Efforts for lasting peace often tend to be halted by a seemingly endless cycle: war or violence, followed by temporary peace, and then more unrest. Such international patterns are echoed at the individual level, by family feuds and by conflicts within churches and in local governments. Effective prayer and prayer-inspired action can help each of us at home, while also contributing to peace abroad.
A key element in breaking these cycles is a willingness to forgive in the way the Bible says Christ Jesus taught. Incredible compassion toward his enemies enabled him to forgive them while he was on the cross. And he taught his followers to do likewise. Once a disciple asked him, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" According to the Bible, Jesus told him, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21, 22). Jesus wasn't expecting the disciple to keep score and stop forgiving after 490 times, of course. He was making clear that true forgiveness is without limits.
In actuality, God has always been in control of His creation. This means each of us has always been subject to the cycles of good, not to cycles of hatred or evil. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "Throughout the infinite cycles of eternal existence, Spirit and matter neither concur in man nor in the universe" (p. 319). In this passage, Spirit means God.
None of us has to be a victim of his or her past, or of an evil event that continues to haunt us or make us feel that revenge is the only solution. We can also distinguish intelligently between feeling that justice should prevail and feeling the passion of revenge. Justice that relies on God's direction brings peace as it ends evil. Seeking revenge, on the other hand, tends to obscure the issues, to entice us into wrongdoing, and to perpetuate the cycles of hatred.
Sometimes we don't even need to hate someone in order to be sucked into a negative cycle. For example, my mother went through bouts of great anger with people. These times, during which she would be very vindictive, were followed by quiescent periods. Nothing seemed able to stop her from this. One day, years after she had passed on, I found myself overcome with the same kind of anger, and feeling the same determination to "teach them a lesson." Suddenly, almost as though I were seeing a movie, I remembered all the times I had pleaded with my mother not to act foolishly. Right then, I realized, I had a choice. I could break that cycle. And I did.
One of the great lessons I learned from that experience is that we cannot express hatred or revenge without first consenting to them. This means we always have the opportunity to refuse the temptation to hate before we have acted on it. And there are good reasons to resist revenge and its companion emotions.
When we give in to hatred of any kind, we are indulging "the carnal mind" that Romans tells us is "enmity against God" (8:7). The antidote is to turn to the omnipotent divine Mind. The only true Mind. The only real intelligence around us. The only Mind influencing us. This Mind is God. Disciplining our thoughts to act in God's ways enables us to be less charged if conflict arises. When we are able to see everyone as, in fact, the child of God, we will be able more quickly to drop anger over real or imagined slights. We will be able to break out of family feuds that began, perhaps, generations before. In all these situations, we have a solution right at hand, in prayer to God.
Prayer is effective on an international scale also. Understand that one all-loving Mind governs in the world's trouble spots, and you join hearts with the people in those nations who are also praying. Refuse to believe that there can be any place where a cycle of evil can drive out the unlimited power of God.
This work is never in vain, and it is always urgently needed. Even if the journey toward peace and reconciliation seems long, it is never hopeless; God is always here to guide us. And as we journey on, our opponents, great or small, will at some point become our traveling companions -- and even our friends.