Seek peace and pursue it: Five steps

How do you pursue peace? The Shalom group has begun meeting, and has already been struck by the active verbs associated with peace in the Bible. It’s clearly not a passive state, nor something that simply happens, but something that involves a lot of doing. As the Psalmist writes, “seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34) — but how?

One approach is conflict resolution. So at our last meeting, we worked through the model described in The Anatomy of Peace. This book describes a process which helps us recognise our complicity in any conflict, move beyond bitterness and blame, and work towards healthy future relationships.

In faith terms, the basic premise is that the Holy Spirit continually prompts us to recognise the humanity of others. When we honour the sense and follow the prompt, we live in peace. When we betray the sense and block the prompt, we justify our betrayal to ourselves by turning the other into an object of our blame, and our heart goes to war.

So the first step to peace is recognising when our heart is at war. We know we are at war when, for example, we define ourselves in relation to the other, feeling that we are better than, pushed into being worse than, a victim of, or compelled to be seen as good by that other. Whichever of these we feel, we naturally resent it, and so the other becomes a threat to our wellbeing. This makes us feel angry, depressed, bitter, justified, and/or put-upon; we experience the world as being unjust, unfair, and pitted against us.

In other words, our hearts become troubled. But Jesus says: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:26-27). So if we want to be faithful to Jesus and his peace, we’ll need to tackle our troubled hearts. We can do this as follows:

1. Notice that your heart is troubled, and carefully identify the strong emotions being stirred up. Perhaps you are rehearsing your injuries, or reciting accusations of yourself or the other. Perhaps you are feeling victimised; perhaps you are angrily blaming someone for a situation; perhaps you are justifying your behaviour to yourself. Learn to notice and identify your toxic narratives or, in psychological terms, core schema.

2. Remember a time when your heart was at peace: a time when you felt, perhaps, the presence of the Holy Spirit. Spend a few minutes resting in that memory. In the spirit of Philippians 4:6-7, pray, thanking God for that experience, and asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance into the path of peace.

3. Reflect on the difficult situation or relationship again, but with the Holy Spirit leading the way. Wonder what the other person’s or people’s particular challenges or burdens are. Wonder how you, or a group of which you are a part, contribute to these challenges or burdens. Wonder how you, or your group, may have neglected or mistreated the other person or group. Wonder how your troubled heart blocks you from seeing the truth about the other person or group and their humanity, and prevents you from identifying ways forward.

4. Wonder what the Holy Spirit is prompting you to say or do. Perhaps you need to write a letter or give a gift. Perhaps you need to let something go, allowing your desire for recognition, recompense or revenge to be crucified in you. Perhaps you need to adjust your expectations, or apologise, or take the opportunity learn more about yourself or the other. Perhaps you need to allow time and come back to the situation at a later date; or perhaps, after time elapses, what now feels important will be revealed to be nothing at all. Perhaps perhaps perhaps … the Holy Spirit can be wildly creative in its promptings: listen carefully! (Some tips on discerning the promptings of the Holy Spirit are here.)

5. Act on that prompting. Don’t betray yourself again. Instead, do what you feel called to do. If you are not sure about the prompting, test it with a trusted adviser or friend. Be brave, knowing that wholeness and human flourishing will be your eventual reward.

As well as helping us recognise, avoid and repair the ways we betray the promptings of the Holy Spirit, this model effectively helps us explore how to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us (Luke 6:27-28). I have found it clarifying in many situations, as it helps me interrupt and change track from the usual toxic narratives buzzing around my head; I hope it is helpful for you, too.

One final note: This tool is not to be used as a guilt trip or a weapon against yourself or anyone else. Each of us is on a long journey of healing and forgiveness, but some among us have been wounded in ways which will need years of loving support and good therapy. If this is you, and you plan to try using this tool, please please please start small, with little hurts and minor conflicts and the company and support of a good therapist, loving faith community and/or very dear friend. Don’t jump in the deep end, don’t go it alone, and don’t expect instant results. For all of us, the work of peace-making is the work of a lifetime. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Take it one step at a time. And rejoice when you find peace in the little things.

Peace,
Alison

The Anatomy of Peace is written by The Arbinger Institute. London: Penguin, 2016 (new edition); more details here. I have interpreted the model for use in a Christian faith community. Image credit: Eric Ward on Unsplash. Emailed to Sanctuary 26 June 2019 © Sanctuary, 2019.

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