Note: This response is much more detailed than a person would write when he or she is just beginning to study biblical peacemaking. Don’t be discouraged if your answer is much shorter than this one. Instead, thank God that there is so much practical guidance in his Word for you to learn and apply in the weeks ahead.
Thank you for taking the time to describe your circumstance in such detail. You have obviously been thinking about this seriously, and from your letter I can tell that you understand that your response will have profound and lasting consequences. It is humbling to have you trust me enough to share your struggle and ask for my counsel. My prayer is that God will continue to lead you as he has promised, and that he will give me wisdom as I reply.
I have found that the best way to think biblically when I am challenged by conflict is to deliberately apply the Peacemaker Ministries framework — the 4 G’s — that we have been learning in our small group study. By doing this, you are more likely to ask yourself the right questions and take steps that will lead toward reconciliation.
Can you commit to me that you will daily pray that God will give you a desire to “shine a light on Him” during every step in this process? Whenever we’re in a conflict our response either draws attention to our circumstances and ourselves or draws attention toward the living God. You will start off on a solid footing by moving forward in prayerful trust that God is in control, and your trusting attitude will glorify Him.
One of the most powerful ways you can bring God glory is through the influence of your example. I have often heard that at least ten times as many people are influenced by our response than the number of people directly involved in the conflict. In your situation, Jasmine, her mother, the principal, and Paul are all directly impacted by your example. But you also have an opportunity to set an example for each child in your class, for other parents, the board of trustees, other teachers, and even your own family! I know that as an educator you will especially appreciate the importance of your example in influencing all those around you. Long after these issues are resolved, people will remember more about the richness of your character than about the details of the dispute.
It helps me to think about conflict in the context of stewardship. God allows certain conflicts to occur in our relationships. We often have little or no control over the circumstance, the way other people respond, or the ultimate outcome. But God says, “This conflict belongs to me. I love you and I am in control of every circumstance. Because this problem belongs to me, you can trust that I allowed you to experience this for a reason. I want you to steward this conflict for my purposes and my glory.”
Get the log out of your eye
Our natural tendency is to respond to any conflict by first pointing out what other people have done to cause the problems. In most circumstances, we don’t have any trouble finding fault in others!
However, God wisely asks us first to evaluate what we have done to cause a problem. I believe he does this for at least two reasons. The first is that until we understand our contribution to the conflict, our perspective is all messed up. We tend to magnify everyone else’s fault and minimize our own. The second reason is that by honestly recognizing and acting on our own sinful contribution to the situation, we can often encourage reconciliation.
Our honest confession can profoundly influence the outcome of a conflict. As “a gentle answer turns away wrath,” a heart-felt confession can soften the hardest heart and dynamically improve the quality of the reconciliation process. The problem is that we are often reluctant to confess or we make matters worse by making a poor confession.
I want to challenge you a bit here. As I read your letter, I was struck by your honest admission that you shouldn’t have corrected Jasmine in front of her classmates. Although your story has many layers, it seems to me that this one incident acted as catalyst for the following events. What would happen if you confessed your wrong to Jasmine? If you confessed to her mother? God can really work in a situation when one of his followers humbly confesses.
There are several factors to consider in making a good confession. As you prayerfully think this through, I encourage you to review the “Seven A’s of Confession” in the enclosed Peacemaker brochure. But I want to focus on just one part – Admit specifically.
As you prayerfully ask God to search your heart, please consider three different types of wrongs that could be confessed: your words, your actions, and your attitude or motivation. A specific confession might sound something like this,
Jasmine, thank you for meeting with me. I’ve been thinking about what happened the other day and I have realized that what I did was wrong. Because I am your teacher, God has given us a special relationship. And he has given me an important responsibility to help you learn and grow in knowledge and maturity. Even though you are much younger than me, you are my sister in Christ, because of what God did through his Son, Jesus. I did not treat you with love and respect, as he has asked me to. Let me explain.
