesson is as much for me as you!)

As it relates to my friend, I can see now that all I had to do was listen, show empathy for the pain she was feeling, and pray for her, her family, and myself to seek God's wisdom and trust Him to act in the situation.   

Lord, help us to reflect your love to all of our brothers and sisters.  Let us not tear each other down but rather continuously seek to lift each other up to the high places to which You have called us. Amen.

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