When our five children were growing up, we had the same territorial disagreements, wars over possessions and pecking-order conflicts common to most families. Routinely, I would step in to untangle the outer layer of “who did what to whom” or “she said, he said” and remind them of their options.
As a parting shot I would add, “Either you solve this disagreement and conflict, or I will solve it for you.”
Sometimes, happily, they were able to find a workable solution to their sibling factions and divisions. At other times, however, I would be obliged to parent them to the next level of forgiveness, thus establishing a mutually beneficial ceasefire.
It might work like this:
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Along with their mom, we would have a sit-down family talk about the wonderful benefits of getting along with others: sharing, not being a bully, respecting the property of others and refusing to hold grudges. We would usually close our little gathering by praying together, and then I would ask them to give one another a hug.
Sometime these measures worked and solved the problems at hand. But not always.
Through years of observation, it has been my experience that church families have a lot of similarity to our biological families — especially in the way we choose (or refuse) to relate to one another.
Eugene Peterson wrote, “When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to the religion business except perhaps, business. ... So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced and dealt with.”
Jesus placed his finger on the pulse of our human tendency to separate, divide and painfully fragment, saying, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart” (Matthew 12:25, NLT).
Breaking up and fragmenting isn’t unique to one couple, family, church, business, city or nation. It has been a global, historical phenomenon and the sad experience of the human race right from creation.
God, however, never forces us to hold hands or hug.
As a result, multitudes of churches have started a fire from a spark of disagreement, often ending in heated division, competition and comparison. People get their feelings ruffled and find it untenable to get along with — much less love — those with whom they disagree.
People become so preoccupied with being “right” — down to the minute and debatable details of Bible prophecy — that they get bored with the ordinary things of life that make a family … things like changing diapers, playing jump rope, going to school and work, and growing up.
The fact is, loving God and others as much as we love ourselves is neither an option nor a suggestion in God’s family. It’s a New Testament command. According to Jesus, the most illuminating beacon, the one that shines most brightly in the dark night of the world, is how God’s family loves one another. (John 13:34-35)
In my way of thinking, it may mean it’s time for a hug.