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Divorce Mediation: When Is It Appropriate?

You’ve tried everything to save your marriage.  You don’t hate your spouse, but you’ve both decided that divorce is better than the other alternatives.  You want to be fair, but you’re not quite sure what that means.  One thing is for certain.  You’ve heard how awful the divorce process can be, and you don’t want to end up bankrupting yourself and ending up enemies.

Does this sound like you?  If it does, then divorce mediation may be the answer for you.

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This Is My Commandment

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”John 15:12

If you are facing conflict in your personal life, your professional life, or in your church congregation, you are not alone!  There is division and dissension among Christians and in churches across the United States.   The key issue in every dispute is not whether conflict will happen, but how we will respond to it when it does happen.

Good_Samaritan_(Watts)

(image Watts, The Good Samaritan, courtesy Wikimedia commons)

Will we respond in love?

And, what does it mean, this commandment to  “love” one another?

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Christian Mediation for Church Congregations

Conflict!

Does the word “conflict” make you want to cringe?  Are you afraid that if your church has conflict, it might be torn apart?   Unfortunately, this can happen.  The good news is, it doesn’t have to.

What makes the difference, you might ask, between a church that has smooth sailing through conflict or one that flounders in the choppy seas?  Well, a couple of things.  Of course it matters what type of conflict the church is experiencing.  Conflict over the color of the paint in the parlor does not rise to the same level as conflict related to serious doctrinal issues!  But another key factor is how that conflict is handled.   Conflict can be healthy, or it can be toxic, all depending on how we respond to it.  Do we respond as a team to address problems, or do we respond by fighting against each other?    The mediators of Just Mediation, LLC, are all dedicated Christian Peacemakers who will help your church tackle tough issues without injuring the people in the process.  We have a track record of assisting congregations in ways that are experienced as helpful, healing, and restore a feeling of wholesomeness.

Help from us begins with a phone call.   After we speak with you on the phone, we will develop an initial assessment and proposed course of action that is tailored to your needs and your budget.  Whether it’s through telephone consultation only, through leadership training, or through complex mediation involving the entire church body, we are confident that we can help in some way.

Our approach is firmly grounded in Christian principles of Conflict Transformation.   We combine (1) total commitment to Christian peacemaking theory and practice with (2) training in leading principles and practices in conflict transformation, (4) extensive practical experience as mediators and trainers in conflict transformation, and (5) specific training in mediation of congregation-wide disputes from the internationally recognized Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.  We also provide training for church leaders in healthy organizational leadership.

Take heart from this quote from John Paul Lederach, from The Little Book of Conflict Transformation:

Conflict … creates life:   through conflict we respond, innovate, and change.  Conflict can be understood as the motor of change, that which keeps relationships and social structures honest, alive, and dynamically responsive to human needs, aspirations, and growth.

Conflict means there is movement and growth and life.   To meet with us in person, by telephone, or by way of Skype, fill out the contact form below:

What is Elder Mediation, and How to Choose a Mediator?

Are you concerned about conflict in your family, or a potential conflict, that involves an elderly person, changes related to aging and increased vulnerability, or administration of a probate estate?  If so, your family may benefit from Elder Mediation.  Elder Mediation offers the same benefits as other mediation:  it is private, it keeps your family in control of its own decisions, it is voluntary, and it can be a very effective form of conflict resolution.  There are other factors which make Elder Mediation very different from other types of mediation.

Elder mediation is distinguished from other forms of mediation by the types of issues involved.  There are three recurring types of issues that tend to come up: (1) resolving differences about planning for future financial or care scenarios, including estate planning, business succession planning, and advance care planning; (2) helping to achieve family agreement during a time of immediate crisis or disagreement; and (3) mediation to settle disputes over estate matters.

In addition to being distinguished by types of issues involved, Elder Mediation is also distinguished by its complexity.  Conflicts are likely to involve complex legal and financial issues, multiple stakeholders, entrenched family dynamics, emotional challenges, and a vulnerable adult.  Elder mediation helps embattled family relationships overcome these challenges in two ways.  First, communication is controlled so that negative feelings can be expressed in ways that don’t damage relationships.  Second, the mediation process facilitates real communication and enables parties to address the core interests that are causing conflict.  The aged adult will also be included in discussions and in decisions to the fullest extent possible, taking into account their capacity to make decisions.