Do you remember when I corrected you in front of the class? I was wrong to do it in front of the other kids. I know it embarrassed you very much. I am so sorry. Not only that, but my words were hurtful. Even if I had only talked to you, it would have been wrong to say what I did. I was angry and frustrated, and I sinned against you. That was my problem, not yours, and I took it out on you. I promise I will try never to act that way toward you again. Will you please forgive me?
A clear confession like this opens the way for genuine reconciliation.
I would encourage you to consider whether it would be appropriate to include Jasmine’s mother, Patty, in the process. In a very real way, when you sin against a child you are also causing great offense to the child’s parent. After you have confessed to Jasmine, if you didn’t include Patty in that meeting, please consider calling Patty and asking her to meet with you, so that you can confess to her also.
One word of warning: everything will backfire if either Jasmine or Patty think you are just confessing to manipulate an end to the conflict. It will be important that your demeanor expresses a heartfelt intention and desire to respond to all of their concerns.
Finally, since you corrected Jasmine in front of the class, it may be appropriate to tell the class that you were wrong and that you have asked Jasmine to forgive you. You can do this briefly and simply, in a way that will not embarrass Jasmine.
When you include Jasmine’s mother in the process of confession, you may also look for a natural opportunity to address her other concerns. For example, it may be appropriate to take the next step of asking Patty if she would meet with you, the principal, and the trustee in order to discuss the steps you have already taken and the ones you intend to take to build a proper relationship with Jasmine and Patty. Patty may also be open to your invitation to begin a more constructive dialogue about Jasmine’s learning potential.
Once you’ve examined your own contribution to the situation, you can then think about who else you may need to talk to about the conflict. I’m particularly thinking about the trustee, Paul. God encourages us to actively seek reconciliation. His design is that we are to “go” anytime we have an unreconciled relationship and the offense is too great to overlook.
How could you effectively approach Paul? While Scripture teaches us to speak with the other party in private, it is also scriptural to show submission to authority. In this case, the principal has authority, and it may be wise to talk to him first or to ask him to meet with you and the trustee.
There are several steps that are important as you prepare to meet with Paul.
What if Paul’s actions continue? Then I would encourage you to meet with your principal and discuss who else may need to be engaged in the reconciliation efforts.
There is much more that could be said about the process of going to someone with whom we are in conflict, but this counsel should give you some good first steps.
Go and be reconciled
It is good news that God is passionate about reconciliation and forgiveness. His desire is to bring deep and lasting reconciliation between his people.
What would true reconciliation look like in your situation? You will know that full reconciliation has occurred when you have forgiven each person involved and when each person has forgiven you. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, you have little or no control over whether someone else forgives you. But God has provided a means to extend forgiveness even when people don’t respond well to a confession.
On the back of the enclosed Peacemaker brochure, you will notice the “Four Promises of Forgiveness.” A fundamental reality of our faith is that because of God’s absolute forgiveness of us, we are free to extend forgiveness to others even in the most difficult and painful circumstances. God empowers us to forgive others in the same way he forgave us. These four promises are a helpful framework for understanding the depth and fullness of God’s forgiveness and for extending that forgiveness to others with God’s help.
In your case, you can immediately and fully make the first promise, I will not dwell on this incident, regardless of how Jasmine, Patty, or Paul respond. This simply means that you are giving the entire matter to God. You are recognizing that, as a forgiven child of God, you can love them, pray for them, and serve them without holding bitterness or resentment. If any one of the others confesses his or her wrong, you are then free to extend the final three promises: I will not bring this incident up and use it against you; I will not talk to others about this incident; and I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our relationship.
I hope you are encouraged by learning more about God’s wonderful peacemaking principles. Following his ways has literally changed my relationships. I have seen many times how practicing biblical peacemaking changes the dynamic from one that is destructive to one that is redemptive. As you prayerfully take these steps, everyone will be influenced by your actions and everyone will have an opportunity to experience genuine, heart-level growth and change, including you!
I will be praying for you. Please stay in touch!
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.