These are tough times for peacemakers. It seems like everyone I know on all sides of any current issue is expressing anger, frustration, doubt, hurt, fear or concern. Unfriendly conversations are happening all around me. Without meaning to, I find myself walking into what feels like a minefield nearly every day. And the peacemaker in me wants to fix it.
When I find myself asking, “Can’t we all just get along?” I remind myself of what it takes to survive troubled times with a peacemaker’s heart. Here are a few tips you might like to try – if you’re starting to wonder if anything you do will make a difference.
Create your own peace and quiet time.
Set aside a time every day to be still. Pray. Journal. Meditate. Do what you can – whenever and wherever – to shut off the noise and tune into the quiet. My kids are grown and gone now so early mornings work great for me. But there was a season when the best I could hope for was a few moments alone in the car with the radio turned off. Find your time. Find your space. Do this one simple thing, every day, and watch how peace grows in your heart and mind.
Learn to listen above all the shouting.
Ok. You’ve had your quiet time, and you’re feeling all the peaceful feels as you head out to face the world. Whether you go to work, to volunteer, or simply go online, there they are. The things that break your heart. And the angry folks who are not feeling peaceful. At all. In fact, they seem to be ready for war. You hear and see things that make you cringe or raise your blood pressure and you’re faced with a choice. You can retreat – or you can engage.
If you choose to retreat, you might smile and nod and say nothing when a friend, neighbor, or family member expresses anger or frustration. You’ll leave them wondering what’s happening behind your glazed-over stare. They might interpret your smiling silence as agreement. Or perhaps your lack of response tells them you don’t care. Either way, retreat is considered a perfectly acceptable response to the expression of strong or negative feelings in polite society. So nobody is going to think less of you if you choose this option.
But, if this is an issue or a relationship you care deeply about, there is another way. You could choose to engage. I hear your peacemaker protest: “With an angry person?!?” Yes. Because anger is often a mask for fear. And nothing quiets fear better than the simple message, “You are not alone.” Notice this is different from saying you agree with their point of view. “You are not alone,” tells them that you see them. You hear them. You care about them and their feelings. And you want to understand more of what they are experiencing. But to gain that understanding, you’re going to have to do something more. You’re going to have to remain open.
Being willing to hear one another out and make an intentional effort to understand the experience of others is the bedrock of peacemaking. And this understanding can only happen when I remain curious about the experience of others. No, I’m not talking about “alternative facts.” What I am saying is that I need to be humble enough to know that my truth and your truth could look very different because of our life experience. And the only way to know how our different experiences affect the issue at hand is to stay curious about how others perceive the problem. It’s hard to stay curious in the middle of an argument. When I’m making points or posting declarations that dare others to disagree, curiosity takes a nosedive.
But peacemakers find a way to share God’s love at every opportunity. Even in the midst of turmoil and disagreement – no matter how dramatic. So we put aside the need to prove our point or win an argument. Asking questions doesn’t mean we agree with someone. It means we’re gathering more information to help us understand the viewpoints of people who see the world differently from us. Don’t worry. We’ll still be free to form our own opinions.
Remember to keep loving.
Peacemaking starts with people and relationships in mind. Not solutions. But happily, solutions often appear unexpectedly when both parties feel honored, respected, heard, and loved. In other words, when we communicate that maintaining the relationship is more important to us than fixing a problem, we build trust and a sense of teamwork. And that fosters a desire to work together to find solutions that benefit everyone.
I’ve seen this happen again and again in counseling sessions. When the individuals that make up couples and families feel like they are heard, that their feelings matter, and will be considered before drawing up a plan of action, the mood in the room shifts from anger and frustration to hope. And hope is where the power to make real change comes from.
For peacemakers, these times present us with a unique opportunity for making changes. To bring the hope of God’s love to every side of the issues in this hurting world. By filling up on His peace, listening above the shouting, staying curious, and continuing to love others who think differently from us, peace stands a chance. Not just a chance at surviving turbulent times, but as a way of life no matter what the future holds.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9 NIV)
I would love to hear how you are choosing to make more peace in your life these days. Please share your response below and know that we can all make a difference by practicing peacemaking right where we are.