Attorneys, accountants, and elder care managers are usually the first ones consulted by a family seeking proactive help.  No matter how much expertise these professionals have, they can’t do their jobs effectively when divided families can’t agree on goals or when all concerns are not brought forward.  And, just one family member who disagrees with the goal can destabilize the most extensive planning and cause tens of thousands of dollars to be expended to defend a lawsuit.  This is where an Elder Mediator adds key value.  A neutral mediator can help the parties ensure that complex, preventive planning and care management takes into account all interests, is realistic, and is based on a unified family agreement.  When these measures are taken, there is much less likelihood of later challenge. 

Sometimes the barriers to agreement can be profound.  Siblings may vie for favor, tempers may flare; distrust builds, and relationships suffer.  In emotionally volatile situations, the family needs a skilled, neutral party to help the family put aside old patterns of interacting and adopt new patterns, in order to address the serious issues that every aging family will go through.  While a mediator is not a counselor, ideally an Elder Mediator will assist the family in overcoming old patterns of relating that are no longer working, so that the family can come together in a more unified way to confront the new or impending reality.  

A family navigating the path of caring for an elder may also encounter unforeseen obstacles.  Sometimes, there may have been some condition which has been so much a part of the family’s life that it isn’t even noticed until something else goes awry.  For example, suppose one of the adult children has mental or physical disability.  That child may have been able to function by living at home or receiving substantial help from the parent.  As the parent ages and becomes less able to “take care of” that person, other family members may become more acutely aware that something doesn’t seem right.  Perhaps the issue is alcoholism, mental illness, or perhaps there is suspicion of financial misdeeds.  Unfortunately, sometimes adult siblings may be forced to address these difficult issues at the same time they are having emotional and difficult conversations with or about their aging parent.  These times of crisis are challenging for families.  The presence of a neutral mediator can help keep the conversation on track.

Another  challenge of Elder Mediation is that various family members may have vastly different perspectives and ideas about what solutions to various challenges ought to be.  Sometimes what a parent wants is not what the same as what their adult child would want, and different members of the family may all want or expect different things.  Conversations can be difficult, and siblings may be forced to interact with one another under the rules of family system they left behind.  The CEO of a corporation may find himself being placed in the role of “little brother” or the sister’s concerns may be dismissed as too “selfish”.  The Mediator may need to assist these siblings not only in stepping outside their childhood roles and stereotypes, but also to encourage each to consult outside sources for a “reality check” concerning the veracity of their viewpoints.

These are just a few of the issues!  Ideally, an Elder Mediator will have flexibility, training, and intelligence to respond nimbly to the unique challenges of each situation.  

In selecting an Elder Mediator, seek a well seasoned mediator who has specific skill and training in Elder Mediation.  Specialized legal knowledge is important, but awareness of family dynamics and skill in multi-party mediation is also vital.  Thus, while many Elder Mediators are attorneys by training, many others have come into the field by way of their specialized background in gerontology, nursing, social work, or counseling.  The mediator hopefully can tell you the name of a training institute where they studied this specialized form of mediation, or they will demonstrate an extensive professional background in dealing with Elders and their families.  Look for signs that the potential mediator has expertise in (1) legal and financial issues of aging (financial planning, care planning, business succession planning, guardianship or probate administration), (2) multi-party, complex mediation (siblings, in-laws, and grandchildren all may be stakeholders and necessary parties to a mediation), and (3) legal issues related to competency and capacity (an Elder Mediator must take special precaution to ensure that the aged person, who may be a vulnerable adult, is accorded as much autonomy and decision making deference as his or her physical and mental capacity will allow). 

Last but not least, a good Elder Mediator will run a tight ship.  When emotions get stormy, the seas can get choppy.  A good Elder Mediator will calm the waters by keeping the conversation focused and civil.  For it is only through listening to one another that a family can hear each other’s concerns, develop solutions that address those concerns, and come up with the best solution to address the needs not only of the aging adult, but of their caregivers and loved ones as well.

As difficult and challenging as conversations about Elder issues may be, wise is the family that has them.  While honesty, candor, and open conversation may be challenging and difficult, the more fully the issues are discussed, and the better the quality of conversation, the better the result will be.  Yes, Elder Mediation may be time consuming and complex.  Often, due to complexity of the issues and numbers of the parties, several meetings are required and two mediators may need to be involved.  Yet, consider the cost of doing nothing:  lack of care or illness or accidents on the part of a vulnerable loved one, lack of family support for a caregiver, financial exploitation, loss of a business or livelihood due to failure to plan for contingencies, distrust, failure to communicate, incorrect assumptions, escalating conflict, anger, and financial resources poured into attorneys and lawsuits.  The stakes are high.  Errors can cost not just money, but also relationships in the family and quality of life for the Elder.

