Monday started out to be a really bad day. It seemed like every time I turned around I ran headlong into conflict — racking up three by lunch.
I was stressing out.
When things like this happen in quick succession there’s often more at work. I’m learning it’s a good idea to interrupt my spin cycle (spinning myself into a tiz, that is) and invite God in.
“What’s going on,” I asked the Lord, vexed at my kitchen counter. “This is not a coincidence. Why all the conflict?
“I have the right to be upset, you know,” I added a bit indignantly. “After all I’ve been deceived, dismissed and disrespected, all in one day.”
“What’s the point,” came the response.
I mulled over my answer; my earlier blog posts on loving your enemy slowly percolated into my consciousness.
“It’s easy to love those who love you,” God reminded me gently. “How can you show love to those who don’t like you or do wrong to you? That’s where real evangelism begins.”
As God called me to try this challenging new thing, he gave me his Spirit to guide me. He also placed in my path a human mentor, a friend who is further down the road on this one, and who, unknowingly, showed me the way by his example and a few simple yet wise words.
“You love some prickly people,” I commented to Steve in a recent chat. “I admire that about you.”
“I do love them,” Steve replied. “Some people just require more love to become truly lovable.”
Hmmm. Chew on that one.
I’ve witnessed Steve living this out for some time now. The cynic in me questioned if it could be genuine or if it was just him “acting Christian.” But it didn’t take much time to recognize Steve is the real deal.
The Practical Tactical Stuff
What would it look like for me to show real love to these people I believed had “wronged me”? Could I love them like I watch Steve love people, without expectation?
To the person who deceived me, while I did require him to give back what he had stolen, I also wrote him a note acknowledging that I was truly saddened by his decision and encouraging him to “Seek first the kingdom of God and all things will be given to you.”
To the service provider who dismissed me because I had texted a question about an unexpected bill, I considered my part and realized that texting about a sensitive topic like money was a bad idea. It left room for misinterpretation and probably made him feel disrespected. I apologized for those things in another note, but resisted the urge to ask him to reconsider because I didn’t want to undermine the heart of the message.
And to the person who disrespected me I initiated a conversation…and listened. I quickly understood the fear at work, and it became easy to set things right.
I’d like to tell you each of these small stories had happy endings. In reality, two did, but the person who deceived me deceived me yet again. I now am praying fervently that God will convict his heart and restore him.
Practice Makes Perfect
These are the situations in which I typically feel pretty entitled to have my say, as long as I don’t lose my cool entirely. This type of response is new for me; I’m not good at it.
Learning requires me to slow down, look in the mirror and recognize that I’m never fully right; I almost always play a part in what’s gone wrong.
And then, I have to stop and pray about what God would have me do next. I often enter such tasks grudgingly. And I worry that people are going to think I’m nutty.
My friend Steve, on the other hand, is a pro in this heavenly arena. He has built up muscle memory in his soul to where his instincts and responses look enviably fluid and second nature.
When God goes to so much trouble to teach me a thing like this, it’s always for His good purpose. While I suspect there’s more to come on the topic, here is what I know today:
Any time I respond to people who hurt, offend or dislike me with love, especially when I think they deserve something less, I may provoke the question:
“Why would she react that way?”
And there’s only one answer: Jesus.
You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.
This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
Matthew 5: 43-48 (The Message)
Steve has weighed in and shared the following, which he gave me permission to share with you:
I am still a deep work in process and still feel like God has so much more to teach me about suffering, grief and forgiveness. In that, I do feel like learning about the road less traveled has given me a small inkling of the perspective God has for me and for others.
I have come to realize that suffering is the key to understanding the depths of Christ’s love for me. That suffering does lead to perseverance. That perseverance does lead to character. And that character does lead to hope in Christ. These things I not only cling to, I deeply believe in.
I find myself now praying for suffering; suffering that is profound enough that it shifts the person from the driver seat to the passenger seat and unleashes that opportunity to journey toward God, realizing you are not in control.