In the first post I wrote for enCourage, I listed two reasons why our churches so often lack loving, loyal, unified relationships: 1) All too often, we fake niceness; and 2) We envy. I then went on to promise future posts to help us to develop sincere affection, faithful loyalty, and lasting unity in our relationships.
What a mistake.
Since writing that post, I have been dragged under waves of relational disappointments so deep and so strong that I have pretty much choked every time our enCourage editor, Christina Fox, graciously and patiently reached out to me for my next article.
How could I urge any of you to risk and trust—to love—when I have daily fought an instinct to curl up into a tiny ball of self-protection? How could I possibly hold out to you the life-transforming power and joy of biblical peacemaking passages and Christian mediation principles when I was wondering if anything I had ever written or taught on these topics was true?
It all seemed so extraordinarily insincere—the opposite of Romans 12:9 (“Love must be sincere”) and 1 Peter 1:22 (“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart …”). In my shock and pain—for it is always a shock when a Christian betrays or attacks us—it seemed insincere to talk about unity and love. It seemed insincere, but according to 1 & 2 Peter, it was actually yet another strengthening of the most sincere anchoring of my soul to the bedrock foundation of the Rock of Ages.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)
Surely, none of us would claim that the suffering we experience as a result of broken relationships is equivalent to the suffering that the persecuted audience of this epistle experienced. Still, the suffering of broken trust, judgmental rejection and abandonment, and the pain of what Dr. Ed Welch describes as “the true indicator of real hatred—indifference” is real. For many of us, relational pain is the most intense suffering in our lives—and thus, it is appropriate to apply this passage to our hearts:
- Are you grieved by various trials? (Who has hurt you? Over whom do you prevail in that argument in your mind, when you can find all of the right words and all of the evidence to show yourself the innocently wronged victim to the intentional meanness of your opponent? Whom do you avoid? Delete from your social media and cellphone? Rejoice in their sorrows?)
- Is your faith being revealed as genuine? (Are you loving your neighbor? Your enemy? In the actual day of today—theology applied, not merely confessed—are you doing good to those who hate you and blessing those who hurt you? Do you love “the Church” in theory but not the actual people in your local church?)
As a professional Christian mediator, I could give you hundreds of examples of the second question being answered in the negative through loveless and graceless words and actions. But the best example of faith being revealed as disingenuous comes from the time that I had to hire Christian mediators to help me because I was a party to a heartbreaking and shocking conflict. This happened when my dear friend and beloved mentor, Judy Dabler, and I were writing the book, “Peacemaking Women.”
Judy is a Licensed Professional Counselor; I am an attorney; and we are both Certified Christian Conciliators, so it seemed like a perfect fit to write this book on peace with God, others, and within. The problem is, as soon as deadlines loomed and brainstorming turned to writing, our relationship devolved to the point where we were no longer talking to one another. While we were writing the book, “Peacemaking Women.” Talk about a failure to be genuine! We were practically done with the three-hundred page manuscript, but we were both so hurt and so stuck that we knew we could never publish it. So we hired two Christian mediators—one of whom we had trained on how to be a mediator—to mediate the book, “Peacemaking Women.”
It was three of the worst days of my life.
I had no hope of reconciliation. All of the Scriptures I had faithfully taught and counseled (and that we had included in our book) seemed a sham in the light of how broken our relationship was. The hurt was profound because the (broken) trust and love were so deep! There was only one thing that could possibly help us to have soft, repentant hearts, and to begin to move towards one another again in love and forgiveness—we had to remember how much we were loved and forgiven.
This was our homework for day two of the mediation: 2 Peter 1. Please stop and read the entire passage now—you will be glad you did. Here is an excerpt from the passage that pierced both Judy and me:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:5-10 ESV)
Look at how closely the confirmation of our calling and election are tied to how we treat one another! Look at how blind we are and how quickly we forget how much we have been forgiven when we fail to forgive one another and walk in brotherly love! And look, deeply look, at how our hearts can be reoriented toward love of God and neighbor:
We remember that we have been cleansed from our former sins and loved by God.
Forgiven, we forgive. Sincerely loved, we sincerely love.
Friends, reading this passage and remembering Judy’s and my mediation is what turned my heart to write again for you. Remembering these truths is the reason why I can end this enCourage article in a similar manner as I ended my first: in future posts, I commit to sharing with you some observations and encouragements to help you to “purify your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love,” to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23). I make that commitment even though some of the relationships in my life are terrifically broken right now and I am in the midst of getting help for them.
This is real life. We press into Christ, by faith, by grace, and we “remember that we have been cleansed from our former sins” (2 Peter 1:9) and “she who has been forgiven much, forgives much” (Luke 7:47). Oh, remember these truths with me! Have hope and confidence: God really is working together all things for your good and his glory.
One closing note—if you are in a miserable Christian marriage; a devastatingly conflicted church; a broken friendship or parent-child relationship … if you are too weak and too tired to believe any of this right now, then let me repeat the words that one of my mediators said to me during that “Peacemaking Women” mediation twelve years ago:
I will believe for you.
I will come alongside of you and put my hand on your arm and look you in the eye and believe the truth of Scripture for you. Or even better than mere words from an unknown author, I urge you to ask your real-life friends to encircle you, hold you up, and believe for you. Ask them to pray for you and help you to remember what you know to be true.
Oh. And if you ever want to read the specifics of a trainwreck of a broken relationship and the glory of God revealed to two sinful, professional-mediator-women, check out the Conclusion of “Peacemaking Women.” Judy and I tell the entire story of how such a close friendship could become so broken and the specifics of what happened during the mediation. It’s awful, but true. And ultimately, good. Ya’ just can’t make this stuff up.