I had only been on the telephone for two minutes when the screaming started in my living room. Megan, my four-year old, and Jeff, my two-year old, were launching into one of their regular battles. The shouting and crying went on for at least a minute, but by the time I got off the phone and into the living room, they were playing happily with their coloring books.”
All right,” I demanded, “what’s going on out here?”
Megan looked up with a serene smile and said, “It’s okay, Mommie. We did peacemaking.”
More suspicious than ever, I asked her to explain what had happened. “Well,” she said, “I took Jeffrey’s coloring book, and he started to hit me. So I hit him. Then he screamed, and I screamed. But then I said, ‘Jeffrey, let’s not fight. I’m sorry I took your book. Will you forgive me?’ And he said, “I ‘give you, Megan. I sorry I hit you. Give me?’ And I said, ‘I forgive you,’ and then we hugged and were friends again.”
All I could do was drop to my knees, pull my children into my arms, and breathe a prayer of thanks to God–they were really learning how to be peacemakers! The principles I had been repeating to them for months on end were actually taking root. Yes, they fought again within the hour, but at least they were learning the basic principles they need to resolve their frequent differences in a constructive way.
That incident provided the final push I needed to complete The Young Peacemaker. As a former school teacher and counselor, I had witnessed countless disputes in the classroom, on the playground, and in my students’ homes. I had also seen how effective God’s peacemaking principles could be in each setting, whether the children were in elementary school, junior high, or high school.
For example, one student learned to confess to stealing from a teacher and offer double restitution. Another student took responsibility for assaulting a principal and willingly accepted the resulting discipline. A third appealed successfully to her divorced parents to change a painful custody arrangement. And an entire class pulled together to forgive a rude and disruptive classmate and help him to develop better relationships.
Like dozens of others, these students learned to respond to conflict in a biblical manner. But for me the acid test was whether I could teach these principles to my own children. Although they, like their mother, are still not entirely consistent in this area, a positive pattern is definitely developing. Little by little they are learning to put off their natural reactions to conflict and replace them with responses that promote peace and reconciliation. If they can do it, so can the children in your home or classroom. I offer you this material to speed that process.
Before you invest your time and energy in this material, you have a right to know the basic convictions that guided my writing. First, I believe that God’s Word is totally reliable and amazingly practical. Thus, when the Bible commands our children and us to live at peace with others, it also provides detailed and concrete guidance on how to carry out that sometimes difficult task.
Second, I believe that conflict is not necessarily wrong or destructive. If we teach our children to respond to it in a biblically faithful manner, conflict can become an opportunity for them to please and honor God, to serve other people, and to grow to be like Christ.
Third, I believe that many of the conflicts children experience are caused or aggravated by sin. Like adults, children wrestle with strong desires that sometimes get out of hand. We can and should use appropriate discipline to help them learn self-control and proper outward behavior. But it is even more important that we help them understand the root causes of their conflicts (pride, selfishness, greed, unforgiveness, etc.) and encourage them to ask God to free them from these sinful attitudes. Since Christ alone can offer such freedom, the gospel is an essential part of true peacemaking.
Fourth, I believe that the most important skills of a peacemaker are repentance, confession and forgiveness. As important as communication and problem-solving skills are, they cannot heal relationships that have been damaged by conflict. True reconciliation comes only when children take responsibility for their wrongs, express sorrow for hurting others, and commit themselves to forgive one another as God has forgiven them.
I pray that this manual will help you to develop similar convictions and instill them in your children. Along the way you can help them to gain accurate insights into important peacemaking questions, such as:
- What is at the heart of conflict?
- Is it possible to honor God in conflict?
- How can I take responsibility for my contribution to a conflict?
- How can I go and talk to someone if we are in a fight?
- How can we be friends again if there’s a wall between us now?
If you would like additional help in understanding God’s answers to these questions, I encourage you to read The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Baker Books, Updated Ed, 2003), which was written by my husband, Ken Sande. Through his book you can learn even more about biblical conflict resolution and discover ways that you can be a positive example to your students. As you and they encourage and show one another how to be peacemakers, your home or classroom can increasingly become a place of peace.
May God guide you in your instruction and grant you and your children the blessings he has promised to peacemakers!