Monthly Archives: August 2014

If he’s a jerk…

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Recently, on the same day but at different times during that day, I had very similar conversations with two of my grown daughters…

The first conversation started because of a clear demonstration of road rage that we witnessed between two other drivers.  The second conversation started as a result of watching someone become irate and argumentative with someone almost instantaneously after being “offended”, when in fact, he was the real offender.  His reaction started by being indignant and ended up with him changing the whole course of the conflict to being about him being the victim, rather than the person doing the offending.

Both scenes were spectacular, really.  Kind of like a bad accident you drive by – you don’t want to stare at something so horrible, but you can’t help yourself.  It was easy, as spectators, to watch these different scenarios unfold and see what was really going on.

In both cases, the angry person was blaming anyone and everyone other than themselves for their troubles.  They were quick and insistent on pointing fingers and calling others (among other things) the jerk.

And as we watched these scenarios play out in front of us (and a whole lot of other people as well!) I couldn’t help but wonder … “If he’s the jerk, why should you be so upset?”

If he’s the jerk, and cut you off without giving any warning or signal, why should that upset you to the point of rage?

If he’s the jerk, and was inconsiderate enough to have purposely turned slowly enough to make you have to wait for another light, why should your response be to yell and curse and scream?

If he’s the jerk, and selfishly and thoughtlessly ruined your work, why is your reaction to yell and whine and complain?

He’s been the inconsiderate one.  He’s been the thoughtless one.  He’s been the one without manners.

If he’s the jerk, and truly offended you by his words or actions it says a lot about him.

It says he’s insensitive and rude, or maybe cowardly, or arrogant, or harsh, or mean-spirited, or even malicious and despicable – or a whole host of other things all at the same time…

But your response says a lot about you as well.

Did you catch that?  Your response says a lot about you as well.

When we rage because of someone else’s thoughtlessness or unkindness or rudeness or … whatever, we are declaring for all the world to hear that we believe ourselves to be entitled to better treatment than what we’ve just received.   We think that we are owed politeness and consideration and complimentary words.

I’m all for good manners and pleasant behavior between the members of mankind, really I am.  But I don’t think we can go so far as to feel entitled to it.  We train our children to consider others.  We train ourselves to hold our tongues.  We like to think we are able to live by the “Golden Rule”  – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

But can we demand it?  Are we entitled to it?

The following passages from Scripture come to mind very quickly when I’m tempted to think so:

“What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that you consider him?” Psalm 8:4

“How much less a mortal, who is but a maggot – a human being, who is but a worm”, Job 25:6

“Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Job 14:1

“For man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.”  Job 5:7

“Do not be surprised if the world hates you,” I John 3:13

I don’t know – it seems to me that we should pretty much expect trouble and be happy when it doesn’t come our way.

We have a saying in our house that applies:  “Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.”

There is never a time when someone else’s rudeness entitles me to be rude.  There is never a time when someone else’s thoughtlessness entitles me to be thoughtless.  There is never a time when someone else’s hurtfulness entitles me to turn around and be hurtful.  Never.

When people do those things, they are indeed sinful, but when I respond the same way it is never justified – it’s just adding another person to the sinful pile.

Paul Tripp uses a water bottle to demonstrate the same principle.  When he’s giving his talk he unscrews the lid of a water bottle and shakes the bottle enough so that water comes spilling out over the top and onto the floor.

He then asks, “Why did the water spill out of the water bottle?”

Invariably, people’s first response is to say, “Because you shook it and it spilled!”

But that is not the right answer.

It spilled water, because the bottle was filled with water.  It didn’t spill tea or soda or juice, but water.  The fact that it was shaken is largely irrelevant to the question.  What was in the bottle was what came out of the bottle.

It’s a small, but significant difference, isn’t it?

Amy Carmichael says the same thing a little differently.  She wrote, “A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”

So, back to my question – if he’s the jerk, why are you reacting so badly?  If his bad behavior has jostled you, why is that spilling out?

It was easy for my daughters and me to look at these particular situations and see two people behaving badly.  But it is harder to look at myself and recognize when I’m doing the same.  But I must.  And so must you.

Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.

God is far from silent on the matter.  He says:

“But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Luke 6:27-28

“Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  I Peter 3:9

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21

If your attitudes or behavior are not what they ought to be, it’s time to examine what is filling you up – because it will spill out.

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Love in the laundry room…

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I spend a lot of time in our laundry room – I mean a LOT.  I learned a long time ago to use that time productively – well, by that I mean using it for more than just getting the laundry done.

