Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Fruit of the Spirit Part 5 - Peace (original posting date 2/28/07)

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

As I contemplated the use of "peace" in the Galatians verse, it was difficult to discern whether this refers to internal peace (a sense of peace deep in our hearts) or an external peace (a unity found between individuals). Then I realized it didn't really matter. The other fruit of the spirit speak both to internal character traits as well as our external behavior, so it seems legitimate that either context could be correct and be evidence of good fruit, a tight walk with God.

The internal peace that we find is rooted in the proceeding two components of this verse. If we realize God's love, and we're committed to loving others, if we have joy in our hearts, when we're full of contentment from trust in Christ and his character, we can be at peace. There is no worry that should overcome us. As Christ fills us up, we can release the troubles of this world. As I've already spoken much on faith, which helps generate this fruit of peace, I'm today going to focus on peace between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Even when we are tenderhearted toward one another, it is possible to stumble into conflict. We bring perceptions, pasts, expectations, habits, fears, and needs into each of our relationships. It takes time for imperfect people to get to know one another and learn to navigate these waters. In group dynamics, corporate theory often speaks of "Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing". Storming is the difficult phase of opening up and inadvertently stumbling into misunderstandings. Norming is the beautiful process of caring enough to work through it. Once you know one another, it may get easier, but our sinful nature still causes hurts and misunderstandings. My question to you is… in your relationships, when the going gets tough… do you walk out or do you work it out?

God calls us to peace. We are to live in harmony with one another. There may be people we're not called to be best friends with, but none the less, are our family in Christ. It may be difficult to come to terms with people very different than us or who have hurt us, but it's not ok to give up on relationships. It's not ok to get nasty because someone was nasty to me. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to figure these things out, no matter how painful, time consuming or exhausting the process may be. Don't get me wrong. I believe in healthy boundaries. But I think some of us, me included, give up long before it's an issue of boundaries. We give up just b/c it's hard. That's not an acceptable response in God's economy b/c you know these things just fester. We are called to reconciliation. God is all about relationships – harmonious, complete and healthy relationships. Unreconciled conflict hurts the entire body of believers.

"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Hebrews 12:14-15

""Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24

Is there anyone with whom you're living unreconciled? How might you go about fixing this?

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:17-18

This verse always strikes me. The phrase "as far as it depends on you" is quite powerful. It reminds me that though I cannot control another person, I need to do all I can to reconcile.

I just finished the most amazing book, The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley (Tyndale House Publishers, September 2004). It may be the most challenging book I've ever read because no book has ever made me think so deeply on why I react in relationships as I do, whether it is friends, family, coworkers, or in dating situations. I highly recommend this book to EVERYONE who seeks healthy relationships. It's given me incredible insights and the power to make changes.

What I have come to understand most from this book are the triggers in my life. There are things I fear, baggage that I'm carrying around, that cause me to react in certain ways. These are hidden buttons, deep in my heart, that lead me right into conflict when pushed, with little or no notice.

Smalley speaks of the "Fear Dance". There is always something in us that we fear and this thing causes us to react when we feel threatened. The issues we think we argue about are rarely the real issue. It's about our fears. The issue or how it's handled, feeds into our fears. Though these can vary person to person, Smalley boils down that most women's primary fear is detachment and most men's is being controlled. It's that old love and respect thing. Women want to be loved, cherished, and made to feel safe and valued. Men want to be respected, honored, to feel strong. Do you see how basically biblical this is? Scripture says "Wives, submit to your husbands." In other words, give them respect. God tells us women to do this because, by God's design, this is who man is and what he needs. Then it says "Husbands, love your wives." God created us ladies to need love. It doesn't say "love your husband" and "respect your wife". Not that we shouldn't do this, but it's secondary to the primary need. For example, I like to be respected, but it's because it makes me feel loved. Women are relational. Men are more tactical. It's the beauty in how we complete each other. The quicker we realize this, the quicker we'll reduce the conflict in our lives.

Check this out: A woman feels her guy doesn't understand her. He's maybe not spending enough time with her or trying too hard to fix her. She reacts emotionally in a manner to try to manipulate him to get what she wants. He feels controlled and becomes more stubborn. Either his words become more hurtful to manipulate her or he withdrawals further to free himself from her grasp. She grows more hurt and the fear dance is in full swing. It may also begin the other way. The guy feels he's being unduly challenged, digs his feet in and begins the game, etc., etc. Sound typical?

Now just to be clear, these lessons don't just apply to male/female relationships. I look back on past conflicts with a roommate. Do you know that almost a 100% of the time, at the end of the day, it was because one or both of us wasn't feeling loved by the other? It was rarely really about the mess, the dogs, or the rent. Those situations made one or both of us feel detached, not cared for, and one would begin to withdrawal. Well, that would often trigger the other to withdrawal. Before we knew it, we were in a full-on fear dance. Some times it would take us weeks to realize the basis of our conflict was that we missed each other!

In order to overcome the fear dance, Smalley says we need to learn new dance steps. We need to learn 1) The Power of One (take personal responsibility), 2) Safety (to create a safe environment, some times even by accepting other's walls), 3) Self-care (to take care of ourselves; we react more when drained), 4) Emotional Communication (to listen from the heart and give the benefit of the doubt), and 5) Teamwork (to adopt a win-win policy where both parties feel good about the outcome). Again, for details on each of these, I strongly encourage you read this book; I can't cover it all here. But I will tell you how I'm learning these new steps.

