Avoiding conflict seemed like the right way to live life, especially after living most of my life in conflict. My family defined dramatic. I envied my father. He balanced the constant heightened confrontations between my mother and us kids with amazing calm. That was my model. I learned early on to be a peacekeeper from him.
A peacekeeper is defined as “a person who tries to keep things peaceful, often by mediating conflicts or calming people down.” Definitely me most of my life, avoiding conflict at any cost. Why would anyone purposefully seek out conflict? I didn’t understand how they could. Conflict gave me stomach pains.
Last week, a friend of mine led our Sunday School class. He doesn’t normally teach but filled in for our regular teachers. He titled his lesson, “Resolving Conflict in Today’s World.” The scripture reference was from 2 Samuel 21:1-6, 10-14. The conflict itself stemmed from Saul breaking Israel’s agreement with the Gibeonites. In his zeal to unite his kingdom, he broke a treaty with the Gibeonites, putting many of their men to death. Many years later, King David and the Israelites realized the consequences of Saul’s actions. They suffered a three year famine, with no end in sight.
David sought God’s understanding of why the famine happened and what to do about it. He prayed, asking God for understanding as to the source of the famine in Israel. God revealed Saul’s sin to David as the source of the consequence of famine. David went to the Gibeonites, asking what amends he could make for Israel’s sin. They wanted seven of Saul’s descendants killed and their bodies exposed to the elements to atone for the wrongful deaths of hundreds of their ancestors.
David followed through on their request, providing the sacrifice of Saul’s male descendants. He also allowed for them to have an appropriate burial, providing an appropriate resolution and making appropriate amends for Israel’s sins. The Gibeonites request to deny them a proper burial went beyond atonement and into vengeance. David sought and attained peace with God and with the Gibeonites. Only, David didn’t seek peace at any cost. He followed God’s definition of how we are to seek peace…not as peacekeepers but as peacemakers.
In Matthew 5, Jesus instructed his disciples on how to live life as His followers. In this passage, known as the Beatitudes, Jesus described a life counterintuitive to most worldly advice. In verse 9, He states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Not peacekeepers. Peacemakers.
A peacemaker is defined as “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” Reconciling adversaries takes work. My friend’s lesson on David described how to be a peacemaker, a true child of God. He identified ten characteristics of a peacemaker.
- Seek God’s peace as the only source of true peace
- Exhibit a genuine love for others
- Pray and seek God’s understanding
- Build trust with others
- Identify and address conflict
- Want to understand all points of view
- Control anger and don’t overreact
- Speak the truth with love
- Work towards resolution
- Don’t succumb to fear
I’ve spent the last week meditating on this lesson, about being a peacekeeper instead of a peacemaker. Especially with my kids. For so many years, I thought keeping the peace with my kids was the best thing I could do for them. My childhood consisted of an atmosphere of peace breaking. I didn’t want that for my family. I pursued peace at the detriment of truth and transparency. I used the pursuit of no conflict as a crutch to avoid the truth. In Ephesians 4, Paul instructs us to not allow anything unwholesome to come out of our mouth, to speak the truth with love as our primary motivator. By avoiding conflict and avoiding the truth, I denied my family the truth of God’s love.
Over the past two years, my life has changed dramatically. Through the often painful intervention of God, I have come to pursue His truth and righteousness. This path demands a different approach in relationships, especially within my family. We don’t always get it right. We have conflict and hurt feelings and difficulties. But we don’t hide the truth. Mainly, I don’t hide the truth. My spouse has always sought to be a truth teller, as have my boys. I am thankful for their patience in bringing me along. Progress not perfection.