The Spiritual Practice of Peacemaking

UNPACKING THE BEATITUDE:

“Blessed are the peacemakers 

for they will be called children of God.”

Jesus in Matthew 5:9, NIV

Blessed are those who are cool headed, not easily triggered and willing to stand in the gap, who refuse to violently lash out in response and choose to stand fast for the sake of peace, for they will be called children of God. 

Blessed are you when you emulate Jesus’ peacemaking ways and know the wisdom of his peacemaking commands; “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39, NIV). And, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44, NIV), because, like Jesus, you will be called a child of God. 

Blessed are you when you choose to let the cycle of violence stop with you, when your willingness to humbly “take it” keeps you from acting in self destructive ways and awakens the humanity of your enemy, for you will be behaving like a child of God.

Blessed are you when you know that moral change can never come about via immoral means and you are willing to suffer for the greater sake of peace for you will know the peaceful presence of Christ in that place, become more human, and feel what it’s like to be a child of God. 

“In peacemaking both parties become more whole, 

in fighting both parties diminish…” 

Eugene Peterson, Regent College Lecture   

A QUICK PRACTICE

The next time you lash out at someone unthinkingly—and once you’ve calmed down—go over what happened and ask yourself two questions:

  1. How did my words help them become a better person?
  2. How did they help me become a better person? 

Then re-imagine that peace-breaking moment and try to envision what you could have said, or not said, instead. Write a paragraph describing this event had it played out in a more peacemaking way. Then answer the above two questions again.

GOING DEEPER 

To be a peacemaker you need to be good at delaying your gratification for the long term greater good. In a world of immediate satisfaction this is a hard thing to do. When everyone around you is telling you to fight back, to do to others what they did to you, and to reject, cancel, or take down those who’ve offended, it’s tough to hold your tongue and simply stand your ground. And yet both Gandhi and Martin Luther King are proof that this kind of passive peacemaking does work. 

So, is there a way to grow your capacity to act in more peace-making ways so that when the conflict moment happens you’ll be better prepared? 

Perhaps it’s best to start small—by stilling your tongue. If you’re like most people, it’s hard not to say something in the heat of the moment—when you’ve just been hurt or offended by another. So maybe you need to get ahead of that moment and engage in a preemptive spiritual practice—i.e., the spiritual discipline of silence. The idea is that by learning to be more silent overall you’ll strengthen the mental muscle that controls your tongue—giving you more capacity to exercise restraint and not lash out the next time you’re offended. Once you get your tongue under better control, you’ll have a better chance of controlling your actions as well. 

Of course, no one can live a totally silent life. But if you can learn how to control your tongue by speaking “less” (less often, less long, less indignantly, less aggressively, less sinfully) then you’ll strengthen your oral-control capacity (and therefore your whole being). Again, getting control over your words and actions is the key when it comes to peacemaking.

Spiritual master Thomas à Kempis writes in The Imitation of Christ  that, “It’s easier to be silent altogether than to speak with moderation.” The writer of Ecclesiastes agrees—there is both a time to be silent and a time to speak. 

STEPPING INTO SILENCE

As a first step, what if you dedicated the next 7 days to talking less—starting each day by reading the following bible passage from the book of James and then making a conscious effort to speak only when necessary, with as few words as possible, and only in ways that contribute to the greater good of others? Can you imagine a day like that? 

Then, what if you ended each day by recalling one of the times you chose not to speak and unpacking it via the following questions:

  1. What would I have normally said in that moment and what impact would my words have had?
  2. What did it feel like to not say anything? Was the silence painful, peaceful, or something else?
  3. How has speaking less changed my heart? What does it feel like to speak more intentionally?

Taming your Tongue — James 3:2-12, MSG

“We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life. A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech, we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues, we bless God our Father; with the same tongues, we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?” 

MEETING CHRIST IN THE SILENCE

Jesus knows what it’s like to not speak in the face of conflict. By his Spirit we can know his presence in our tongue-holding, standing-our-ground places. When we let the cycle of violence stop with us, when we choose to not respond “in kind” (and become more Christ-like), we put ourselves in a more Christ-near place. When we’re nearer to Christ in these peacemaking moments, his presence can bring perspective—enabling us to see ourselves for the peacemakers we are made to be (people whose love is strong enough to stand fast and suffer for the sake of a restored relationship), and by giving us a vision that is long enough to see the greater kingdom good, the greater peace, that all of life is heading toward. 

One day, all things will be in perfect relationship—with God and with everything and everyone else. To be in a peacemaking moment, to bear the burden of taking up our cross for God’s peacemaking sake, is to have the fullness of Christ dwell in you more richly. To take the heat of that place is to know the warmth of his selfless presence. To be like Christ in this way is to be most fully human! 

When you think about the presence and power of this way of being—this way of not-speaking and not-acting—how else would you want to live? If the pain of peacemaking means knowing Jesus more fully, then who else would you want to be?

A PEACEMAKING PRAYER

Lord, it’s a hard to turn the other cheek,

to bless when others curse you.

It’s hard to be silent when attacked,

and speak in love when facing hatred.

It’s hard to trust that you’ll defend,

vindicate, and bring justice to the situation.

It’s hard.

But Lord, help me do what is hard,

for the sake of those who can’t.

Help me follow you on this peacemaking path.

So that your kingdom may come, 

And your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Amen

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