Each of my kids has had his/her own laundry bin since they were born and I have a system where I do certain people’s laundry on certain days of the week.  It works for us.

One of the byproducts of my little system is that while I’ve spent week after week, year after year, doing laundry for my family this way, I have prayed for each person specifically, pointedly, fervently  while doing his/her laundry.  I don’t really mind doing the laundry – even though for a family of nine there has certainly been a lot of it.  There’s a lot of love that has happened in my laundry room.

And, because of the volume of laundry and the time that gets spent keeping the process going, the laundry room is one of the first places my kids look for me when they can’t find me.  It is not at all uncommon now for one of them to seek me out for some one-on-one mom time when I’m in there.   There is still a lot of love happening in my laundry room.

So it was no surprise to me when  one of my sons came in to “help”  me fold clothes.  He had been struggling through some weighty issues.

He’s a young man.  He’s reached the age where he is thinking seriously about his mission in life, and looking forward to the time when he can ask a young woman to follow him in it as his wife.   I’m glad he’s giving serious thought to these things.  However, one of his friendships had put a lot of restrictions on him – or at least he felt he should be restricted.  She’s a sweet girl from a great family – she’ll make a wonderful wife and mother some day.  But I didn’t believe that she would be a good fit for him.  He was different around her than he was around us – less prone to laugh at the things we normally laugh at, less willing to engage in activities that we normally enjoy, and a little more inclined to look at others with judgment when they didn’t behave the same way.  This was never her doing – it was his.  He was trying to do what he thought would please her and make her approve of him.  But that’s not how God intends things to be, is it?  He wants us to please Him and look to Him for approval.

We had talked about this inconsistency many times, but he didn’t really want to see it for what it was.  It was the topic of many of my laundry room prayers.

But one day he went with another family to an event that was pure delight to him.  The members of that family (including some young ladies) thoroughly enjoyed his company, and he theirs.  They laughed and took pictures of the day and had a blast together.   It was silly, frivolous, thoroughly enjoyable fun for all of them.

When he came into the laundry room, he was excited to show me the pictures they had taken together and tell me about the day.  He was beaming.

After he told me the stories he wanted to share I took a breath and said, “I have a question for you.  Would ______ have taken those kinds of fun pictures with you?  Would she have even gone to this event with you or would it have been viewed as too frivolous or silly?”  He said, “that’s more than one question.”

But he took my point.

After some reflection he answered truthfully that no,  _____________  would not have gone to the event or taken the silly pictures.  She would have, in fact, probably encouraged him not to waste his time on such silliness.

I asked him how it felt to be with people who just accepted him for him?  How was it to laugh and be yourself and not worry about what might be considered inappropriate to laugh at or want to do – when all of it was innocent fun that had no sinfulness attached to it?   I asked him, too, how it was to be with young ladies who truly appreciate his talents and personality the way they already are without implying that they might be better if….?

He was quiet.

Pressing further, I said, “Son, life can be sweet if you’re with someone who is building you up and encouraging you to be the man that God has intended for you to become.  But it can be really, really long if you’re with someone who always wants to mold you into the image of the man that she wants you to be.  When I see that happening to you, the mother bear comes out in me and I want to protect you from it.  But you need to be looking at these kinds of things in your relationships – especially as you think through the qualities you hope to find in a future wife.”

Still quiet, I asked him, “What do you think about what I’ve said?”

His answer was precious – and so typically him!  He said, after some reflection, “I think Mother Bear has much to share, and I have much to think about.”

OK. I can live with that.

Parents, a lot of discipleship – the vast majority of it – happens in moments like these.  I couldn’t have had that kind of conversation with my son if I didn’t have his heart.  He knows – beyond any shadow of any doubt ­- that I love him.  He knows he can trust me to always tell him the truth.  He knows I will listen to him when he comes to me – even when he has to tell me things I may not want to hear as well.  He knows that I only, and always, have his good in mind.  He’s heard lots and lots of words of affirmation and encouragement over the years, too.  And he has learned to listen, even when I have tell him things he doesn’t want to hear.   Don’t be afraid to press in and say the challenging things – but be sure you have your child’s heart first.

Our parenting roles and responsibilities change what they look like over  the years, but we are always responsible to speak the truth in love.  Speaking the truth isn’t usually the hard part for lots of parents. – having our kids’ hearts isn’t as easy.  But for our kids, knowing that there is first a foundation of love and acceptance in your home and in your relationship with them makes hearing the truth possible.

They know they need the truth, but first they’ll come looking for the heart-connection in your love.

Make sure you leave the laundry room door open.