By Shannon Wolf, Ph.D., LPC-S
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).
In the heart of Ireland toward the end of the 1400s, two leading dynastic families, the Butlers (Earl of Ormond) and the FitzGeralds (Earl of Kildar) were engaged in a long and bloody feud. Following a grueling battle and subsequent chase, James, the nephew of the Earl of Ormond, took refuge in the Chapter House of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He and his men were quickly surrounded by FitzGerald’s warriors. Victory was firmly within the Earl’s grasp.
However, sickened by so much death and loss, FitzGerald chose to pursue peace instead of more bloodshed. The Earl stood at the door to the Chapter House and implored Butler’s nephew to come outside and negotiate an agreement with him. Fearing a trap, James refused. In frustration, FitzGerald ordered his men to take an ax and chop a hole in the door’s center. The Earl continued to plead with James to reconcile their differences and still the nephew refused.
Determined to have peace, FitzGerald thrust his arm through the hole as a sign of sincerity. How easy it would have been for James to kill his enemy’s leader. Instead of taking the Earl’s life, James shook FitzGerald’s hand as a sign of truce. As the sun set, the long-standing feud came to an end. The door of the Chapter House was appropriately named the Door of Reconciliation and currently resides in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and as reminder of the price of unforgiveness and the need for reconciliation.
To reconcile is to resolve conflict. To restore that which is damaged. To live in harmony with family, friends, and yes, even enemies. To be peacemakers. Jesus himself said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Think about it. Reconciliation is an integral part of the Lord’s character that we witness time and again throughout Scripture. As Christians, we are called to be His ambassadors or representatives. For it is Christ that we represent and not ourselves. And what is our message? We are to declare the message of reconciliation—first to be reconciled with God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and secondly to others. (1 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Frequently, making peace, or reconciling, requires that we take risks. Similar to FitzGerald placing his life in jeopardy to acquire peace, we might find that we chance rejection, embarrassment, or the like when we seek to restore broken relationships. In fact, not everyone will respond as James did and grasp an outstretched hand in peace. Some will lash out, thus wounding us further. Unfortunately, even our best efforts will not guarantee that our attempts will be successful. Such is the risk that we take when we engage in peacemaking.
It is human to want to protect ourselves by avoiding potentially hurtful situations. Repairing a relationship is typically hard work. Frankly, at times it is easier to walk away from a friendship than to repair it.
At its core, reconciliation demands that we forfeit our right to retaliate, even when retaliation is simply removing ourselves from a relationship. As followers of Christ, we are charged to emulate Him, therefore, in choosing Christ, we set aside our right to be offended and purposefully engage in reconciliation. (Galatians 2:20)
The process of dying to self and taking on more of Christ’s image is not always enjoyable. I would argue that at times it is most unpleasant. Seeking after Him requires that we become peacemakers. And it is as peacemakers that we will become known as children of God.
The question is this: In your quest to follow Christ, do you actively seek to resolve conflicts, restore damaged relationships, live in harmony with all people, make peace with your enemies, and purposefully seek to live with an mindset of reconciliation?
This Christmas season, consider praying that God will allow you to see people and situations as He sees them, to learn to love people as He loves them, and, as His child, to live as a peacemaker.
Important Note: I’m not suggesting that we place ourselves in dangerous situations with dangerous people. In this blog, I am speaking of conflictual relationships and not abusive ones. Personal safety is always of primary importance.
Shannon Wolf, a Licensed Professional Counselor, specializes in counseling trauma survivors, both nationally and internationally, as well as victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. Dr. Wolf is a faculty member of Dallas Baptist University and a frequent contributor to The Society of Christian Psychology’s online publication and AACC’s daily blog.