I bumped into my dear friend B. a few weeks ago at church. She thought I might be mad at her. She was going to join a life group I was leading, but then changed her mind. She texted me, and I got busy and never returned her text. I should have, but I didn't. And I understand how she might have thought I was angry.
Misunderstandings can build chasms between friends, but happily, B. and I bumped into each other at church, and the perceived offense evaporated.
We hugged, and we made a lunch date on a day we would both be off work.
B and I met in church more than a decade ago, and we hit it off immediately. Our kids were pretty much the same age, but the only other thing we had in common was our love for God. We've built our friendship on these important commonalities.
We've lost touch several times in our friendship. We get busy with our kids, our jobs, our ministries. We've attended different campuses at our church.
Sometimes I wish we could go back to summer days when we met a few times a week to go walking in the canyons, when we would hang out after life groups on Saturday mornings, when we would get our families together for dinner. Life seemed simpler in those days.
But life moves on. I'm just grateful for today.
We had lunch together yesterday, and as we sat together, she asked me about the many people we have known over the years. This one isn't at our church anymore. That one isn't either.
I kept my explanations brief. At least I hope I did. I don't want to gossip. The stories aren't as brief as my explanations, though. This one left mad. Those friends no longer talk to each other. That couple got divorce, and the husband got custody of some friends, and the wife got custody of the other friends.
It got me thinking about the way we treat each other. The way we hurt each other. The way we misunderstand motivations. The way we walk away from each other without even talking.
This isn't a new problem in the church, and I think that's why Jesus and Paul both addressed the issue directly.
Jesus simplified the complicated code of laws given to his people. He said if we did two things, we would fulfill the entire law: First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and second, love your neighbor as yourself.
In John 13, Jesus gives his disciples a new command. He says, "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
In Philippians we see that it's not that simple. Before he closes his letter, he mentions two women by name. He doesn't describe the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche, but he does plead with them to be of the same mind in the Lord. And then he encourages the other members of the church to help these women work through their conflict. They're all my coworkers whose names are in the book of life, he says.
Earlier, he explains what it means to be "of the same mind." He tells the Philippians, "If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if you have any comfort in his love, if you have any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others."
Again, if only it were that easy.
We have the same purposes. We all want to see the name of Jesus glorified. We all want to see the Church of Jesus Christ strengthened.
But how do we maintain humility? How do we put the interests of each other before our own interests?
How do we resolve disagreements?
How do we help other people resolve disagreements so that they can maintain unity?
I wish I knew.
In the old days, I walked away from conflict. When I was hurt, I held it in, considered my own part, and then distanced myself from friends.
I wonder if I'm any better at this today.
I recently ran into a conflict situation in my life. I didn't do anything wrong. At least not directly. Not even indirectly. And some people would say what I did was good. But I knew that it would make one person uncomfortable, and I did it anyway.
It kind of blew up because I didn't think about unity first. I wish I could go backward. I don't know how to move forward. I don't think there's anything I can do to undo what I did.
I'm sad because people I love are wounded.
I have seen this before, and I have seen the Holy Spirit heal wounds and restore unity. This is my prayer--that we will remember that at our our core, we are brothers and sisters. We all love Jesus. We all want the same to see God glorified. That we will let go of our wounds and talk to each other. And that we will forgive one another.
I have seen God do this even when it seemed impossible.
By this all men will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another. Let us love one another.