Peace is more than a wish through grace

A tall tree on a foggy day in Colombia

It’s been quite a year, friends.

Here in Canada, by the time February rolled around, many of us were no longer speaking to a family member or friend. According to researchers, one in three of us reduced contact with someone we cared about due to differences of opinion over the pandemic. Many of us weren’t sure if we could trust our government, our church leaders, our neighbours or even ourselves.

As pandemic restrictions lift and life settles into more of a normal rhythm, the hurts and hardship of unresolved conflict linger.

But what if things could be different? What would it mean to practice peace, today? How do we follow Jesus in times of conflict, especially when that conflict feels personal?

I often fall into the trap of thinking if I have any conflict in my life, I can’t be a peacemaker. I tell myself I need to get peace “right” or I can’t do it at all. Too often, I avoid a challenging conversation or allow myself to dwell in hurt because I don’t know how to do something different. And I don’t believe I can. I find myself stuck in a spiral of shame. And I imagine you may as well.

Yet to work for peace is to follow Jesus. One of the ways we can engage in this work and even allow it to be lifegiving is to remember that we are loved by God. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We belong to each other and to God, through the wonder of God’s grace, as found throughout our Scriptures.

That grace allows us to do something different. It enables us to embrace and learn from failure. To be surprised by wonder. It allows us to live within a paradox: we can be stuck in conflict, yet we can also work for peace.

In fact, being stuck in conflict is the perfect place to begin. The awareness that we don’t have everything figured out is our starting place, not an ending place.  

I began my time with MCC working with the Seed program in the community of Mampuján, Colombia. My role was to support community leadership as they engaged in an advocacy and peacebuilding process.

I arrived in Mampuján ready to idealize the leaders. Working in Mampuján taught me about the myriad of challenges associated with leadership and peacebuilding: juggling meetings with family commitments and responsibilities, dealing with gossip and small-town politics, and speaking with courage and wisdom in unsafe spaces. This was not a glamorous life, even though the leaders were eager to embrace new experiences. There were press interviews and prizes, but there was also behind-the-scenes frustration and confusion that often accompanied the moments of joy and accomplishment.

Yet throughout everything, they remained ordinary people. I remember apologizing during my first month to one of the leaders, Juana Alicia Ruiz Hernandez for some little thing, feeling like I was not living up to my heroic ideal.

She stopped in the middle of hand-washing clothes, answering phone calls about meetings and directing her children, and laughed. “Anna,” she said, “you know that we, and you included, are only human beings, right? That none of us are perfect, and none of us are expecting perfection, right?”

And she was right. There were many moments of frustration throughout the two years, alongside my continued admiration for the leaders. But only the admission that we are all imperfect humans loved by God and working together allowed us to develop a trusting relationship. They would mock my Spanish and tell me to relax, and I would make fun of them for always being late. And then we would get down to work.

In my current job as Co-Director of MCC Canada’s Peace & Justice Office, I’ve witnessed ordinary people from all over the world build peace rooted in faith, fail at building peace, start again, learn from and laugh with one another. I’ve seen renewed relationships and communities come together to do hard things because they believe they are called by God to engage in impossible situations. I think we can do this too, right here at home, starting slow and small.

I’m not an expert on peace. I get caught in conflict and sometimes can’t see my way out – especially in moments like this current one we face as a country. But I believe it’s the perfect starting place for learning together as part of a community of ordinary, broken people called by God.

It’s going to be messy and probably uncomfortable at times. I’m not going to get it all right. Neither are you. But by God’s grace, we can try something different.

Each month, I’ll be sharing a reflection on what I’m learning, including some questions and action steps, along with resources for deeper engagement. Sometimes I’ll also invite others to share. What is peace? What is conflict? How do we get stuck and how do we get out? And how does the act of engaging in these messy dialogues and practices bring us closer to God and one another, and give us some needed joy and creativity in our lives as we seek to be disciples?

We’ll also feature stories of ordinary people, in Canada and around the world, who are practicing peace skills in their daily lives. Along the way, we’ll post on social media and include questions and action items for you to explore and think about with your own friends and family.

Please be in touch! I want to know what resonates, what doesn’t, what questions you have and what you are trying. Let’s share our successes and failures with each other.

Reflection questions:

Think about your own life and where you see conflict: what feelings arise?

Now think about the spaces in your life when you have experienced God’s grace. How does that change your feelings or response?

Action step:

Ask someone in your family or friend group about how they have experienced conflict and grace over the past year. What happened? What did they learn?