Passing the Peace Pipe: Conflict Resolution
How are we going to pass the peace pipe if you won't smoke?
I am weary of your quarrels,
Weary of your wars and bloodshed,
Weary of your prayers for vengeance,
Of your wranglings and dissensions;
All your strength is in your union,
All your danger is in discord;
Therefore be at peace henceforward,
And as brothers live together.
From Hiawatha by Longfellow
Honestly, when was the last time you were in conflict with someone else? Your mother, your spouse, your child, a fellow worker, or a neighbor? Probably not too long ago. Can you visualize that person? Name them. Have you resolved that conflict yet?
The scriptures tell us we will have conflict, we will bump into each because we have differing desires and resources. Conflicts that lead to tense or broken relationships need fixing. We are told that there are ways to resolve our conflicts that promote harmony and reconciliation. So why don't we live in peace with each other? What keeps us from smoking the proverbial peace-pipe? Do we choose ignorance of biblical instructions, saying instead, "I just don't know how to resolve this"? Or do we know what to do and procrastinate because it's too hard to face? Perhaps we've tried and failed and are unwilling to try again.
There is no doubt that conflict resolution is a hard process, the key words being "hard" and "process." Yet, the call of God for a believer is to live in unity and in peace.
Finally brothers. . .live in peace. 2 Cor 13:11 NIV
Where do we begin? Perhaps first we need to affirm that conflicts that break fellowship also break the heart of God. God desires us to live at peace with one another. This truth must be rooted deeply in our hearts, a core belief, so that we will be compelled to act out of our convictions. A corollary truth is that peacemaking is not optional for the believer but part of representing the life of Christ on planet Earth.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Mt 5:9 NIV
Thinking of the conflict you're in right now, what's your attitude about resolving your differences? Has your response encouraged or inhibited progress toward a meaningful solution?
If we are convinced we need to try to reconcile a conflict, what's our next step? Matthew 7:5 tells us to look inward before we move outward.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's. NIV
Whenever we're in conflict, we're called to honestly ask ourselves. "Am I contributing to this problem either directly or indirectly?" "Is there something that I need to own?" As we examine ourselves we may find we need a change of heart, a different way of thinking, or to apologize for our part of the conflict.
Apologize? You've got to be kidding! Apologizing is admitting I was wrong, not a popular behavioral action for our world today. Recently, President Obama surprised journalists with an impromptu appearance, saying he "could have calibrated" his words differently when he said police had "'acted stupidly'" in handling the situation."
The first question after he left the room to the Presidential spokesman was: "Did he just apologize?" "Was that an apology?" How rare is an apology! We don't even know what it sounds like!
Ken Blanchard says: "The hardest part of apologizing is realizing and admitting you were wrong." He goes on to say, "The apology begins with surrender (letting go of being right, confront the truth about your own failings, and be 100% honest with yourself)." (The One Minute Apology)
That's the hardest part for me, how about you? When I admit I need to own a part of the problem (or all of it) then that means I need to do something. Matthew 18: 15-17 tells us what to do when someone has offended us: go to them and be reconciled. But Matthew 22:24 tells us what to do when we have offended someone else: go to them and be reconciled. So it looks like we have to go . . . in either situation.
So how do we "go" apologize? The Peacemakers Ministry (www.peacemaker.net) has excellent resources for the process. They have listed the Steps of Confession:
1. Address everyone involved (Ps 41:4; Luke 19:8)
Public sin, addressed publicly; private sin, addressed privately
2. Avoid If, But, and Maybe (Ps 51)
3. Admit specifically
- Sinful attitudes (cravings, judgments)
- Sinful words (harsh or reckless words, grumbling, complaining, falsehood, gossip, slander)
- Sinful actions (not keeping your word, not respecting authority, not treating others as you want to be treated)
4. Apologize (express sincere sorrow for the way you affected this person)
5. Accept the consequences (Luke 15:19; Nu 5:5-7; Luke 19:8)
6. Alter your behavior (Eph 4:22-32)
7. Ask for forgiveness (Gen 50:17)
It is a relief to know that the Scriptures are realistic and tell us to live in peace: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men" (Rom 12:18). That means that sometimes we try to reconcile and the other person will not smoke the peace pipe. You can't control someone else, but you can do everything "as far as it depends on you" to make peace. Leave the rest to God.
Remember that person you named at the beginning of this article? In checking your attitude:
- Have you been irritable, rude or unapproachable in the conflict?
- From this point on, where or how can you make a special effort to be forbearing, large-hearted, gentle, courteous, considerate, generous, lenient or moderate? How could your gentleness be evident to others?
- What affect is this dispute likely to have on your: family, work, ministry, church, friendships, relationship with God?
- If you confess your part in this dispute, what are some possible outcomes?
So you've been willing to humble yourself, apologize and offer the peace pipe to another.
Wait a minute, maybe you're the one that has been offended. Right in front of your face is the aromatic pipe and the last thing you want to do is smoke it. I mean they have really hurt you and now they want you to forgive and forget and make peace. What are you going to do?
Believing that peacemaking and reconciling is glorifying to the heart of God, we are all called to learn the process and choice of forgiveness.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. Luke 11:4 NIV
Remembering that we are to forgive as God has forgiven us, there are certain misunderstandings about forgiveness that we need to keep in mind.
Forgiveness is not a:
1. Feeling. It is an act of the will. It involves a decision not to think or talk about what someone has done.
2. Forgetting. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiveness is an active process, a conscious choice, a deliberate course of action.
3. Excusing. Excusing implies what you did was not really wrong or you couldn't help it. Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. Forgiveness says, "We both know what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you."
Instead we remember that Forgiveness is a Decision.
We make Four Promises of Forgiveness when we forgive someone else. We choose to say:
- I will not think about this incident
- I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you
- I will not talk to others about this incident
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship
Some last questions to ask:
• Have you done everything in your power to live at peace with your opponent?
• Have you truly forgiven and can you make the four promises of forgiveness?
• Is God pleased with the resolution?
Smoking in our health-conscious society is taboo to those who desire to avoid the affects of tobacco on the body, so I speak metaphorically when I ask, Have you have been smoking lately? Whether you need to pass the pipe or receive it, may the peace of God be yours today.