James Barham, LPC, LMFT, serves as the Counseling Director for Living Well Professional Counseling, www.livingwell.care, a ministry of Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. As a Counselor, James fully understands that there are situations in life, such as when there has been trauma and abuse, that boundary setting is necessary rather than trying to rebuild or repair a relationship. email@example.com
One day I came home from work, and I noticed a problem – there were cows in my back yard. We don’t own any cows. Our homeplace is surrounded by neighbors’ pastures and the cows are supposed to be out there instead of around my house.
After we were able to get the cows up, I saw the problem. The fence was down. My neighbor and I worked together to repair the gap and strengthen the fence posts. It was summertime and neither of us wanted to be outside digging holes and stringing barbed wire, but it was easier to work together. And it was necessary to have a good fence to keep the animals where they belong.
Just as neighbors can have a broken fence that needs mending, we can have broken relationships with others in our life. We can ignore the problem to keep the peace, but that isn’t what God wants for us. He wants us to work together towards reconciliation. He wants peacemakers, not peacekeepers.
Christians are to be a people of peace because we are a people of faith in Christ, the Prince of Peace. Sometimes I wonder if God feels about family conflict or unresolved tension between believers about the same way that I feel when my kids grumble and argue in unhealthy ways. In Romans 12:18 the Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.”
Peacemaking does not come easy because it is not natural. The natural human state is selfishness. Babies quickly pick up on the concept of “mine.” It takes a while to teach a child the concept of “ours.” We must do the hard work of reconciliation instead of stubbornly refusing to bend.
We need to search our own hearts when dealing with conflict. Before we rush to confront or defend our own position, we need to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). We need to apologize for our own part of the conflict and approach the situation with humility. I could have expressed anger or lost my cool with my neighbor for not keeping the fence mended. I could have demanded he fix everything alone. However, mending the fence together strengthened our friendship.
If only peacemaking were easy. Once, Jesus’s disciples were panicky and fearful in a storm. They had to wake him up, and he simply said, “Peace, be still!” There have been times I’ve tried this approach with my family when things got a little chaotic. The kids just look at me funny when I do this. I’ve also tried what I call the Charleston Heston approach where I raise my hands and declare, “Let my people go!” This also doesn’t get the results that I’d like.
Becoming a peacemaker is a process. It begins with having God’s Shalom in one’s own heart and mind (Isaiah 26:3). One of the most loved verses in God’s word is found in Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7). This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and discipline. Then, it becomes a way of life. Once we consistently can practice this, then we can become the peacemakers God wants us to be.
At our place, our first fence repairs were difficult and sometimes took more than one try. Now we know what supplies we need and how to do the work efficiently. We keep all the tools we need together and ready to go. Becoming a peacemaker can have a rocky start. But, just like mending our fences, we learn how to use the tools God has given us and become more confident over time. It is always worth the time and effort to reconcile with others. And we are never alone – the Prince of Peace is with us and will guide us every step of the way.