Taking sides? There’s another option.
All sense of being stuck in the middle of a heated conflict dissolved.
I felt desperate. My fellow church members and I were divided on a decision about church policy. The issue appeared to be very serious. It also appeared that the church meeting we held to vote on the new policy had been deliberately packed to get the outcome favored by one side. The vote was cast and the decision made. Not only did I wholeheartedly disagree with it, but to make matters worse, I was also expected to implement it.
It was a moment of the kind most of us have probably faced in some arena of life, such as school policy, business, family, or government. We get so caught up in a divisive contest that we might even begin to feel that if our side loses, we might do something radical. Stubbornness can become recklessness. There’s an emotional pull to dig in on the side we’ve chosen to the point of being unreasonable, obstinate, and foolish if things don’t go our way.
But what if there were a third option in a hotly debated and heated conflict? That’s what I found in answer to that church policy decision, and it has become a lifelong approach to resolving subsequent conflicts in my life.
Admittedly, at first I didn’t handle the church issue very well. I tried dodging and avoiding it. But finally, having exhausted all other options, I called a Christian Science practitioner to help me pray. “I’m in such a difficult position because I feel caught in the middle,” I told him tearfully.
There’s a pull to dig in on the side we’ve chosen.
His answer surprised me. He told me there was a third option: not to take a position. This was an option I had never considered. What a relief! I was instantly at peace. All sense of being stuck in the middle of a heated conflict dissolved, and I felt free to leave all in God’s hands.
Now this may sound like a cop-out to anyone who feels that taking a strong stand is always the way to go. And certainly we should all be willing to be actively engaged in activities and decisions that shape the community for the good of all. But in my case, not taking a side, and being willing to carry out my duties, proved to be the right way, because the whole issue just dissolved. The church trustees never contacted me or directed me to proceed, and the whole subject was dropped and never came up at any future church meetings.
As I’ve prayed to better understand this third option, I’ve been inspired by an account of conflict resolution in the Bible. Christ Jesus’ disciples had been preaching about Christ, and the local authority ordered them to stop. When they didn’t, they were imprisoned. But they were released from prison by an angel of God. When the locals found out the disciples were free and preaching again, they wanted to kill them.
Then a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a lawyer with a good reputation among the people, stepped forward and said, “Fellow Jews, you need to act with great care in your treatment of these fellows. . . . So here’s my advice: in this case, just let these men go. Ignore them. If this is just another movement arising from human enthusiasm, it will die out soon enough. But then again, if God is in this, you won’t be able to stop it—unless, of course, you’re ready to fight against God!” (Acts 5:35, 38, 39, The Voice).
This can be our third option: to pray for the spiritual strength to let go of our own sense of how events should work out.
This could be our position of assurance as well. If either side of an issue is that of a group of people trying to sway popular opinion in their favor, it will ultimately fail. But if this is God’s work, it can’t be overthrown, and we wouldn’t want to try to do so. So, rather than taking a position, we can instead trust patiently and confidently in God’s ability to wisely and lovingly govern His creation.
The ultimate contest was fought in the conflict Christ Jesus faced in the garden of Gethsemane as he awaited his arrest and execution. He prayed that he be spared the experience of the crucifixion. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, describes this inner conflict: “When the human element in him struggled with the divine, our great Teacher said: ‘Not my will, but Thine, be done!’—that is, Let not the flesh, but the Spirit, be represented in me” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 33).
Jesus’ deep humility in yielding his will to God’s is what characterized him as Christ. True humility is the willingness to let all things be determined by God, divine Principle and Love, and not by human desires—even when they spring from the best of intentions. Jesus’ desire to yield all to God’s will was sincere and heartfelt. And he counseled us to do the same. He taught us to pray, “Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Praying to see God’s will—and not our own—in action brings a peace otherwise unattainable.
While none of us has ever faced a conflict of the magnitude of that faced by Jesus, we can still strive to emulate his humble example. And this can be our third option: to pray for the spiritual strength to let go of our own sense of how events should work out, and to have the courage to leave all in God’s hands.
Even if we feel we have fought the good fight and lost, we can still take comfort in knowing that God’s will must inevitably be fulfilled, and that it may happen in ways we could never have foreseen. This brings comfort and a peace that cannot be reversed or taken from us.
When caught in a two-sided conflict, we can instead emulate our dear Master by praying, “Not my will, but Thine, be done”—and really mean it!