I was sorry to learn that you are involved in such a difficult conflict. It really hurts when someone else says false or unkind things about you, especially in front of others.
My natural reaction to such attacks has been to immediately defend myself and focus on the other person’s wrongs. But God is helping me to see how unproductive that reaction is. He is steadily teaching me how to be a peacemaker, which has completely changed the way I respond to conflict.
Most of what I’ve learned is described in the enclosed Peacemaking Principles Pamphlet, which summarizes the basic principles of biblical peacemaking. You can find similar information at Peacemaker Ministries’ website (www.Peacemaker.net), starting with the Slippery Slope and Foundational Peacemaking Principles pages.
One of the surprising things I’ve learned is that biblical peacemaking doesn’t mean passively giving in to others or a “let’s-just-all-get-along” kind of compromising. It actually takes a lot more wisdom, courage, and effort than anything else I’ve done. But it’s worth the effort!
The Bible’s teaching on conflict resolution may be organized under four key principles (sometimes called the Four G’s): Glorify God, Get the log out of your own eye, Gently Restore, and Go and be reconciled. I want to write some of my thoughts on how you might be able to apply these principles in the situation with Pat.
Glorifying God means drawing attention to how wonderful God is. When you are in a conflict, you can do this by asking God to help you behave in such a way that other people will see his power and love working in your life.
One way to do this is to show that you trust that God is with you in the middle of this situation. Instead of seeing this conflict as an inconvenient or unpleasant accident, approach it believing that God cares about and is in control over the smallest details of your life (see Matt. 10:29; Genesis 50:15-21). Act in such a way that others can see that you believe God is up to something good in your life, even in the midst of an unpleasant conflict.
Second, ask God to help you behave in a way that is not natural, and therefore shows that he is working in you and through you. This could involve confessing your wrongs before focusing on what Pat’s done wrong, confronting him in a loving rather than a harsh way, and genuinely forgiving him when this situation is resolved. (None of these things come naturally to me, so whenever I do manage to do them, I can always tell people it’s not me, but Jesus working in me.)
I’ve found that one way to discover how to glorify God in the middle of conflict is to ask myself, “How can I please and honor God in this situation?” or “How can I bring praise to Jesus by showing that he has saved me and is working in me?” These questions often help me to find a course that is different from what I would do naturally, with results that are better!
Get the log out of your own eye
When I have a problem with someone, I tend to magnify the other person’s contribution to the problem and minimize my own. But in Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus commands us to identify and confess our wrongs before we say a word about the other person’s. This is hard for me to do, because I wrestle so much with pride and self-righteousness. But every time I’ve been able to obey Jesus’ command, conflicts began to turn around.
From what you’ve written, it sounds like you already realize that it was wrong to say what you did about Pat, especially in front of the rest of the missions committee. Ask God to help you admit that to Pat specifically and without excuses. (I’m pretty sure you realize that no matter what Pat did to you, deliberately humiliating him in front of others was not a Christ-like thing to do.)
I encourage you to call Pat and ask him if you can come over and apologize to him in person for your comments. (Letters and telephones are usually not good avenues for detailed confession, since written words are often misunderstood and neither letters or phone conversations allow us to reinforce our words with affirming body language.) When you meet with him in person, you will want to base your confession on God’s principles. The following “7 A’s of Confession” are a helpful guide:
Here is a way that you might be able to pull these concepts together in a confession to Pat:
Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Pat. I am sorry for what I said to you at the committee meeting, and I appreciate your letting me apologize in person.
It was wrong of me to speak so disrespectfully to you during the meeting. There is no excuse for my behavior. I was angry that you disagreed with me. So I sinned against you by striking back with the comment about your education. That was so wrong! It wasn’t just a careless comment. I am terribly ashamed for saying something so hurtful to you.
It would have been bad if I’d spoken those words to you in private, but it was worse to do it in front of other people. I am terribly sorry for hurting you that way.
I wish I could just erase my words, but I can’t. What I will do, however, is confess to the entire committee that I sinned against you with my words. I will also tell them that I wronged all of them by disrupting our discussion and putting everyone in such an awkward situation.
With God’s help, I will respond differently next time you or someone else disagrees with me at a committee meeting. I will try to hear you out and truly understand your ideas and concerns. If we still disagree in the future, I will ask God to help me express my thoughts respectfully, and to not let pride or anger cause me to strike out at you or anyone else. When it seems appropriate, I will ask if we can discuss difficult issues later in private, so we can have more time to pray and think them through together.
Again, there is no excuse for what I did. I was just plain wrong. I’ve asked God to forgive me and work in my heart to change me. I don’t deserve his forgiveness or yours, but I still need to ask for it. Will you please forgive me for the way I have wronged you?
Of course you will want to say this in your own way.
Almost every time I’ve made this kind of humble and thorough confession, the other person has responded graciously, even when he or she couldn’t forgive me immediately. But sometimes people have rejected my confession. So you might want to spend a little time praying and thinking about what you will say if Pat doesn’t respond well. For example, he might say, “After the way you attacked me, you think I should just forgive you and sweep it all under the carpet?”
