A few years ago I wrote a newspaper column about same-sex marriage. I received a good number of emails in my in-box in the days following that newspaper column, and one in particular was pretty pointed. A woman — I’ll call her Linda — wrote to tell me that she’d been reading my writing for years, but the column I had written about same-sex marriage had disappointed her, and she proceeded to explain exactly why she thought I was wrong.
I wrote back to Linda and laid out a point-by-point counter-argument.
Linda emailed back her response with a counter-argument.
And so on and so forth for seven straight days.
By then, Linda had become a household name. When my husband got home from work each evening, I ranted and raved and harrumphed over what Linda had written to me that day.
I composed biting, articulate responses in my head at night as I lay in bed.
I Googled Scripture that I could use to counter the Scripture she cited in her emails.
I found myself vigorously pounding my laptop keys when I typed out my replies. Sometimes I read my responses aloud to Brad, complete with wild gesticulation and foaming at the mouth.
“Why are you doing this?” Brad finally asked me around the seventh day of the email exchange. “You know you’re not going to win, right?”
In that moment I realized that it had indeed become all about winning for me. I wanted to win the argument. I wanted to be right, to prove Linda wrong, to change her mind. I wanted the final word. This was my own personal crusade, my own Holy War, and I was bound and determined to prevail.
I really could have used Deidra Riggs’ book One: Unity in a Divided World in that moment. I really could have used Deidra’s gracious, gentle, truth-telling words and wisdom. Deidra, in that moment, would have reminded me that I had made my convictions my idol.
“If our holy convictions require us to make enemies of others, malign others, dehumanize others, or otherwise minimize another person’s humanity,” Deidra writes in One, “it’s time to check in and see if we’re truly serving the Jesus of the Bible.”
I could have used those words. I could have used that reminder.
Instead, I did the only thing I knew how to do at the time. I threw in the towel. I quit arguing with Linda cold-turkey. I extended an olive branch of sorts (but only because I was exhausted; self-righteousness is hard work, you know).
Seven days after our initial email exchange, I finally wrote Linda to say that I thought we would simply have to agree to disagree on this one. After I clicked “send,” I hoped that would be the end of it. I hoped I would never hear from Linda again.
That “agree-to-disagree” email was my olive branch. And it was the spindliest, weakest olive branch in the history of all olive branches. It wasn’t even a branch. It was a twig, with a single, shriveled, withered olive leave hanging off the end of it.
But here is the beautiful thing: God used that desiccated twig. God met Linda and me exactly where we were. He saw that withered olive leaf, he knew it was the very best I could do in the moment, and he took that twig and planted it into his soil.
Linda responded to my throw-in-the-towel-get-out-while-I-can email.
“I must say this has been very interesting,” she wrote. “I’ve enjoyed reading your point of view. Yes we can agree to disagree and hopefully have learned from each other.” And then she told me a little bit about herself and her church.
I responded to Linda’s email by telling her a little bit about myself and my church. And so on and so forth until, by the last email, Linda wrote this:
“I’d love to meet you for coffee sometime…exchanging ideas is how we grow.”
In less than a half-dozen more emails, Linda and I had gone from arguing back and forth and using Scripture as a weapon to making a coffee date. We had, as Deidra says in One, passed through.
Passing through our differences entails listening with our hearts and letting our view of things take a breather, Deidra explains:
“Passing through our differences does not ignore or negate them. But passing through them, rather than pushing against them, lets us absorb and be absorbed by the things that make us different from one another. Passing through leads from the heart. The opposite is bracing against. Passing through our differences is an exercise in grace. Grace is essential to finding oneness.”
The place I had boxed myself into during the angry email exchange with Linda was a cramped, small, lonely place — a place of self-righteousness, anger, and bitterness. God didn’t create that place, I created it.
We often create smallness for ourselves and others when in fact, we have the potential and the opportunity to create space.
Grace is the invitation, and the invitation is always there. The door is always flung open, but we have to walk through it. We have to say yes. We have to accept the invitation. God invites us through the tear in the curtain, into an open, spacious place.
We never did get together for coffee, but regardless, the place Linda and I stepped into in our email conversation, after we’d passed through our differences, was a beautiful place, a place filled with freedom, lightness and peace.
God’s grace is the invitation to pass through into that spaciousness, into oneness and wholeness, into trust, knowing that he will get each of us to exactly where we need to be.
Friends, THIS book! I read it straight through in one day. It’s SO good, and believe me, I am NOT just saying that because Deidra Riggs is my friend!
Deidra writes with a beautiful blend of conviction and grace about HARD topics: disagreement, reconciliation, forgiveness, racism, division, polarization, unity and wholeness. Her writing is full of insights and wisdom, and her tone is pure grace-filled invitation. This is a book you will want to read and discuss in community.
Read more about One HERE.
Watch the beautiful book trailer:
And do yourself and our divided world a favor and buy a copy for you and a friend TODAY.
As Deidra says, “Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges. Be a bridge builder.” And you know what a great step toward building your first bridge might be? Reading One: Unity in a Divided World. Let’s start there.