I spent some much needed time in the book of James this morning reminding myself how peace is broken and made.
Yesterday, my oldest and youngest got into a spat. The oldest hates conflict and will do anything to make it stop. And she did. She gave in to the crying and foot stomping of my youngest. Not because she was wrong – she wasn’t – but just to make the noise stop.
That’s not peace.
I was at a marriage conference once and heard a couple claim from stage that they never fight. Well, she said they never fight. “Right, honey?” she asked in front of the crowd. “Yes,” he said, staring at his feet. As the morning went on I noticed a trend in their stories of marital bliss and realized that she always won and he always lost.
That’s not peace.
In college there was a roommate spat over rent. One guy wouldn’t pay his share and was sticking the rest of us with it. One night the that guy got drunk, drunk enough to puke and pass out. Another roommate took his picture, naked in the bathroom floor in a pool of purple vomit, and threatened to send it to the guy’s mom if he didn’t start paying. There was no more fighting about rent.
That’s not peace.
Peace making is never the easiest route. It’s not the absence of conflict but often requires it. It’s rarely arrived at without some sacrifice on all sides. And it can’t be coerced, brokered by mandate or force.
Peace making starts at the root of conflict: with me, my desires and my relationship with God.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? – James 4:1
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. – James 4:7-12
Peace making then moves out from my private desires and relationship with God to addressing my public behavior, specifically how I’ve failed to love others.
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? -James 4:11-12
Slander and judgement aren’t the only bad behavior capable of disturbing the peace. Everything from eye rolling and gossip to passive aggression to fist fights get their start in the primordial ooze of my desires and broken relationship with God and have the potential to decimate my relationship with others.
“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God” – Thomas Merton
So how do we make real peace?
Dealing head on with the desires in me that are the root of our conflict.
- Prayer & Community
Examining before God and in community where those desires came from.
Confessing the broken places in my life and my relationship with God that feed those wrong desires. Confessing the bad behavior those desires led to.
Seeking and receiving forgiveness from those I’ve hurt.
Turning away from those old destructive desires and their resultant bad behaviors and toward their opposites.
- Fast & Fully
Doing all of this quickly and thoroughly so that no bitter root grows up and so fractures Christian community that others can’t see Christ in us.
- Moving On
Refusing to replay and ruminate on the past. This is most difficult for me when I think I’ve done the work of peace making but peace has not been reached. It’s then that judgment and pride are easily fed in me and the cycle of wrong desire and bad behavior has a chance to begin again. But Paul writes: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18) and “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone…” (Hebrews 12:14).
That’s the long arduous painful humbling and only way to peace I know.
I needed the reminder from James this morning. How about you?