In case he says something like that, you could plan a response like this: “I’m not asking you to sweep it under the carpet. In fact, I’m willing to publicly admit I was wrong and to do everything I can to repair the damage I caused. I know it may take some time for you to work through your feelings. But because of what Christ did for both you and me on the cross, I hope you will eventually forgive me as he has forgiven us.” You don’t need to write a complete script, but it would probably be wise to thank about what you will say if he doesn’t immediately accept your confession.
After you’ve addressed your responsibility for a conflict, it is sometimes necessary to talk to the other person about how he or she contributed to the problem. As Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” This is often the most challenging part of peacemaking, because many people become defensive or angry when we try to point out their faults. This could be true of Pat.
The good news is that when we sincerely and thoroughly confess our sins, most people will soften and admit that they were partly to blame. For example, Pat might say, “You know, it’s not all your fault. I was being pretty stubborn that night, so I can see why you were feeling frustrated.”
If he says something like that, you could help him to dig a little deeper by saying, “I really appreciate your saying that, Pat. But no matter what you did, it was still wrong for me to lash back at you. I have been concerned, however, about the tension I’ve sensed between us over the past few months. I really hope we can resolve it. Do you mind if I share with you how some of your comments have affected me?”
Pat will probably let you continue, in which case you could tactfully explain how his comments have made you feel. When you do so, avoid stating conclusions (“You’re always trying to ridicule me and others”). Instead, use “I statements” to share your observations and feelings: “I sometimes feel frustrated or embarrassed when it seems like you are ridiculing my ideas and suggestions.” Be prepared to give him a specific example of his words so he can better understand why you’ve been frustrated.
Of course, your conversation might not go this smoothly! If, after hearing your confession, Pat does not express any sense of responsibility for the problems between you, you’ll have to decide whether to even bring up any of his offenses. I would pray about this and think this through before you meet.
On the other hand, if you believe the problems between the two of you are so urgent that you have to resolve everything right away, you’ll need to plan how to tactfully shift the focus to Pat. One way to do this would be to say, “I appreciate your allowing me to confess my wrongs to you, Pat. I hope in time you’ll be able to forgive me. To keep from getting into a similar conflict in the future, I would like to explain how things you say to me might be contributing to the tension between us. May I share a few thoughts with you?”
This could lead into a constructive conversation. The risk with this approach, however, is that it could make your earlier confession seem insincere–implying that what you really came to talk to him about was his wrongs. If so, the resulting conversation probably won’t be productive.
Therefore, if Pat does not voluntarily shift the focus to his own responsibility after your confession, it may wise to simply make your confession, accept his response, and postpone a discussion about his role in the problem for a few weeks. During that time, your changed, gracious attitude may affect him. If his critical behavior continues, you could approach him later and ask to talk to him about it. You will be in a better position to correct him if you have followed through on your commitment to treat him with respect during committee meetings.
Whether you point out his contribution to the problem now or later, here are a few principles I’ve learned that usually make confrontations go more smoothly:
For more detailed ideas on how to approach Pat in a winsome manner, I encourage you to read chapter 8 in Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, which sets forth several additional principles of confrontation, along with examples of specific wording. The more carefully you plan this part of your conversation, the more likely it is to go well.
Go and Be Reconciled
If the Lord opens Pat’s heart to see his contribution to the tensions between you, you can move to the fourth step in peacemaking, which is forgiveness and reconciliation. (If Pat doesn’t repent and confess, you’ll need to decide whether to overlook his wrongs (see Prov. 19:11) or to ask some other people in your church to get involved to help you be reconciled (see Matt. 18:16).)
Forgiveness is sometimes hard for me, but it is still my favorite part of peacemaking, because it is such a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to others the forgiveness that God has given to me through Christ. Romans 5:8 reminds me that while I was still a sinner, God sent his Son to die for me! And just after Jesus was nailed to the cross, he looked down on those who had abused him and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I still find this so amazing! As a Christian, I am one of the most forgiven people in the entire world. Therefore, by God’s grace, I want to be one of the most forgiving people in the world. I’m sure you do, too.
I used to think of forgiveness as a feeling or as forgetting someone’s wrongs. But God has shown me that forgiveness doesn’t depend on feelings or forgetting. Forgiving is actually a decision, an act of the will (as God helps us) to make four promises that mirror the promises he makes to us when he forgives us. These promises may be summarized as follows:
If Pat admits some of his contribution to the problems between you, you could express forgiveness to him by saying: “Pat, I gladly forgive you. God has forgiven me for much worse things, and out of love for him I am happy to forgive you. Just so you know what I mean by forgiveness, let me make four specific promises to you.” And then say the promises. What a great way to remind Pat in a concrete way of the marvelous forgiveness Jesus gives to us through his atoning work on the cross.
Well, this letter got much longer than I intended! But I’ve learned so much about peacemaking recently that I ended up sharing most of it with you. Please give me a call if you want to talk about any of this further. In the meantime, I will be praying for you and Pat, asking God to fill you with his Spirit and make you an effective peacemaker. Remember his promise, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
Note: As mentioned earlier, you are not expected to write this much detail in your answers to the cases in the Personal Peacemaking Study. We do hope, however, that you will address each of the Four G’s briefly in your answers so that these concepts will become part of your normal response to conflict.