I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)
How should we handle conflict, as Christians? Anxiety? Discord or disagreement within ourselves, our families, our communities, and within the community of the church? The uncertainty of what seem to lurk around every perilous corner of our lives?
I don’t think we could ever write enough on this topic given the constant state of anxiety in which we seem to live. Maybe I’m alone (I don’t think I am), but I feel anxious constantly. How are things going to turn out with my kids? Can I rest assured that tomorrow will come without some unknown disaster befalling me or those I love? How can I relate to people I fundamentally disagree with on what seems to be every level of perspective?
Again, I could go on at length, listing what seems to be constantly bad news. Another mass shooting. People struggling to make the “new,” or “gig” economy work. Plummeting belief in God, or at least a personal God recognizable in some way through Scripture. The crumbling infrastructures of community and institutions. Even the very concept of truth itself seems to be under attack. Who needs more “spin”?
I hear the anxiety, I do. I feel it myself. I also understand our collective reactions, I think. Apathy, at some points; rage at others. Feelings of hopelessness and despair. Feverish activism eventually descending into depths of helplessness. The problems are so much larger than ourselves, it seems. Where the problems aren’t so large, we overreact, and in the name of “taking back” our agency and voice, we strong arm our way into the conversation and demand we get our way. We love our families, we love our communities, we love our church communities. Against the litany of bad-news, we feel locked in an existential struggle to beat back the darkness. Sometimes we find ourselves “beating back” our neighbors in the process. Maybe, just maybe, we love them so much we begin to wall ourselves off from them to avoid the hurt of eventual loss.
What are we to do?
One great place to start is just listening; listening to others who are having a hard time, just as we are. Maybe along the way we might discover a common theme of alienation, and there, scrambling in the dark, we might find we are not alone. When we listen and make space for other voices, the echo chamber of our hearts fade into the background a bit, and we might just find space to join our voices with others in a song of hope.
As a pastor, I also suggest we listen to Scripture.. According to Paul, there is only one thing we are required to be as Christ’s followers: a unified body. We are a spiritual family by the indwelling presence of the Spirit. We are to lead a life worthy of our calling in Christ, and as Paul instructs us, we are to do so exhibiting virtues like humility, gentleness, patience, and mutual forbearance. If we were to lose everything we hold dear tomorrow, we would still have a single truth underpinning our lives. We would still be children of God, and we would still have the opportunity to emerge from the darkness, and in prayer and investigation of the Word of God, we would meet Christ. And we would do it together, as the church.
Jesus Christ alone must be the bedrock of our lives, our truth, and our hopes. Lest we forget it, he alone is “Alpha and Omega, beginning and end” (Revelation 21:6).
We live well, we serve him well, we will be the body well when we do it in a spirit of peace. Change and its attending anxiety is hard, and it is only possible when the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ dwells in us richly (Colossians 3:15). This is my prayer for all us.
The peace of Christ be with you all,