When you live in Hawaii, you are not allowed to complain. We lived there for over 5 years, and whenever I complained about anything, people would respond sarcastically, “Must be tough living in Hawaii.” If I said anything negative about living there such as the cost of living or the size of parking lots or the unreliability of receiving items in the mail it was, “I guess that’s the cost of living in paradise.” Friends of mine were shunned by family and friends for posting too many beautiful beach pictures and started to feel self-conscious about what they shared on social media, especially during the winter months. I could have said I was dying from cancer and someone would probably have responded, “Well, at least you live in Hawaii.” Don’t get me wrong, I was very thankful to live in that beautiful place. I tried to be grateful every day, but the world is broken everywhere. Relationships are a struggle, even in paradise. Honestly, when my kids are screaming, it doesn’t matter how beautiful my surroundings are; no one is happy.

Maybe this has happened to you: You’re on a dream vacation doing exciting excursions and eating delicious food. You were hoping to feel like those attractive people in the brochures, soaking in the sun and laughing at who-knows-what. But then it happens. You get into a disagreement, and suddenly your surroundings are not so appealing, the activities are a chore, and all food tastes like poi (sorry Hawaii folks, but that is the most tasteless food I could think of). Conflict makes the best of circumstances a living hell.

The opposite is true as well. When there is harmony between you and others, you feel like you can face the most difficult circumstances and everything will be fine. I have said to my kids many times, “When we are all getting along, I feel like we can face anything. But when someone is screaming or we are being disrespectful to each other, I shut down and even the smallest tasks seem impossible.” The degree to which conflict affects our lives is undeniable.

One song that has been on repeat at our house lately is Twenty One Pilots’ new single, “Level of Concern.” This will not be the first (or last) time I quote Twenty One Pilots–I’m pretty much obsessed. The song is surprisingly upbeat and dance-able considering its dark subject matter. The chorus says, “I told you my level of concern / But you walked by like you never heard / And you could bring down my level of concern / Just need you to tell me we’re alright, tell me we’re okay.” In this song about the quarantine, being “alright” and “okay” does not simply mean being safe and healthy. He’s concerned about a relationship. If the relationship is okay, his level of concern over the circumstances will come down. It is the other person’s presence and acceptance that brings peace.

Recognizing the hold that conflict has over our lives brings new light to the forgiveness and reconciliation we receive through Christ. Without him, every place is dark and daunting even when the sun is shining. When there is unresolved conflict, especially between us and God, nothing feels right. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:17-18).

Before Jesus died on the cross, he often demonstrated the power of forgiveness in his ministry on earth. On one occasion, some friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus to be healed. There was such a large crowd gathering around him that the friends had to make a hole in the roof and lower the man down to him. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” This response was strange to different people for different reasons. The teachers of the law knew that forgiving sins could be done by God alone, and they called him a blasphemer. The people standing around were probably thinking, “That’s it? Aren’t you going to do something amazing?” The man’s friends were probably disappointed after all of that heavy lifting.

I wonder what was going on in the paralyzed man’s heart and mind.

With everything going on in this story, that is one thing I’ve never considered before. Did the world look different to him after that proclamation from Jesus? Did he feel like he could face his challenges with new eyes knowing that he had peace with God? Or was he just as confused as everyone else? Jesus knows what everyone is thinking, and he says, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” The answer to his question is that both are easy to say, but for man both are impossible to carry out. Jesus does not answer his own question, but he knew what the price would be to carry out the forgiveness of sins: it would definitely not be easy. Then, to show that he had the power to say and carry out that statement, he told the man to get up, take his mat and walk. The people were amazed and praised God. (Matt 9, Mark 2, Luke 5)

Sometimes we feel like we are perpetually living in that moment between Jesus saying, “Your sins are forgiven” and the moment the paralyzed man was physically healed. We know we have reconciliation with God, but we are still struggling and it does not feel tangible. That makes it easy for us to dismiss the importance of what has been accomplished for us and the impact it has on the way we forgive each other. In the Corinthians verse quoted above, it says that Christ gave us the “ministry of reconciliation.” That means that through our reconciliation with him, we can be reconciled to each other. One day he will renew all things, and we will no longer have to muddle through our broken relationships. Until that time, our “ministry of reconciliation” looks like seeing others as people who have been reconciled to God. Like the crowd surrounding Jesus, we get so caught up in the confusion of this world that we forget to look at others as “forgiven” rather than “still broken.”

May this peace that overcomes all brokenness bring light and life to you wherever you are and whatever the circumstance, even if you live in Hawaii.