When unfair accusations are spewed across the universe of social media, I long to hit back, to defend myself and others emphatically in that very public forum.
And isn’t this our normal, human reaction? To hit back? To defend? To respond to anger in kind?
Believe me, it is no fun to suddenly find yourself taken out of context, your motives questioned, your good intentions misunderstood by others and then twisted into something hurtful and mean. And then, when a multitude of others suddenly join in the very public fray, taking sides without knowing all the facts, without knowing the parties — half a dozen people on both sides are left bleeding blue Facebook blood.
Bleeding blue Facebook blood hurts. It feels like a continuing sucker-punch to the gut — for days afterward. When it happened to me, I contemplated slinging back — the Lord knows I’ve got a tongue that, when let loose, can slice deep. I contemplated withdrawing, walking away, refusing to participate any further. Because if I close off my vulnerabilities, cut people out, or hang out only with people exactly like me, there is no way I’ll get emotionally sucker-punched again.
Instead, I prayed. And when I say “pray,” I mean I mostly sobbed because I couldn’t even start to think about the topic without weeping. I trusted God to know my heart in those moments because words utterly failed me.
While I prayed, I held still. I didn’t respond. I didn’t engage. I zipped my lips and took my complaints to God, my husband, and a very small circle of trusted friends — the ones who quietly and gently hold me accountable and who are not afraid to point out when I just might be wrong.
After the initial swirl of emotions settled, I sensed a deep hurt beneath the anger of some of the others left bleeding on Facebook, and after three days had passed, I was sure of my next steps. With my heart in my throat, I sent a private message to several people, extending a gentle invitation to meet for coffee and a sincere apology for hurts caused unintentionally.
With my invitations accepted, I trembled before each meeting. Reaching out in peace is full of emotional risk.
Who did I find sitting across from me over coffee? Vulnerable, wounded individuals who are good and decent and kind. Individuals who shared fears of their own as we spoke, whose tear-stained cheeks revealed that we are far more alike than different. Our meetings ended in hugs and promises to join forces, to be united rather than divided — and that has held true. I’ve found allies instead of foes, and we’ve worked hard together on projects to make our community a stronger, better place.
Being a peacemaker is not for the faint of heart. It is hard, intentional, dirty work. It involves facing conflict head on, looking beneath angry words for a tender heart and a buried wound, and then looking for ways to build bridges rather than torch them. Our culture loves bridge-torchers — and they can be found shouting on every cable news program across the political spectrum. But it is the bridge-builders who make a difference as they do the quiet, difficult work of reconciliation without the limelight, the spotlight, or the headlines.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Matt. 5:9 (NIV)