Last week, I spoke on the need to have peace within ourselves in order to make peace with others. This week, we are going to look at a practical way to live at peace with others as far as it concerns us. Let me tell you about my Great Aunt, she was the unhappiest person I knew, and I never understood why until I got much older. My Great Aunt had an excellent memory and held inside everything others did that offended her and made her angry. She would never confront others to clear the air; she would just remember and never let it go. She would talk about all these things that she remembered until of course you did something, then you became one of the “remembered.” She lived a long, miserable and lonely life, ending up estranged from everyone who had cared for her. She marinated in unresolved conflict until bitterness infused her spirit. I learned a couple of things from my Great Aunt’s example, the first being that most people who you are angry at have no idea that they did something that made you mad until you say something to them, the second thing is that it takes a lot of effort and energy to keep track of all that stuff, since we rub each other the wrong way all the time. Often we catch the edges of someone’s grumpiness or preoccupation and think it is directed at us when quite often it has nothing to do with us. Friday night was one such time for me. I had dropped one car off at the mechanic and while on our way to visit my mother-in-law the fuel pump died in the other car. I had four words running through my head right then, three of them were “I hate cars.” The fourth will not be mentioned here. Now with that running through my head it colored both my perceptions of what was going on and the ways I interacted with people. I had become the much dreaded “grumpy daddy” and because of the way stress was communicated I am sure that some people got impressions of me that may not have been reflections of reality.
When Paul was writing to Ephesus, he was dealing with some unresolved conflict that existed in the community. Maybe someone changed the carpet without consulting everyone else on the color. Have you ever noticed that the big blow ups tend to happen around small things? Organizations have an unfortunate habit of sweeping conflict under the rug. Does anyone know what happens if you keep sweeping stuff under the rug? Eventually you end with a lumpy rug that stinks to high heaven, and that is when the blow-up occurs. Paul sees right to the heart of what is going in the Ephesian church when he tells them: “25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.” Ephesians 4:25-27
Conflict is difficult. Most of us do not enjoy it, and would prefer not to experience conflict, especially with people we care so much about. Sometimes we so dread conflict that we pretend it doesn’t exist. This kind of falsehood hurts you more than the person you are trying to pretend not to be angry with. We say to ourselves that if we really cared about unity or about the person then we would forgive and forget without having to any confrontations. The reality is that if we didn’t care we wouldn’t get angry. Let us then be careful to recognize that care and demonstrate it by being honest about when we have been hurt or have been made angry by something someone said or did. Not sharing the truth about how we are impacted by others’ actions or attitudes builds walls up in us, keeping people out and disconnecting us from the body of faith. If we want to live into being the “one body” of Jesus, we are going to have to stop creating walls by avoiding conflict and show the depth of our caring for one another in our willingness to honestly enter disagreements. It is by living through conflicts that our ties to each other grow stronger.
One misconception that I have experienced and wrestled with is that I was taught that I could not allow myself to be angry with a fellow believer. It was sin to be angry and if I was angry it meant I had no self-control. There is something very important that I want to say here: We have no control over what emotions we feel at any given moment. There are so many different factors, from hormones to what has been eaten to what time of day it is, that make up our emotional state at any given point that we can only experience feelings as they come. Since what we feel is, for the most part, beyond our control, sin does not enter into the picture until we do something with our emotions. When car number 2 died at the gas station I had a number of emotions flooding my system, and a screaming baby didn’t help the situation any. Both Melody and I had ample stress at that point that we could very easily have had a major argument, but that would really have only added stress and pain to a situation that was merely frustrating. Because both of us were paying attention to what was going on, we could have grace for the times when the frustration started boiling over. That is really the key to navigating these difficult times in families, by having grace, paying attention to what is going on, and by engaging the frustrations we have before they have a chance to fester.
If we talk about things that frustrate us before they settle into us, it is much easier to deal with. We are at our best when we deal with our anger promptly and honestly. Unresolved conflict pulls us away from being our best, because of how much energy it takes to keep up the false fronts. When we are timely in addressing the cause of our anger we short circuit the cycle of bitterness that can so easily destroy relationships. Paul doesn’t just say “the sooner the better.” Paul says not to let the sun of that day set before you have begun the process of reconciliation. I am not always the most observant person, and often have no idea that I said or did something that caused anger. In order to grow into a better member of Christ’s body, I need the other members to let me know when anger happens, otherwise I just continue on, blissfully unaware that I am hurting others. Each one of us has those moments in which we unknowingly and unintentionally cause pain in someone else, and it best serves all of us if we can begin to assume that normally the person who has so offended us hasn’t the slightest clue of how angry they just made us.
If we want peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace in all of our relationships, we have to take the initiative to resolve conflicts before they explode. We have to stop what we are doing, pray and let this be the moment we do our part to restore harmony.
Get used to hearing the words “Stop and pray” come out of my mouth. This is the best first-response we have in any situation we face. God will give us the courage to share our hurts if we ask Him. God will help someone listen when we confront them. When we stop and pray first God will work in us to fill us with grace and mercy as we confront our own anger and the people it is directed at. Friends if you are holding something against someone in your life, now is the best time to face into it. The conflict will not go away on its own, but will take your effort to resolve. Someone has to take the first step, and God wants that first step to be taken by you, by me, by each one of us, before our anger descends into darkness. None of us wants to make room for the devil of contention to spread through our relationships. I am sure all of us know someone who is like my Great Aunt, that isolation is exactly how we fall away. We fall away from the faith community that can help us overcome times of trial. We fall away from the relationships that make our lives happy and full of joy. We fall away from the pain that teaches us to be better creatures. If we do not walk through the darkness, the pain, the anger and come out the other side by the grace of Christ we become trapped and unable to move until we reach out and grab the hand of Jesus waiting to lift us out of the pit and walk beside us through the pain of conflict. Jesus is faithful to walk with us, we just need to take the next step and trust him to be with us. Listen again and pray with me the words of the song we sang last week.
Let there be peace on earth And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment And live each moment
With peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.
Take the next few minutes to consider conflicts that you may be holding onto. If there is anger that you are harboring, ask God to create an opportunity to clear the air. But don’t just ask God to create a moment, let this be the moment that you resolve to not let the sun go down on your anger. Let this be the moment you take Jesus’ hand and allow him to guide you through into a truthful peace.