How is your day going? Mine started off sideways: I was driving a baby home from a visit with her mom, which is a common thread that runs through my days as a social worker, when all heck broke loose in my backseat. Screaming, weeping, gnashing of teeth. It made sense: after all the travel and the unfamiliar and funky-smelling visiting room, sweet baby girl decided she was not having it and launched into a full-blown meltdown. So I did what mamas have been doing since babies and backseats were invented: I reached around behind me, where she found my hand with her little fingers and held on tightly. She instantly calmed. I drove like that for a while, my left arm controlling the car while my right arm gained me valuable contortionist experience, but when I removed my hand, she started screaming again. So I put it back, asked Jesus to be a fence around my aching elbow, and thought about what it means to be a peacemaker in this world.
How can we help bring about peace in the middle of the mess?
As believers, God calls us to pursue peace with all people (Hebrews. 12:14). From Proverbs (12:20) to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew. 5:9), the Scriptures reveal that peace is deeply important to the heart of our Father. Much of the story of God and us hinges on peace—God gives it to us freely; we are deceived and toss it away; God, through Jesus, gives his life, moves heaven and earth in his resurrection, and sends the Holy Spirit to bring peace back to us. During his life, Jesus did not retaliate against those who mocked him, conspired against him, and hurt him. Against all human instinct, he loved them, and called us to do the same. But in our age when people of different viewpoints seem to be so divided, in our communities where issues of doctrine, politics, socioeconomics, race, and sexuality seem to separate people so starkly from one another, how do we walk behind Jesus in all of it? How can we help bring about peace in the middle of the mess? Here are three practical ways to actively engage in peacemaking in your local community.
Listen more than you speak.
In a disagreement, it is tempting to listen only lightly while spending our real mental energy forming our own response in the back of our minds. This instinct to multitask keeps us divided because half-listening is not really listening at all. It can be tricky to fight the urge to tell someone how wrong they really are. But genuinely listening to someone, no matter how different your perspectives, can open a lot of doors. Everybody wants to be heard, and taking the time to listen makes space for others to listen to us as well.
Let your love be louder than your personal views.
Sometimes the urge to be right can be so attractive to us above all else that we forget we are talking to real people whom Jesus loves, with valuable souls and hearts and feelings. Is speaking truth important? Absolutely. But it’s just like when Mom told us not to speak to her in that tone of voice: it’s all in the way you say it. Peacemakers don’t hammer. They don’t stab others with their rightness, or gloat about it. They value the person they are talking to, and opt to allow God to win the argument instead of them. It is not contrary to peacemaking to express our opinions, but we must do so with compassion, understanding, and connection. We must see one another through the eyes of Jesus, and then we will see our “opponent” as a person who matters, a dearly loved sinner just like you and me. Avoid being snarky toward others on social media and instead invite the person you disagree with to coffee. Against all odds, love them. Then watch what happens.
Build bridges, not walls.
Imagine that you are on one side of a deep canyon and the person you disagree with is on the other side. Shouting across the canyon that you are right won’t do much good to get the person over to your side. So how do you get your point across the canyon? You have to build a bridge. One way to do this is to pinpoint something you have in common. Maybe you disagree with 90 percent of what they are saying, but there is one tiny thing that you agree with. Highlight it, bond over it. Having something in common doesn’t make all the differences between you fall away entirely, but it does break down walls and make it more difficult to scoff or snap at one another. Just as with my little friend in the backseat this morning, human connection has a knack for drawing peace out of chaos and hurt. Take a moment to find common ground, and you’ll have begun building a bridge of understanding. If we are to be followers of Christ in a world full of canyons, we need to befriend others over trying to prove them wrong.
May we choose the path of our Jesus even when it feels like the last thing we want to do, and may we choose each other over our pride and our own comfort.
It is not easy; peacemaking requires humility, and valuing people over being right. It is choosing to reach out instead of lash out in the moments when it is really, really uncomfortable. This is hard work. But it is deeply worthwhile and profoundly biblical work. May we choose the path of our Jesus even when it feels like the last thing we want to do, and may we choose each other over our pride and our own comfort. Only then can we show our Father to a hurting world that so desperately needs him, and be instruments of his deep peace.