Several weeks ago a friend came to me for wisdom on handling some conflict. She wasn't sure if she should confront her friend or just create some space. The Lord pressed on my heart three questions to ask her: 1) If you merely back away, will she notice, and if so, is this fair without explanation? 2) Without working this through, will you honestly be able to view her and love her the same as before? 3) If this rift is sensed by others, how will it impact those around you and the dynamics of your little community?

This gave her a lot to think about. She could get stuck in the fear dance or choose new dance steps. I wanted her to listen to the other woman's heart, create a safe environment, and come up with a win-win. Funny thing is… speaking that gave me a lot to think about too.

It was ironic that she'd come to me, because I was struggling with a similar situation with one of my friends. I had feared approaching my friend, but I realized that I was not loving my friend by avoiding her. In fact, I was being just as disrespectful as I accused her of being. Some times we wish we could just let things go, hope our pains subside, but if they linger more than a day, they probably need to be talked out. Our silence isn't doing anyone any favors.

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." Ephesians 4:25-27

To love my friend, I had to first purify my heart. Through this process, God helped me remember more of her heart and take her feelings into consideration even over my own. In remembering the beauty of her heart, I realized she hadn't set out to hurt me. This completely changed how I approached her. I proceeded not with the goal to prove my point, but to reconcile. Sure enough, she had no idea she'd hurt me and she felt terrible. She apologized, I accepted, and we moved forward. I didn't continue to dwell on what she'd done, but moved on to encourage her, affirm her, and reassure her all would be ok.

We all have choices to make. Our words can hurt or heal. Historically, I've been pretty temperamental. I liked to get my way, I didn't like to be hurt, and I made sure everyone knew this in my words and behavior. Yuk! I'm so thankful God is now teaching me new dance steps, because it's revolutionizing my relationships!

It snowed Sunday. A friend asked me to join her for church. Because of the roads, we were incredibly late. I don't like to be late, especially to church. It wasn't her fault; it just was what it was. I had a choice to make. I could be frustrated that we were late and go into a sour mood… or I could look at it as additional quality time to spend with my friend as we drove. When we returned to the car after church, she apologized for us being so late. I told her it was fine. Knowing she'd be sketical… I went on to tell her of the choice I'd made. I'd chosen to just enjoy my time with her, to love and affirm her. Do you have an idea how this blessed her?

That night I had to have a difficult conversation with another friend. I'd had my feelings hurt earlier in the week, but I knew that it was not intentional. Knowing the heart of the person (pure and kind), I didn't want to bring it up at all, but my pain was lingering. With prayer, I realized that lying about my feelings was unfair and no way to treat someone I consider a very dear friend. So we talked.

Before I tell you what happened, I want to tell you important changes God made in my heart first, that likely entirely changed the outcome of the conversation. Because of reading the DNA book, I choose to spend HOURS allowing God to sort me out first. He reminded me I control my emotions, no one else. I decide. If I struggle with fear, it's between me and God. I cannot blame another for my stuff. I can communicate how something may have triggered me, but reconciling isn't just about being heard and getting my feelings fixed.

By the time we spoke, my primary goal was for both of us to walk away encouraged and feel successful in this situation. I chose first and foremost to respect and lift him up, thank him for his care, and acknowledge the beautiful intent. I knew if I reacted negatively out of my fear, I would be tearing down. If I didn't leave him whole, in fact better off than before, I would be the real loser. I would not only have lost the opportunity to pour into another, but would likely have caused more hurt and confusion. I used my new dance steps and he came back and COMPLETELY blessed and encouraged me in so many ways. Not to mention our relationship is so much stronger for having been open and honest, listening and loving on one another.

I'm still learning. A few small successes don't make for a perfect communicator, but with God's help, I can continue to grow in my ability to live not just in peace, but abundantly. So can you.

This past Sunday morning, Jim Supp spoke on sowing and reaping. Great sermon if you want to check it out. But the key take away for me was this: If I want to reap healthy relationships, I need to be continually sowing encouragement, love, respect, and validation. If I sow anger, frustration or selfishness, these behaviors will come back to me in these relationships, sooner or later. We all just need to be affirmed. And when we're affirmed we're free to keep our hearts open and continue to give to one another. If we close our hearts, we enter the fear dance.

We can't control other's thoughts, feelings, actions. But we have full control of our own. Will you decide to live in peace today? Will you break the cycle of the fear dance? Would you like to leave your next conflict with both of you feeling encouraged, affirmed and better than before? Ask God how to handle your own heart first. Process with him AND THEN reach out to your brother.

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1Thess 5:23

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 15:5-6

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9

Father God, John 13:35 reminds us that all men will know that we are your disciples, if we love one another. That's not always the easiest thing to do in our imperfection. We misinterpret, we don't communicate well, we're selfish and we sin. But you tell us when we fall down to be reconciled. Two are better than one, and we are all the body of Christ. Give us insights to our own triggers so that the enemy can't as readily mess with us and our relationships. Help us to be continually renewing our mind and taking every thought captive, not acting and reacting out of fear, but acting out of love. Your perfect love drives out all fear. I pray for each person reading this. Heal any broken relationships. Soften hearts and open doors. Let us value relationships and fight for them, no matter how difficult. Its impossible for us to love one another if we don't reconcile conflict. And healthy relationships are the most tangible expression of your love that we can share. AMEN.

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