A family can pretend nothing is wrong and “fake” peace, or it can sue each other and “break” the peace.  Or, it can deal honestly and fairly with the issues and truly, “make” peace.  The middle way – the way which acknowledges conflict and then works through it it in an effort to find authentic peace — is, by far, the best way.

Additional Resources

Association for Conflict Resolution, Section on Elder Decisions and Conflict Resolution: http://www.mediate.com/acrelder/pg16.cfm

The author with her grandmother

Compassion in Listening

One of the interesting things that happens when one begins to coach others is that the skill being taught becomes embedded more deeply into one’s own, personal life.  As a conflict resolution professional, one of the main things I do is to coach people on how to listen to one another.  My experience is that really listening, and really hearing, is not easy and it’s not intuitive.  I certainly can’t claim to be a perfect listener.  All I can say is that I’m learning and getting better.

We all know, of course, that listening and hearing are required in order to understand the heart of what the “other” person is trying to communicate about their needs and interests that give rise to a conflict.  But often, in conflict scenarios, the parties are no longer in authentic communication.  Instead, they just talk past each other.  An additional challenge for a mediator, on top of getting the parties to listen to one another, is that it’s often the case that a person who is embroiled in a conflict situation and trying to communicate a general anger or other emotion doesn’t even fully understand his own reasons and needs, himself.  At such times, the mediator must listen twice as much.  Listen first in order to help the parties clarify what they mean and what they want to say.  Then, coach the parties in listening so that each can hear what the other is really trying to express and not just what they expect or want to hear.

Listening is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice!  The good news is that we can get better at it.

What are some tips and tools for listening?

One thing a good “listener” can do is to clean their own glass, to make the lens through which we see and hear things less intrusive.  In other words, when we remove our own preconceived notions, then we become enabled to hear more of what the other person is really trying to say and less of what we are expecting or wanting to hear.  A word to describe the process of removing one’s self (and one’s own responses) is the term “mindfulness”.  When we become mindful of our own biases, tendencies, and prejudices, then we are better able to account for those and to try to filter them out.  What the insightful mediator is doing is removing himself from the frame so that the party may have a clearer image in the mirror of his conflict and his own response to it.

The opposite of mindfulness is when we project a lot of ourselves into a conflict and hear only what relates to our own experience.  How many times have I (or you) listened to someone’s story and immediately knew what they should do?   Or how often have you heard a story and said, “The exact same thing happened to me!”  But, the exact same thing didn’t happen, and if the answer were truly so obvious the speaker would have found it already.  Personal mental responses like these are the mediation equivalent of raising a storm warning flag at a beach.  Friends who are in the position of listening to each other can be on the alert for these responses, too.  When I “know” what my friend ought to do, it means I haven’t removed myself from the story enough to really listen to them fully and presently.  If the answer is too obvious, there would be no conflict.  Since there is some countervailing view, if the answer seems too simple then it’s likely that some aspect of the conflict remains mis-understood.

Another way of knowing when we are putting too much of ourselves into a communication is when we feel tempted to interrupt, even if we only interrupt the person mentally and not physically.  How many times, when a friend is speaking, are you tempted to think ahead in your mind to how you will answer them rather than continuing to listen to them as they speak?  For me, this mental feeling is like having two lanes of traffic.  One lane of traffic in my mind is the stream of thought that is attentive to what my friend is saying, imagining with them what their experience is.  The other lane of traffic in my mind is to be thinking about how I am going to respond to what they’re saying: How does this relate to me, what I can I say about it to give them feedback?  The problem is,that mentally I can really only be in one car at a time.  If I’m already formulating the response to my friend, then I’m not really listening fully to them in the present, here and now.

So, next time your best friend is telling you about a situation and you’re tempted to give advice, think of this column.  Instead of projecting your own idea of “what is true,” or thinking “this happened to me,” and then telling the person what to do or giving them advice, try first to discern the reasons that their situation feels like to them.  Why do they perceive a conflict in the first place, what is that experience like for them?  What values, needs, and interests got them into the situation where they find themselves?

