*Principle #2: It’s not my job to fix you.*
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another…Proverbs 27:17
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…Romans 12:18
Kelly: Oh Carter, I’m looking forward to this drive with you to Peter’s cottage. I love you.
Carter: I love you too, Kelly. I’m looking forward to it. As long as…
Kelly: As long as what?
Carter: Nothing. It’s just…well, please don’t tell me how to drive.
Kelly: What do you mean by that? I don’t tell you how to drive! Oh, Peter, you should make a left turn here–
Carter: –You see? That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Slow down, watch that car, don’t forget the stop sign, it’s faster to go the other way—it drives me crazy!
Kelly: Well, I’m sorry, Carter…I had no idea you felt that way.
Carter: (mumbles) I never wanted to bring it up before, it kind of makes me uncomfortable…
Kelly: Yeah, well, I’m uncomfortable too, Carter. Do you notice that we’re always late and you always take the longest way to our destination? You just dawdle along…Do you realize that I’m always on time, tapping my feet, waiting by the door—
Carter: Yes, I have noticed that, actually—
Kelly: –And you’re always late, and I don’t like being late, Carter!
Carter: For heaven’s sake, what’s the big deal if you’re a few minutes late once in a while?
Kelly: A few minutes? Try 45 minutes! An hour! A whole afternoon, maybe? “Whoops! I thought that was at 7:00 pm, not 7:00 am,” you say. And then I miss the event, because I trusted you to know the right time! Remember that wedding ceremony we missed because we didn’t leave early enough and you didn’t know the way? We drove around and around for an hour!
Carter: Who could find that church? It was in the middle of the woods! I had no idea that village even existed. Anyway, we were there in time for the reception.
Kelly: Ooooh…it’s embarrassing—when you’re late, people think that you don’t respect their time. Hey! Watch the red light. I don’t suppose you brought a map?
Carter: (Sighs.) No, I didn’t bring a map, I’ve been there before.
Kelly: (Rolls her eyes.) Once before.
Carter: Kelly! This isn’t a two-week cross-country road trip! Look, let’s just drop it, okay?
Kelly: You’re going the wrong way.
Like Kelly in the story, a good friend of mine hates to be late. Unfortunately, she does not have a car of her own and is forced to put up with the bad habits of others. She once related how irritated she used to be that travelling with my husband and I to functions always made her late. (In my husband’s defence, being late is not his fault…He used to be a very punctual person before he started hanging out with me.) She lamented that her entire circle of friends and family consisted of tardy people. But, she said, on the odd occasion when she was running late, she noticed that we sat patiently in the car and were not upset about having to wait, no matter how long. My punctual friend said our reaction caused her to quietly modify her own attitude. She now has more patience with the overdue people in her life that continue to be overdue. Instead, when possible, she makes alternate arrangements. (I would like to add that in recent years our punctuality has been improving.)
As for me, I am brimming with sensitivities, resentments and irritations. I’ve gotten more tolerant over the years, but I find that just as I’ve conquered one situation, another one appears. For example, I hate to be teased. When I was a child my mother’s frequent refrain, “just ignore them and they’ll stop,” did absolutely nothing for my sense of moral outrage. First, because I didn’t believe her–it didn’t seem to matter whether I ignored the wretches or not, they kept on doing it. Many entertaining outbursts at school, many tearful bus rides home, many excellent withering speeches in front of my bedroom mirror convinced me that I should not be the one to modify my response. Why can’t they just be nice, and kind, and polite…? I would never tell someone how their glasses gave them four big googly frog eyes or tease them about their goofy run or tell them they suck at baseball so they’ll be picked last or that nobody likes them because they use big words…why can’t they be like me? I would never do that, I would never say that, I would never put someone in that situation. It’s a tall order, to change the whole world so I could be comfortable in it!
That’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? We all say to ourselves: “Why shouldn’t they change first?”
I’ve repeated the maxim the only person you can change is yourself to my own children from time to time. If I can’t stop being teased, all I have control over is my own reaction. And my own reaction reveals that I am easily offended. Should I be? Shouldn’t I be more gracious to people, since “mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13)?” Shouldn’t I ask God for the power to respond to them the way Jesus would? If I spent my time asking people to change their irritating habits and faults, I would have very few friends. Up to this point, God has not discussed other people’s faults with me. Whenever I complain about annoying situations, he points me back to my own reaction.
Furthermore, the scriptures say we should allow God to judge situations (i.e. David to King Saul, 1 Samuel 24:12) and instead, we should examine and control our own behaviour (Romans 14:9-13). There is tremendous freedom in realizing that God can help us to view the actions of others, even intentionally evil ones, objectively rather than personally. To love others with God’s unconditional love means you are no longer so easily offended, because you are not thinking of yourself at all.
Back to my punctual friend who was chafing about being late…If she had complained at the time, should I have told her to lighten up? Should I have said, “well, that’s your problem, find a drive with somebody else?” That may have been the first response in my head, but it wouldn’t have been the right one. If I had loved her with Christ’s love, I would instead look at myself. It didn’t occur to me that other people were inconvenienced by my dawdling. I now see that other people’s time is as valuable as mine, and it is arrogant to refuse to mind the clock.
There’s one other issue that I would like to bring up. It pertains directly to Christians, and how they relate to one another. In my 20 years as a Christian, I have witnessed and also been on the receiving end of correction by others who feel that it is their duty to point out sin or to expose the heretics, and they do it with gusto. They feel that God has gifted them in the area of discernment, and end up saying terrible things that are untrue, and hurt people very badly. The problem is that most times what they are confronting is not sin…they are personality conflicts and character flaws which have caused the accuser discomfort. We would do well to remember that most of our conflicts in the Body of Christ are opportunities for training rather than spiritual warfare.
In one of his personal letters to Dome Bede Griffiths, OSB, C.S. Lewis wrote: “On the whole, you know, I feel that self-examination should be confined to examining one’s conduct. One’s state in general, I don’t think one knows much about.”
I believe this statement reflects great wisdom, especially when you consider the scripture, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve,” Jeremiah 17: 9-10. Our conduct is concrete proof of the heart’s motivations. Where do I stand before God? Obedience is better than sacrifice. The bible teaches us to die to our flesh, and become servants—he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.
Some branches of Christianity spend a great deal of time navel gazing and examining each other with their “discernment.” I’m more cautious than I used to be… it’s so easy to deceive ourselves and rationalize our feelings! You can speak the truth as you see it, but you must be aware that “truth” is relative. We filter facts through our insecurities, problems and prejudices, and we become defensive. We want to protect ourselves. Which voice is ours, and which voice is God’s? How hard do you try to tell the difference?
So–Is it my job to confront you? If it’s not sin, I don’t think so. By all means, work out your problems—discuss your conflicts, talk it out! Can you see their point of view? Can you admit when you’re wrong? Can you say I’m sorry when confronted? Can you vocalize your frustrations and your needs without blame or judgment (i.e. that person should be like me)? Yes? Then apologize. Own up to it. If they forgive you, great. You’ll be better people and better friends. Go on with your life, and rejoice that you are more mature and more humble today than you were yesterday. If they refuse to forgive you, let it go. It becomes their problem, not yours.
This is the greatest opportunity to show transformation—can God control our tongue? Can he control yours?