“If you can’t embrace healthy conflict, you’ll never have a truly honest friendship.” – Sarah Bessey
I hate conflict. I don’t like tension or “heated discussions” or being in opposition with people. It gives me this weird feeling in my stomach, like I want to crawl and hide under a table. Not great if you’re a therapist, but there is something deeply spiritual about learning to live within the tension of differing beliefs and how to make amends with the people that hurt us. Even if it’s our own selves.
I grew up in a household where names hold significance. I remember sitting at the kitchen table looking up meanings in Greek and Hebrew before picking a name for our first family pet. I was told from a young age that in Greek my name meant peace. And maybe there is part of this that has held true, but I had to learn on many occasions that peace is not the absence or avoidance of conflict. I would do anything to “keep the peace,” but it often left me feeling more tense, depleted, and unheard.
It wasn’t helpful to pretend like things didn’t hurt to spare someone else’s feelings, and I’ve never met a problem that was solved by ignoring it or having mere hope that it would somehow resolve on its own. It seems counterintuitive, but peacemaking often invites us into conflict. To speak truth and share our thoughts with kindness even if its unpleasant for us or others.
I roomed with my best friend in college. I’ve known her since second grade, and I still remember the day she was sitting in her round study chair when I turned around from my desk to interrupt her. My motivation came to a crashing lull, and she pulled out her earbuds to listen. We’ve sat like this hundreds of times, but something didn’t feel right that day, and when I asked her how she was, she told me. She told me we had a conversation a few weeks back that was bothering her. I almost vomited at the thought of her holding onto to this pain when I had been so clueless. I couldn’t tell you what the conversation was about, but I can tell you that I still remember that moment because it marked something important in our friendship: we embraced conflict.
For two relatively agreeable conflict avoiders, I could tell how hard it was for her to say what she was thinking, much like it was hard for me to receive the words she had to say. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to talk about the things that bother us. It seems easier to dance around sensitive subjects. But, if we want to learn how to create peace within our homes, hearts, minds, and bodies, we have to be willing to tolerate the darkness that allows it to grow.
When I think of the life of Jesus, it was anything but peaceful, and yet the prophet Isaiah calls him our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus showed up where there was unrest, sickness, mourning, oppression, and darkness to bring restoration. If something is restorative in nature it has the ability to renew health, strength, or a feeling of well-being. But restoration, like peace, can be slow growing.
Peacemaking is hard work. It’s an invitation to honesty, not only with others but with ourselves. It’s not agreement or people pleasing or avoiding important matters but having the courage to speak truthfully into the dark places of our lives until the light begins to surface. Sometimes peacemaking looks like forgiveness, compromising, and sacrificing our pride or preferences, so we may choose the best option over what’s convenient for us or the other person. One thing I’m learning is that sometimes the hardest person to make peace with isn’t our enemies, loved ones or strangers but our own selves.
It’s not easy to be human. To face our insecurities and pride. We carry guilt and shame and have grievances with our thoughts, emotions, and bodies. May we be open to change when we’re confronted with aspects of ourselves, we would rather keep hidden. Author Sarah Bessey writes, “Secrets make us sick, I’ve heard. I made secrets out of my questions and doubts and sadness and grief because I didn’t know how to simply sit with them. Even now, I fight against the urge to explain or pretend or ignore away the darkness. It’s uncomfortable to lean into the pain, to seek God there is the sadness.”
May we be people who seek God in the sadness. Who make room for discomfort. May we be peacemakers who lean into conflict, afraid as we may be, to move toward healing and restoration. May we be honest friends who speak clearly, kindly and with compassion. May we not shy away from difficult conversations but have the courage to speak up with love. May we not grow weary or discouraged when we make mistakes but be relentlessly kind to ourselves as we pursue peace in our homes, minds, hearts, and bodies. Amen.