Most likely, there’s more to their situation than can be answered by a simple knee jerk reaction and response.  What our friend needs from us is not advice, but the feedback and mirroring to help them gain insight.  Then, with increased insight, our friend can find the answers from within themselves.  Answers that come from within and are authentic to lived experience are the ones that will be best in the long run.  So, the way to be a better friend is to help our friend develop capacity from within, not by imposing a solution from without.

How to do this?   Ask powerful, open ended questions of our friend, as a means to help uncover some of those underlying complexities, different perspectives, and ways of increasing understanding of the experience which is being communicated.

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Collaborative Divorce: Invest in Family Solutions Rather Than Conflict

Are you considering divorce?  If so, I hope this article will give you pause to think of the many different ways you could proceed, in order to obtain your objective.  While every divorce will require some sort of court action to get the divorce finalized, not every divorce requires that you engage in litigation.

Imagine if you went to a doctor and they prescribed the same treatment that would have been prescribed in 1910, without considering any newer methods of treatment that might work better.  Would you just take that doctor’s advice, or would you seek a second opinion?  In my view, an attorney who sets every client up for a litigated divorce is like that doctor.

In 1910, there was no such thing as a “no fault” divorce.  To get a divorce, a party would have to prove some evil or despicable act on the part of their spouse, such as adultery or habitual drunkenness or spousal abuse.  The adversarial system of divorce was set up in this environment:  one party would go to court to prove that the other was bad and convince the judge to grant a divorce based on that evil.  The party at fault would also be punished in some way, such as by forfeiting alimony or losing custody of their children.  The parties employed attorneys who were like gladiators, fighting on their behalf to prove their case to the judge, who would make a decision about who “won” the case.

There are still divorcing couples, and attorneys, who think in terms of this paradigm.  In some cases, the parties are angry, bitter, seek revenge, and want to fight.  They would rather spend their last dime on lawyers than see any dimes go to their former spouse.  The model of litigated divorce will ensure that these parties get what they want, with plenty of pain and bitterness to share.  In many other cases, however, divorcing spouses seek merely to disengage from the marriage in a way that is fair to everyone.

How can people obtain a divorce without all the fighting?  Some people just decide to “call it quits”.  They don’t use any helping professionals at all.  Others may employ just one attorney to draft up their agreement and file the paperwork with the court to get their divorce.   Sometimes, there is also the challenge that parties cannot agree on terms.  So, some couples use a mediator to help them negotiate and then draft a separation or divorce agreement.

These solutions all help ensure that divorcing parties remain relatively amicable, but there is still the underlying issue of fairness.  Some attorneys who advocate litigated divorces argue that it is the only way to ensure that everyone gets what they deserve.  And truly, fairness is a deep concern.  Going to court is not the only way to ensure fairness, however.

Certainly, divorce is complicated and has serious legal ramifications.  Mistakes regarding alimony, pensions, child support, or health insurance can be very costly and difficult to fix.  How does one ensure that a divorce, a very serious legal matter, is fair to everyone and leaves them in the best situation possible, given the circumstances? One good way is by using a team of collaborating professionals to guide the parties through this challenging process.

The collaborative model of divorce enables parties to separate (and divorce) in a way that feels fair, avoids wounding each other any more than necessary, enables them to continue work together and to parent their children as a team, and leaves each with financial and emotional resources to deal with the challenges of single life ahead.  I believe so strongly in the collaborative practice model of divorce that it is the only one I will use.  I am willing to mediate divorces, but only if the couple agrees ahead of time to consult with professionals as needed to ensure that their divorce agreement is as good as it can be.

When I did my IACP training in the collaborative model of divorce, the trainer used the example of a pit crew to teach how collaborative divorce works.  Imagine a picture of a race car that has pulled into a pit stop. While the car is stopped, one member of the pit crew changes the tire; another changes the windshield wipers; and a third one changes the oil. The goal is to restore the car to great condition and get it back on the road as fast as possible. In the view of collaborative practitioners, the family during a divorce is like that car.  Professionals are like members of the pit crew.  Each professional has a discrete function that helps the family.  Just like that pit crew, the collaborative professionals work as a team (all neutral), with just one goal: to get the family back on the road again and in good condition.

