I work at a very large nonprofit, and one of the challenges of working in a large organization is the opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding that can occur. My role in the organization is ensuring that we comply with our stated program rules so that a funder does not become upset with poor management and withdraw their money. We have case managers that advocate for individuals who battle mental health, homelessness, and substance abuse addictions. Both I and our case managers want to see opportunities for these individuals to succeed; however, we see these from different angles, which naturally will lead to conflict.

One such instance last year involved a case manager who was not happy with my decision not to violate my role. And in my role of saying “no” on occasion, it is often challenging to do so in a way that appears empathetic sans superficiality. So It turned into a pretty ugly situation and sent out some ripple affects that made my life frustrating for a period.

A part of me harbored distrust and hate, for these breed in the absence of presence. But being forced to remain in contact with those we don’t like, one must learn to examine oneself and seek a path forward. My job required me to remain “professional” and so I would continue to greet this person in the hallway, but question my underlying feelings and if I truly forgave this person for the way I felt wronged.

One day, I offered a cup of coffee to this person, sporting my new french press and touting the fact I had extra. I didn’t think much of the offer, but a few weeks later, I found a hot cup of coffee on my desk from this person. The realization, though not clearly spoken, began to sink in that reconciliation was beginning. These small acts of kindness are one way of showing that a relationship can move beyond conflict, even when words may not be expressed.

In our house we strive to resolve conflict through conversation, with adjudication if necessary. The daily labors of kindness and sharing are one of the ways that we reflect reconciliation in the face of a rootless culture given to mobilized, poorly tended relationships. For when we are heaping the burning coals of kindness on our enemies, it is because they are not really our enemies, but we have failed to fully realize their humanity in the face of our own brokenness.