In order to understand my world you need to meet my kids.
I have a son, aged 6 years, and a daughter, aged 3. About once a day, I hear something from my son that I usually never believe. Sometimes he screams it at me, sometimes he says it while crying, and sometimes he is just slightly upset.
It usually goes something like, “Daddy, Hannah is hurting me!”
There are many other versions. “Dad, Hannah is not being fair.” “Dad, you need to tell Hannah to give me that toy.”
Sometimes, there is …violence. It’s usually me saying, “Hannah, did you hit Tyler? Why?” And her reply is usually, “Tyler took my toy.”
In this situation, I almost always take issue with my son, as I remember my father did with me when I was young. I think the reason why is probably obvious to most adults.
Here it is: my son is 6. My daughter is 3. That’s it. That’s the reason.
My son, at 6 years old, highly intelligent for his age, of slightly above average size for his age, is perfectly capable of resolving most cases of sibling rivalry in our home. His sister, at 3 years old, is simply not.
The answer, as I still tell him almost every day, is usually very simple. Just walk away. Give her the toy. Be nice. You are stronger than her. She doesn’t understand yet. You do.
Is it really important that I step in and mediate the discussion between my 6-year-old and my 3-year-old and decide who should really play with the toy, or who should eat the banana, or who should be able to do whatever they wanted to do before someone started crying? No. The winner of conflict is not important. I don’t want my son to think that it is; I want him to learn that his sister’s feelings are infinitely more important than anything they were fighting over.
Now, the truth is that he doesn’t really understand. He won’t really understand the importance of choosing peace over conflict until he is much older. But he understands enough to diffuse most of the situations he faces with his sister right now.
Do we ever really learn?
The lesson that my son is trying to learn is one that never really goes away. There are times throughout life, even as adults, when we have the opportunity to choose peace over conflict.
Someone cuts us off in traffic. Someone cuts in front of us at the grocery store. A coworker is inconsiderate of our needs or desires. We get left out of a night out with friends. We get made fun of at the water cooler at work.
I could go on, but I think the picture is clear: part of being an adult is being able to choose peace over conflict. There are a multitude of situations where this kind of decision is necessary.
But there is something even better, and more difficult, that we must learn as adults.
It’s not just about peace.
At this point, I believe choosing to simply end the conflict before it escalates is about all that my 6-year-old son can grasp on his own. But the peace is not a real peace — it is simply an end to violence. There is no understanding, no clear declaration, “Now, in this situation, daughter, you were wrong. Son, you were correct…” The parties involved don’t understand each other more clearly. They don’t resolve to work together in the future. They just know that a third party, their father, is forcing them to end their conflict.
One day — probably as an adult — my son will learn not just the value of mere peace, but also the value of true reconciliation.
That which sets us apart
…therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:7-8)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)
As a Christian, I would not say that we are better than others. We are not. The thing we ought to know, because of our faith, is that we aren’t better. The thing we ought to know is that we are in fact worse than we could have imagined.
And in the midst of our fallen, broken human nature, we have one truth that ought to hold us afloat in the midst of conflict: we are forgiven. Because we have been forgiven much, we are free to forgive others.
But that’s only one side of it, because the power to forgive implies that we are the ones who have been offended. We are not only free to forgive — we are also free to admit the truth when we are wrong and seek the forgiveness of others.
That’s a truly adult thing to do, and one that we usually only truly appreciate far, far into our adulthood. This is what sets us apart: not the ability to do right, but the ability to seek reconciliation when we haven’t.
This is our war.
Oh, if this was just about personal relationships, who spilt the milk and who kissed who, it would still be so simple. But there is so much more to this. What some might say sounds like a happy-go-lucky, touchy-feely gospel is actually the greatest battle we fight as lovers of our Savior, Jesus.
We get to bring reconciliation into this world. We get to fight against the comfort-loving, tit-for-tat status quo of our society with truth that will change people from the inside out. We do not have to be right — we get to be stronger, admit the brokenness of our society, and promote peace, justice for the downtrodden, and true reconciliation.
I believe the time has come when we — when I — can no longer settle for comfort, for the status quo. There is something greater. There is something greater in all my relationships, in all my conflicts, and in all the messed up brokenness that I am met with every day, in my life and in the lives of others. It is the all-encompassing, profound, deep, counter-cultural peace of Jesus.