I Hate Conflict. I really, really do.
Confession time - I hate conflict. I really, really do.
I know that’s not a jaw-dropping claim to make. I’m yet to meet someone who delights in personal conflict. But I have a deep, gut-churning hatred of personal conflict that runs deeper than many people I know.
Case in point: - when I was 18 years old, one of my good friends got into a fight with the person that they were dating. They shared the story of their conflict with me - explaining the hurt that was flowing from both sides. They then left, and I went to bed.
And I couldn’t sleep.
The knowledge that two of the finest people I knew were involved in a squabble was causing a disturbance in my soul. I could feel both sides of the fight, and my heart was running riot at the thought of what might happen if this conflict continued. I sweated, I worried - and after endless hypothetical scenarios playing through my brain, I fell out of bed, got down on my knees and pleaded with God to keep the couple together.
So yeah. I really don’t like conflict. Whenever there was were fights, disagreements or quarrels around me, I’d do everything I could to keep the peace.
That was the phrase I’d use - “Keep the peace”.”
But what kind of peace was I really keeping?
See, if somebody had offended me, to keep the peace meant to ignoringe the offence. I would grit my teeth, avoid the offender and stay silent - all to keep the peace. If there was an injustice committed to me, or to a friend, I would stay quiet and urge them to do the same. It was easier to keep the peace.
I’d call myself a peace keeper - but I was really just a conflict avoider. I’d paste on a smile when I was deeply hurt by someone. I skimmed over real issues, putting cheap plasters on relational injuries, all in the name of keeping the peace.
I wasn’t keeping peace at all. I was not flourishing, keeping seeking wholeness, flourishing or living a life of truth and beauty. Instead, I was settling for something far, far less - my own comfort over the richer life of authentic peace that God beckons us into.
When Jesus was opening his preaching ministry with a message about how life looks in God’s Kingdom, he began with a series of blessings. These statements of supreme blessedness (or, if you’re more technical - the beatitudes) reveal that Jesus is deeply interested in our engagement with peace. In Matthew’s record of these events, Jesus says,
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”
Do you hear the words of Jesus? I used to think Jesus was announcing that I’d be happiest if I kept the peace. But Jesus instead blesses those who make peace. What’s the difference?
To keep peace is to maintain the status quo.
To make peace is to courageously enter the conflict, with arms full of truth and grace.
To be a maker of peace - a Shalom-Maker - means to make wholeness out of broken situations. It means participating in a work of restoration when it’d be easier to refrain. It is not avoidance for the sake of comfort, but it is engagement for the sake of completion.
And Jesus says that as we engage in that, we will enjoy the happiness of God.
See, my avoidance-disguised-as-peace-keeping was not bringing me joy. It brought me deep worry, a questioning mindset and a yearning for restoration that nagged at my longed-for comfort.
And yet those who wade deep into conflict and injustice, often armed only with love and truth, often model a deep sense of wellness within them, that holds them strong through the brave task of shalom- making.
The story of the church is marked by shining beacons of shalom makers, who sought to engage deeply in the work of restoration.
I think of St Telemachus, a monk travelling through Rome in the late fourth century. According to tradition, Telemachus was caught up in an excited crowd, bustling through the streets of the metropolis. Carried along, Telemachus found the excitement contagious - and was anxious to see where the collective was heading.
Minutes later, he found himself seated in the cheap-rows of the Coliseum. He turned to his neighbour, trying to find out the reason for this big crowd.
“We’ve just defeated the Goths! Emperor Honorius is giving us this circus to celebrate!”
Telemachus looked around the enormous stadium, and saw gladiators enter the arena. They lined up, turned to the Emperor, and yelled - “We who are about to die, salute you.”
The crowd bayed. The gladiators pulled out their weapons. Telemachus was sickened by this rejection of human life, and the celebration of violence.
Standing up, Telemachus yelled - “In the name of Jesus, stop!”
He pushed to the front of the rows, screaming out “In the name of Jesus, stop!”
Still the gladiators fought on.
In a powerful act of shalom-making, Telemachus vaulted over the crowd-barrier and rushed into the middle of the fray. Calling on the warriors to stop fighting, repeating his plea - “In the name of Jesus, stop!”
The gladiators stopped. They looked at this comical figure - a monk in a battleground. Some mockingly swung at him, others began to chase him - all while he kept calling for shalom.
Suddenly, amidst this display - a sword swung, and his voice went silent. The fighters paused. The crowd watched.
St Telemachus lay dead in the arena, a sword plunged into his chest. His words echoed in the arena.
One person in the audience stood up, turned and left. Others followed - till the crowds streamed out. Gladiators lay down their swords and abandoned the arena. The Emperor himself watched, turned and left.
And according to Christian tradition, this powerful act of shalom making by St Telemachus turned the hearts of the nation. The Emperor pronounced an edict banning gladiator fights, and bringing glimpses of wholeness to a broken culture.
St Telemachus could have kept the peace. He might have been disgusted by what he saw, and decided to quietly leave during an intermission.
But, instead, he decided to follow Jesus into making shalom. He engaged in the injustice of violence with the power of his word. And through his deep, joyful conviction that God was making the world anew through Jesus, St Telemachus brought about a deeper change than any avoidance ever could.
This is the call of shalom that echoes over the lives of those who call Christ their Lord. We, too, are urged to participate in the joyful suffering of making peace—e, entering into brokenness and bravely speaking truth with grace to sinful brokenness.
Whether we come singing songs, painting pictures of hope, writing words of truth, or courageously stepping into conflict - may we do so with a genuine heartbeat of shalom echoing in our breasts. May we not settle for keeping the peace, but instead, enter into the world-changing, life-bringing call of shalom- making.