Question: With everything going on in the world, I’m finding I have deep disagreements with people close to me, even those who share my faith. I’m withdrawing from some people because I don’t want to get into certain issues. Any tips for finding common ground, and saving my friendships?
Answer: I appreciate (and share in) your need for unity and peacemaking. Here are four suggestions that increase in difficulty. Just be prepared, loving people can be hard work!
Prepare. Pray God will reveal your own sin, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy, and that he will humble your heart in preparation to model the grace he has shown to you. This is the time to keep your anger in check. Remember that apart from God we are helpless and hopeless to build meaningful relationships with anyone. Approach your neighbor with due dignity and respect. They are created by God and loved by him, as you are. This is already something you have in common.
Listen. Your job is to listen without interruption, so your neighbor feels heard. This will help ensure this will be the first of many conversations. This is not the time to prove your point or press an agenda to fix or change them. Try to understand their point of view, whether you agree with them or not.
Find common ground. Listen to what they share about their experiences and struggles. When we get to know people on a personal level, we validate their personhood and shared humanity. Your neighbor wants the best for their children, their families, and their futures, just as you do. You have more in common with them than you think.
Don’t expect reciprocity. This is the most important and difficult point I will try to make here, and the most impossible to accomplish apart from God. Our sinful nature makes us lazy, expecting others to return (in full measure) the grace and effort we have extended to them. Our fallen, transactional need to only love those who love us, is the root cause of division in our families, communities, and nation.
When we exercise unconditional, Christ-like love to others, we gain a renewed understanding of how much God loves us through our own sin, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy.
Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.