Bushfires are nothing new in Australia. But the scale of what we have seen this summer season takes our breath away. So many have lost their lives, millions of animals and livestock have been killed. Property destruction runs into the multi-billions of dollars, and our natural environment is scarred.
These events have created strong emotional responses in us all, whether we’ve been directly impacted or have watched on from afar. We’ve been reminded that the devastation of disaster is never far away and that we can never be complacent (even if we often are). Many of us have given generously in response – we want to do what we can to help.
Injustice, grief and other emotions
But beyond the physical devastation and the huge emotional and personal loss experienced, lie deep seated questions and emotions – like
- why and how did this happen?
- feelings of frustration at seeming political inaction when advance warnings were given, and
- helplessness at the injustice randomly inflicted and loss innocently suffered.
We’ve seen how people’s shock and grief has quickly turned to anger and fear, and how this has fuelled conflict and controversy. Many of us are trying to make sense of what has happened in the hope of preventing bushfires of this scale and magnitude happening again.
As reflective peacemakers, we are reminded that not only is there opportunity in conflict, but that within grief there is also opportunity. Especially as grief produces stress and stress produces conflict.
Loss forces us to reassess our perspective, and to right-size our priorities.
For instance, is that long-held grudge I’ve had with another person or family member worth bearing? Or, is there something tangible over which we disagree where we could actually find a compromise? Or, I know someone who is disappointed with me… can I go to that person in humility, apologise as a peacemaker would, and seek their forgiveness?
Loss reminds us of what is truly important in life. It’s not the ‘stuff’ that we accumulate, but the stuff of people and relationships which is important.
But, as mentioned above, experiences of loss exacerbate stress levels and feelings of grief do in turn create conflict.
Living out our faith through the gospel of peace
It’s in these moments that we need to tap into the gospel of peace in a fresh way.
The life we were created for and called into, is one of love, joy and peace in relationship with others and our Creator (and the world he created – see Genesis 1:26-28). Jesus came to bring us back into peaceful communion with each other and with God, and he did this by responding perfectly to injustice and sin. We can then demonstrate what living out this gospel of peace and love means when we experience injustice and grief.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose to:
1) seek to glorify God despite the circumstances;
2) kindly love, listen and serve those around us, regardless of how they treat us; and,
3) seek to become more and more like Jesus in our character and demeanour.
Can we, therefore, use Jesus’ sacrifice as our example as we humbly bear the weight of grief? Can we attempt to understand that haphazard responses to stress occur simply because we’re grieving? Can we go gently with ourselves and others?
Perhaps we can see that grief and fear are causing us or the other person to react in ways we normally wouldn’t. Proverbs 19:11 reminds us that, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offence.” (NIV).
Trusting God with our anxiety is an invitation to peace. If we seek peace, we must allow God in.
The apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:4-9 to present our requests to God and to pray with thanksgiving when we’re anxious, and the peace that transcends our understanding will be ours. This gentle, God-trusting peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!
Will we, therefore, view Jesus’ sacrifice as our example as we humbly and graciously bear the weight of grief and fear?
Can we trust God and seek to respond lovingly when there is injustice, rather than lash out in anger?
Could we go gently with others by lovingly choosing to overlook their haphazard and unhelpful reactions to stress?
And will we resolve to remind ourselves and encourage others to remember our loving God when we experience hurt, tragedy and despair?
Patience and peace with God
What we need most when we’re grieving is our peace returned to us. Paul suggests that a secret to the peace of God being with us (v. 9) is to focus the mind on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (v. 8 with bold for emphasis)
So, as you endure the mystery of grief, and negotiate your responses to it, being as patient with yourself and others as you can, may the peace of God be with you!
Worth thinking about:
- What grief, loss, anger or stress are you currently experiencing?
- Is there a conflict which is at the center of strong feelings of anxiety?
- Read over Philippians 4:4-9. Ask God to help you pray and think about your situation in a way that helps you find greater peace, as trust him for all you need
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”— Romans 12:18 (NIV)
Note: The PeaceWise course “Heart of Peacemaking” includes an extended section on moving through grieving and sadness to acceptance and peace. If you have already done Everyday Peacemaking, we encourage you to come to this day of training which will strengthen both your peacemaking skills and relationship with God. You can find out more about the Heart of Peacemaking course and other PeaceWise courses here.
This article is by Steve Wickham. Steve is married to Sarah. They have one son, and Steve has three adult daughters. Steve has a passion for peacemaking and is a PeaceWise trainer, as well as being the PeaceWiseKids Content and Curriculum Manager. He has worked as a registered safety practitioner in chemical manufacture, downstream petroleum, and ports initially, then subsequently as a pastor, counsellor and school chaplain.