Christmastime… that peaceful, everybody-gets-along time of year, right? Not necessarily. Harmony in relationships can be challenging year round, but as activities increase with holiday celebrations and we encounter more people, our chances of offending someone or being offended increase.
Regardless of how careful we are to avoid hurts and misunderstandings, problems happen. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world, so we need to be conscientious about resolving personal issues. After all, “God has called us to live in peace.” (1 Cor. 7:15)
When a relationship is broken, we should take the initiative to restore peace, even at the expense of religious/spiritual activities, even if it is the other person who is upset with us. We are told to be proactive and to settle matters quickly. (Matt. 5:23) If left unresolved, controversies and misunderstandings seldom evaporate. Instead, they usually go deep into the heart, lie dormant, fester and begin to poison the soul. Issues need to be dealt with quickly and at a time and place conducive to restoration.
Keep in mind, however, that some of our personal issues just need to be forgiven, forgotten and dropped. When the neighbors don’t respond to our invitation to a Christmas celebration, we don’t need to make an issue of it. However, we should never dismiss as trivial another person’s feelings if they are upset. Then it is our responsibility to seek resolution.
Sometimes, our efforts to live in peace with people do not bring about the desired result. I once offended someone by inadvertently leaving his name off the church bulletin acknowledging his musical performance. Even after attempts to apologize, the person was still upset. Eventually, I had to realize that I had made every effort and I should let it go. Of course, I continued to pray for the situation, showed kindness to the musician and tried to be more careful in the future.
At times, we may be called upon to help arbitrate other people’s quarrels and misunderstandings in which we are not personally involved. Initially, this might involve encouraging someone else to seek resolution. Or, we may need to get directly involved – “John, let me set up a meeting with you, Bob and me so this issue can be settled.”
Helping others live in peace is certainly the responsibility of those in authority. Parents, church leaders and employers should take the initiative to resolve relational conflicts with their children, members and employees, respectively.
The guidelines I use for making peace are found in Ephesians 4:15. “Speak the truth in love.”
When a misunderstanding occurs, all parties need to talk. It is not spiritually mature to remain silent and just “take it.” In every healthy relationship, participants should have the freedom to speak, and we can make this work by being approachable and being good listeners.
Being approachable means letting others know they are welcome to share the truth in love. It doesn’t mean that we must agree with those who approach us, but they should know we are willing to communicate with them. Lines of authority should never separate us from our responsibility to be approachable. As parents, church leaders or employers, we should never convey the message that our position puts us beyond approachability.
Keeping the peace also depends on being a good listener. We need to focus on what the other person is saying and give our undivided attention. Listen not only to what the person says, but also to their heart. (Matt. 12:34) Sometimes people don’t mean what they say, but sometimes people mean more than what they say. The teenager who says, “I just want to go to my room,” may actually mean that she is dealing with something hurtful that happened at school. Listening also requires remembering, being sensitive in the future to this shared information.
Speak the Truth
While most of us would not boldly lie, we may be tempted to distort the facts, exaggerate the facts, make assumptions or speak part of the truth. Instead, we should share only the truth and all of the truth as we pursue peaceful resolutions. We need to understand all sides of a story. Often, just talking through a misunderstanding to get all the facts will resolve an issue.
Speak the Truth in Love
Some people think that armed with truth they can express themselves anyway they want, even if it hurts another person. When we share our truth with love, it reveals our motivation to sincerely bring peace to the situation, to edify, not humiliate. Timing, place and approach can affect how our words are received. Consider this.
I want you to speak the truth in love to me, but…
· Not as soon as I get home from work
· Not in front of the kids
· Not when I am tired
· Not in front of other people
· Not by condemning me
What would you add to the list to define your personal criteria? Here is mine: Please, not on Sundays, particularly not before worship services.
These are some other suggestions for speaking the truth in love:
· Get to the point quickly
· Stick to the issue at hand
· Discuss the situation only with those who are directly involved in
· Give the other person(s) an opportunity to respond
· Be sensitive about when you share and do so in a timely manner
· Use a gentle tone of voice and non-threatening body language
Living in peace with one another is a big deal with God. Christ wants his body to be united and harmonious, not torn by strife and division. We can enjoy relational, interpersonal peace, but it takes constant effort. Don’t let fragile relationships ruin the joy of Christmas. Make peace with others and resolve to keep the peace in the New Year.
Don McMinn, Ph.D. (with Kimberly Spring)
Executive Director of theiPlace.org
The 11th Commandment: More Insights into the One Anothers of Scripture