Lean in for peace!
What a year it has been! When the Apostle Paul said of our human race in Romans 3:17 that “the way of peace they do not know” he certainly was right! Conflict has been playing out on our national and international stages before our eyes and I’m sure if your experience of life is like my own – its been playing out in our personal lives as well!
A time to stop and remember …. and extend gracious peace
But it’s Christmas time… a time when we can stop and remember how God went to extraordinary lengths to bring about reconciliation between us who are wilful and rebellious and himself who is holy and perfect in goodness. At the first Christmas, God came down in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and was born as a little child.
The story, of course, doesn’t end there. God’s Son grew to be a man who was rejected by us, and suffered and died for our wilful and disobedient hearts. But he rose from his grave, and so we came to understand that he had died on our behalf, and paid all our past and future debt to God in full. Because of his amazing act of grace (rich and generous kindness) anyone can have the forgiveness of God and be at peace with Him – simply by turning their lives back to him and trusting in Jesus Christ for that forgiveness.
The Apostle Paul says:
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17)
So Christmas time is a wonderful time to follow God’s example, and extend gracious peace to others. If God was so kind as to establish peace between us and himself, what can we each do to reach out to others with hands and hearts of peace?
But what are some ways of doing that this Christmas?
Let’s switch for a moment to the world of boxing. In boxing each fighter has to choose at each moment whether to lean into the fight, or lean out and away. They can lean in to engage the fight or lean out to move away – or escape – from the fight.
Now this is a very odd way to think about Christmas! I’m not suggesting we approach Christmas as if it was a fight! But we can use this image of leaning in or leaning away to think about how we will engage people (sometimes difficult people) with hearts of peace as we meet them this Christmas – or not engage them with peace.
In conversations we can graciously lean in – mentally and physically – to lovingly and positively engage the person, or we can lean back and away – mentally and physically – to withdraw and escape from the person.
Christmas can be a lovely and special time, but it can also be a difficult time. Emotions can run high because our hopes and expectations are high and we are stressed in planning and just being at the event. We want to get along with and enjoy others, but just being together can lead to recollections of unpleasant events and painful situations. So our time together can be a mixed experience: moments of gladness, and other moments that can be awkward, and sometimes even very hard indeed!
Peacemaking is about living out God’s grace with others
Peacemaking is about living out God’s grace with others, engaging in relationships in a truthful, loving and gracious way. God was ‘for’ relationship with us – his enemies – and in his love he leaned in when he came to us in Jesus Christ. He chose to pay the highest price for us when Jesus gave his life for us!
We can likewise be ‘for’ relationships with others, even people we find difficult! One way we can be ‘for’ the relatives or friends we meet – even the difficult ones – is to lean in to conversations rather than lean out of them. With God’s help we can choose, with deliberate love and grace, to positively engage with willing interest in those we meet.
Some practical ways to be ‘for’ relationships and to lean in are:
- through our posture: turning toward them to actually face them and look at them (if that is appropriate to their culture!), to lean a little toward them to give them our full attention
- we can make sure we’re in a place we can hear each other above other noise
- we can show our interest in them by using positive facial expressions and use appropriate expressions (‘hmmm, I see…’, ‘uh-huh’ ‘really!’, etc) and gestures and nods as they speak and share their news and views
- we can ask clarifying questions to make sure we have really understood this or that part of their story or their emotions
- we can empathise and try to understand their feelings, we can laugh with them, we can reflect back what we hear them saying in our own words – “So you were really enjoying being with Lee that day”, or reflect the feelings we can see in their faces or their voice – “That must have been really difficult.”
- we can agree with things they say – “Yes, I can see what you’re saying!”
These ‘attending skills’ might all seem like small things, but when accompanied with a sincere (and deliberate) heart they can mean a great deal to the other person. They can show that you really are listening and think they are worthwhile spending time with (when, sometimes, others might not think that), that they matter to you, that whatever faults they might have, you are a fellow sinner who is loved and accepted by God only through his kind grace.
In these ways we can express a loving heart and be ‘for’ positive gracious relationships as people of peace: we can choose to lean in for peace in a small way – toward even the least loveable person. And we can do this because God chose to meet us with his grace and peace when we least loveable.
And as you choose to have deeper conversations this Christmas like this, you never know: you might even get an opportunity to share with someone what it means to you that God reached out by sending his Son into the world at Christmas and how this Prince of Peace enables you to be a person of peace.
This article is by David Coy. David is married to Noreen, and they have four married daughters and three grandchildren. He trained and has worked as an Anglican minister. David connected with PeaceWise training in 2011 and is now working in biblical peacemaking through Turning Point Ministry Services.