"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." (Romans 12:18)
Adam said something so wise recently in a sermon that it sank straight in my ear, through my brain, and lodged permanently in my heart. He said, "Conflict avoidance is not the same thing as being at peace with people."
I knew immediately that he was talking about himself because he's one of those classic conflict-avoidance men. Many of us tiptoe around the world, hoping to avoid its fights. Then we have the audacity to claim we live at peace with people. Of course, it's a self-deception.
You learn so much as you age. You learn that conflict avoidance brings no inner peace; it brings great stress. "Conflict avoidance" indicates that there's a big pile of conflict lying in front of you, but like a person walking in a doggie-park, you gingerly side-step it. The conflict is still there, stinking up everything. Pretending it's not there, not talking about it, living a life of shallow compliance, brings no peace for anyone. "Dealing with" the issue may bring peace; it may not. But avoiding it brings no peace.
You learn, sadly, that some people on this planet are not peaceable. This is why Paul says, "If possible, as far as it depends on you ...." Oh, he knows! He knows sometimes it's impossible, and sometimes it will not depend on you. Some people are peace-repellers and conflict-magnets. Some people cannot be happy unless they're producing a pile of drama everywhere they go. They may not be aware they do it; it feels normal to them.
These folks are little land-mines in the population. They foul up relationships. But what should we do? We try to be at peace with them, but they don't want peace. We then avoid them (if we can), but even that brings no peace to our hearts. Are we to give up?
We all end up with a few spots of permanent conflict. Hopefully they're not with close family members. (That's a killer.) Hopefully as you age, you're surrounded less and less with people who think they're still 13 and meaner-than-a-snake -- manipulators, narcissists, complainers. Distance yourself from such people. Wait ... did I really just say that? Is it okay to remove yourself from some types of people, to facilitate peace? I've been told to do it, but is it right? Philip's famous phrase is: "Avoid getting involved in the lives of crazy people." Isn't that cowardly? And why bother to avoid, if avoidance only brings a false peace?
You see my quandary? There is no perfect solution! Some people you simply cannot make peace with. Oh, that's a hard one to swallow, because some of us fools will keep trying! Have you ever tried to bring about resolution and peace by hashing something out, only to make it worse? Did you find people unreasonable, more angry than you thought? If involvement can't bring peace, and avoidance isn't the same as peace ... what's a person to do?
"If possible, as far as it depends on you ...."
Here are a few other marching orders Paul gives in that very same passage. After we've tried all these faithfully with the conflict-magnet drama-queen, then we may give up:
"Let love be without hypocrisy."
"Bless those who persecute you."
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep."
"Do not be haughty in mind."
"Do not be wise in your own estimation."
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone."
"Respect what is right in the sight of all men."
"Never take your own revenge."
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
If we did all that, perhaps peace would reside deeply in our hearts, regardless of what is happening in the world.