Each family, and each divorce, is unique.  It may be that a team of professionals will not be needed.  Some couples are able to reach agreement on all issues without help, and others may only need help with one or two aspects of their divorce.  But in situations where outside experts would be helpful, the collaborative practice team can include child specialists (who can help develop a parenting plan), financial specialists (who can help with budgeting and support issues), divorce coaches (who can help with emotional adjustment), tax attorneys, even career counselors (who can help spouses who need a change of career direction to increase earning capacity).

When services of these professionals are utilized, those services benefit the family permanently:  A good parenting plan will make visitation and custody arrangements run smoothly for years. A good financial plan will help ensure the fiscal integrity of each spouse. A good divorce coach will get the divorcing parties through the emotionally bumpy parts. A good career planner will get a displaced homemaker back on her feet faster. By solving things right the first time, in a way that is healthy and healing for everyone, the family puts its money into resources and solutions that will benefit the family for years.

Divorce professionals should help parties untangle their lives in ways that enable them to move on, and in the best position possible.

What is the role of attorneys in a collaborative divorce?  In many cases of collaborative divorce, each spouse is represented by an attorney.  The two attorneys guide negotiations and decide among themselves what experts are needed.  Each attorney acts as an advocate for his or her client in negotiations.  A mediator is called in only if the two attorneys or their clients fail to agree on issues.  This model works well, especially when there is some reason for a spouse to need more protection, for instance in complex cases or where challenging issues are involved.

In other cases, the spouses may choose to share a mediator and negotiate on their own.  In the scenario of a mediated, collaborative divorce, the mediator guides the discussion and enables the parties to reach their own settlement without attorneys directing the negotiations.  This does not mean that attorneys have no role whatsoever.  Rather, the attorneys become more like consultants who are asked for advice now and then, or to review the overall agreement after the conclusion of negotiations.  At the conclusion of a mediated, collaborative divorce process, the parties may get their divorce finalized in court by themselves, or they may engage a single attorney to walk them through the process.

In either scenario, the professionals in a collaborative divorce are all, 100% committed to getting the family through the divorce in a way that avoids going to war.  The most tangible evidence of this commitment is the agreement that each collaborative professional makes:  (1) to act as a neutral, (2) to share information, and (3) to withdraw completely from the case if either party pursues litigation.  These ground rules ensure that each professional (and each party) is “on board” with the agreement to be fair and to work through issues in a way that keeps the spouses in control and out of court.

I am sold on the value that these professionals add.  The collaborative approach to divorce is also cost effective.  It is not “cheap” in the sense of paying a lower fee for professional services or because a family is cutting corners on quality.  The reason it costs less is because it works better.  The collaborative model reduces conflict, keeps the family on track toward the goal of resolving issues fairly, and provides services that will benefit the family for the long haul.  Instead of paying two lawyers to battle in court over legal positions (with conflict escalating as the parties position themselves into battle mode), the spouses put their precious family resources into services that actually improve their situation.  That, in my opinion, is a wise investment.

Nine Reasons to Mediate Your Conflict

1. Mediation keeps you in control.  In mediation, parties retain 100% control over their agreement, unlike court which puts matters into the hands of a stranger who may or may not share their values.  The mediator does not determine the outcome of the dispute – the parties do.

2. Mediation is private.   No one needs to know that you have gone to mediation. Though there are a few exceptions (like child abuse or threats of violence), pretty much nothing said during a mediation can be held against a party later in court.

3. Mediation is cost effective.  Both parties split the cost of the mediator as well as any experts that are required. But also, because it de-fuses conflict and help parties work together instead of against each other, mediation most likely requires fewer paid hours.

4. Mediation resolves the dispute . The parties to mediation generally agree that their agreement is enforceable in court, and there are fewer enforcement actions because a voluntary agreement is less likely to be challenged.

5. Mediation saves relationships.  Gain the satisfaction of knowing that a disagreement has been resolved in a peaceable manner.

6. Mediation is at your own pace.  Parties might reach agreement in one session, scheduled almost immediately. On the other hand, sometimes people need time to mull things over and adjust to ideas.  So long as the parties are moving forward with progress, mediations can be scheduled over several sessions, thus enabling all parties to sort out all options and come to peace with various solutions.

7. Mediation enables parties to be creative. Mediation enables parties to address root causes of conflict through every means available, including options or strategies that would not be available by way of court order.

8. Mediation allows you to communicate your position.  Unlike court, in which testimony is tightly controlled, mediation allows parties to air their dispute fully in a process which is designed to encourage each other to really listen, hear, and understand.

