You won’t hear any mother-in-law jokes from me! Not only have I been blessed with a godly biological mother, but I have also been blessed by my beautiful wife’s mother. Her name is Jenny Velt-Neale. During our happy marriage of thirty-five years, my mother-in-law has never said or done anything to me that I could construe as offensive. It’s not as though she doesn’t have her own opinions; she does! However, she expresses them honestly, in a kind and gracious manner. She also does her best to see things from the other person’s perspective and always attributes the best of intentions to the other person—without being patronizing or naïve.
Jesus offered a special blessing upon peacemakers (Matt 5:9) and Jenny is worthy of that blessing.
Jenny was born in 1939 in the Netherlands, when the world could have done with more peacemakers. Holland, like too many other places, suffered during World War II. Although the war ended in 1945, Dutch society was not peaceful in the aftermath of the war. Many Dutch people had lost their lives resisting and at the hands of the Nazi forces during the war. Others collaborated with the Nazis, thinking this was the new reality and wanting to survive. As the Nazis departed, it was a time of justice with some retribution too. This happened in cities and villages alike, even in Jenny’s small village of Koekange. School was a painful place. The children were divided by their loyalties and losses during the war. Families had lost fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters in the war. Some families had members who were imprisoned during the war, while others were jailed afterward. Tensions were extreme among the kids.
Jenny was upset with the lack of peace and decided to do something about it. She and her friend had an idea: what if everyone who wanted peace met at the bench seat under the tree in the school yard and ate their lunch together? They circulated a note, inviting everyone who wanted peace to meet for lunch at the “peace bench.”
Conflict isn’t confined to postWorld-War-II school yards, but is found in every country, community, church, and family—even Seventh-day Adventist churches and families.
Is conflict always wrong? Hardly. Jesus even said that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10:34). So, avoiding conflict is not the solution; rather, how we manage conflict is most important.
Jesus confronted dangerous errors so that the truth could be revealed. But not all conflict we encounter in our families and churches is about theological truth and error. Sometimes there is scope for some give and take. John was inspired to record for us that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV) and that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17, ESV). These attributes of Jesus are worthy of prolonged reflection and implementation in our own lives.
Conflict is also a very serious issue for the Seventhday Adventist Church. Surveys of why people leave the Adventist Church often show there is a strong correlation between conflict and departure. Conflicts among the followers of Jesus emerge in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Their differences were not airbrushed out of history or politely ignored, but were addressed. The text of the New Testament shows us the emotions, frustrations, and pain in reaching a resolution. Harmony and unity didn’t just miraculously happen.
Ellen G. White writes, “God and Heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we cannot have the unity for which Christ prayed.”1 She also says, “If pride and selfishness were laid aside, five minutes would remove most difficulties.”2
David had every reason to write, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Ps 133:1–3, ESV).
By the way, every kid in Jenny’s school ate lunch together at the “peace bench” and her school became a peace haven. Is your church a peace haven? Or does your church need a “peace bench”?
1 Ellen G. White, Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1922), 203.
2 Ellen G. White, Early Writings of Ellen G. White (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1882), 119.