9. Mediation is low risk Mediation has an easy exit. If either party feels mediation isn’t working, the parties can return to the old way of doing things.

Need more information?  Click HERE for a more extensive article explaining what mediation is and what its benefits are, or HERE for a list of 20 reasons!

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Faith Based, Christian Mediation

The process of mediation is not faith based.  Mediation is a good tool for addressing most types of conflict, without regard to faith.  For people who are Christians, however, scriptural principles in the New Testament have much to say not only about the value of settling disputes outside of court, but also about the spiritual ramifications that are inherent in how we respond to wrongs.  Because of these scriptural principles, Bible-based mediation can differ from secular mediation in several respects.

This post is strictly about Christian mediation — mediation among Christians or within church groups (church mediation).

First, a first key goal of Christian mediation is that the parties become genuinely, and authentically, reconciled to one another.  The essence of Christian reconciliation is based on repentance and restoration of a right relationship.  Restoration of right relationship cannot occur until there has been a genuine acknowledgment of wrongfulness of our actions, acceptance of responsibility, and also forgiveness.

Forgiveness can be a challenge.  It goes against the grain, making reconciliation counter-intuitive.  Traditional methods of dispute resolution do not require forgiveness.  The gladiator goes into the courtroom to do battle, and he takes no prisoners.  On the other hand, avoiding a dispute and pretending that everything is “fine” is not healthy, either.  If someone fails to acknowledge brokenness, then they also prevent the possibility of acknowledging error and correcting it.

Christian author Ken Sande has coined terms “breaking peace” and “faking peace” to refer to these two very different, and unscriptural, attitudes toward conflict.  Doing battle, whether through warfare or traditional adversarial litigation, “breaks” the peace.  Ignoring or running from conflict, on the other hand, as we do when we pretend that nothing is wrong, “fakes” the peace.   Christians who sue each in court are breaking the peace.  A church which fails to acknowledge that it has conflict is faking peace. The path which acknowledges conflict yet seeks to forge a genuine resolution that restores right relationships, is to “make” peace.  To “make” peace is more challenging, and requires deep tilling of spiritual ground.  When this effort is successful, the return is profound:  genuine peace and reconciliation.  It’s not just an ideal, it is a potential reality!  So, where does one start?

The way of peacemaking, of reconciliation in a Christian sense, is not just a matter of saying “I’m sorry” and pretending that nothing ever happened.  The middle ground, making peace, involves acknowledging that something went wrong and then extending and accepting forgiveness and grace, for both parties.  Once the dispute is aired and the parties have done what they can to make things right, this opens new possibilities for the miracle of genuine, authentic reconciliation.   (Restoration of right relationships is also the idea behind Restorative Justice — a new application of justice principles which because of its effectiveness is sweeping criminal justice systems across the world.  Restorative Justice is discussed in my secular blog posts HERE and HERE, but it also has strong scriptural support.)

For the party who has been wronged, the act of extending forgiveness comes as the result of God’s grace.   We receive the grace to forgive.  For the party who has done the wrong and who receives forgiveness, acceptance of that forgiveness is also a matter of receiving grace.  In forgiving and in receiving forgiveness, we put into action our words in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive us our debtors.”

True repentance and forgiveness is not always easy.  The process of giving and receiving forgiveness will involve prayerful self examination, acknowledgment of and acceptance of responsibility for wrongful thoughts or actions, a commitment to genuine change, as well as acceptance of the grace that forgiveness brings.  (The whole idea of forgiveness is worthy of its own article, which can be found HERE.  A key issue in the inner spiritual journey of repentance and forgiveness — both to give and to accept — is to examine one’s sense of righteousness and self righteousness. )   Once we are willing to walk the path of repentance and forgiveness, then comes the step of restoring right relationship.

Galatians 6:1-2 gives a relatively clear admonition concerning the importance of restoring a right relationship with another Christian, a grace we impart to another even when we feel we have been wronged:  “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. . . .  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

What does “restoring gently” mean?  Martin Luther interpreted thusly:

If you see a brother despondent over a sin he has committed, run up to him, reach out your hand to him, comfort him with the Gospel and embrace him like a mother.   When . . .  [a person] has been overtaken by a sin and is sorry . . . [h]e must be dealt with in the spirit of meekness and not in the spirit of severity.  A repentant sinner is not to be given gall and vinegar to drink.

Luther also writes:

The Law of Christ is the Law of love. Christ gave us no other law than this law of mutual love: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.” To love means to bear another’s burdens. Christians must have strong shoulders to bear the burdens of their fellow Christians. . . . [W]e ought to overlook the shortcomings of others in accordance with the words, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”  Those who fail to do so expose their lack of understanding of the law of Christ.  Love, according to Paul, “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13)”

In Matthew 5, Peter asks Jesus to place a measure on just how much is enough.  How much one is really required to forgive?   Peter asks, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Until seven times?”  In answer, Jesus replied, “I say not unto thee, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven.”

This willingness to look beyond the fact of being wronged is the beginning in the path toward Christian reconciliation.

If you are serious about Christian reconciliation with your Brother or Sister in Christ, consider adopting the following as guiding principles:

  • Be honest with yourself, and with your neighbor: Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor (Eph. 4:25).

  • Prayerfully think about how justice is intertwined with mercy: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic. 6:8).
  • Accept responsibility for your actions, and admit your fault: First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:5).
  • Be honest, say what you mean, and mean what you say: Simply let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no” (Matt. 5:37).
  • Be compassionate: Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
  • Listen carefully to others: He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame (Prov. 18:13).
  • Overlook minor offenses: A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11).
  • Be constructive, positive: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:29).
  • Be open to forgiveness and reconciliation: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph. 4:32).
  • Be willing to change harmful attitudes and behavior: He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).
  • Make restitution for damage you have caused: If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss (Ex. 21:33-34).

Fundamentally, a person who seeks to do follow principles of Christian reconciliation will seek to follow the Golden rule:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them

do to you,for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”

(Matt. 7:12).  If you are interested in pursuing Christian mediation with a Brother or Sister, please mention this when you speak with me, and I will give you more resources to help you prepare and either resolve the dispute among yourselves or with help.  Additional characteristics that distinguish Christian mediation from secular mediation are discussed HERE (role of prayer in transformative, Biblical reconciliation) and HERE (the “Four G’s” of Biblical reconcilation).

I can be reached at 803-414-0185, and I welcome your questions on this topic.

Keeping Communication Positive During Conflict

Treat others with kindness and respect:  Even when our feelings are anything but respectful, failure to treat the other side with respect will shut down communication.

Listen to the other person:  Eliminate distractions.  Do not interrupt.  Do not rush.  Give the person opportunity to truly speak what is on their mind and to be heard. With the practice of uninterrupted time, a listener can just listen and the speaker can speak without anxiety about interruptions.  Then, be open to hearing what the person really said:  do not allow preconceived projectons to interfere with listening and hearing what the person really said.  (No, this situation is not just like Minnie Mae’s last year, it is unique!)   The effectiveness and the quality of the communication increases enormously as a result of true listening.

Allow the other person to say nothing, or to pass:   This is a reflection of the principle that mediation must be voluntary and self determined.  Not giving someone the right to pass is a form of peer pressure.

Do not volunteer others to do something they have not already agreed to do:  The extra time and effort it takes to gain true consent (and avoid unwelcome surprises) builds trust, mutual respect, and ensures consensus.

Speak only for yourself and describe only facts:   Use statements that begin with “I” rather than “we”.  Avoid generalizations.  Do not ascribe thoughts or motives to others.  The only way to know what someone thinks or feels is to ask them.  Use of “I” statements also gives us a chance to internally review our own, internal response to the facts.

Speak, but not too often or for too long:  Aim to contribute information that is relevant and not redundant.  Show respect for others by giving them time and attention.

Challenge specific behavior, not the person:   Speak only to specific facts.  Avoid generalizations.

Maintain confidentiality:  Breach of confidentiality destroys trust.  If people fear their secrets and personal issues are going to be disclosed outside the mediation, they won’t feel safe to share their views and fears and ideas and vulnerabilities and mistakes.  Breach of confidentiality results in anger, distrust, and in disillusionment with the mediation process.

Allow yourself and others to make mistakes and to move on from them:  Blame, humiliation, and punishment do not repair or resolve problems.  Instead, these responses put people on the defensive and shut down  communication.  When mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning and positive growth, it is easier for participants to acknowledge that perhaps a mistake has been made and to move forward in more positive ways.

This blog post is based on writings of Alan Sharland that can be found at http://www.communicationandconflict.com

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