Saturday, June 25, 2016

Steadiness Amongst Difficult People

We all most likely have someone for whom we do something nice, most likely more than once, or even for many years, and it brings no response. 

And we may have someone with whom we are attempting to break down walls with, oftentimes a close relative, so that when we are with that someone we go out of our way to be exceptionally kind: we focus the conversation on them; ask questions about their life; show an interest in who they are and affirm their best qualities verbally. And after several interactions with us being on our best behavior in order to strengthen the relationship, nothing in the relationship with that person changes: it is no deeper, no richer and no more rewarding than if we had said nothing at all.

What to do? How to react? How to go forward?

For many of us, the temptation to respond in revenge, the cold shoulder, criticism, victim mentality and any other number of self-soothing patterns is very real. 

It can feel surprisingly good to lambast a person who—no matter how hard we try to reach out to in good fellowship—can’t seem to reciprocate. However, that satiated feeling of having gotten even is usually short lived. And the reason is, if we are a child of God, He won’t let us be comfortable with a response that is obedient to self and not Him.

I know as well as anyone that people can drive us crazy. There are people—friends and family even—who make us feel invisible, inconsequential and short of measuring up. 

For many years, when it came to interacting with a certain person, I felt that I was solely the problem. Especially in a situation where the person I was attempting to build a stronger relationship with acted totally uninterested, but at the same time was abundant in their praise and close connection with a mutual relative. It was my take-away that I will never be in the “in” crowd with this person due to some personal failing or character trait.

Over time, I realized that I was allowing this person to drive me crazy. And then I realized that, as a Christian, I have a choice: I don’t have to let anyone drive me crazy.

That’s when it dawned on me to remember who I belong to and who it is I am called to listen to: my Triune God of Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

This is essential for two reasons: one, so that I do not commit the self-indulgent sins I listed earlier. My goal is to keep my heart pure, in spite of the reactions and responses of those around me.

Second, remembering who I belong to is essential so that I do not blame myself for something that is emanating from another person and not me. Certainly we hold ourselves accountable before God when we review past and present interactions with the person we are trying to make inroads with. God will show us where we may have sinned against this person. If so, we make it right with God and ask Him to set us straight going forward.

Only God can map out the ground rules for further interaction with this person. 

God is the one who tells us who we are in Christ, so that the other person’s estimation of us does not hold sway. And if their estimation does not hold sway, we can much more steadfastly keep our emotions and mental attitude firmly grounded in Christ. And when we are firmly grounded in Christ, we will obey Christ: we will maintain an attitude of love towards any person because Christ first loved us (even when we were living in deep darkness and ignorance, often hurting those around us just as we are now being hurt).

This love for the other is not focused on the other, it is focused on Christ: received from Christ for the other. This love is mustered up out of a deep need for and desire to follow Christ in every relationship because of our deep and loving relationship with Him.

Christ is the fount of our not lashing out, not falling into the silent treatment, not conducting ourselves in a passive-aggressive manner in hopes of indirectly swiping back at another. Christ says to turn to His love and He will pour it out on the other through us. 

And with this love will come Jesus’ compassion; the compassion that brings the discernment that “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

It is that compassion that can show us that, due to ignorance, a need to be needed, control issues, lack of a good marriage or childhood, and any number of inner inadequacies and spiritual voids, people will act very badly toward one another. Sometimes they won’t even know they are doing it.

Viewing the situation from this perspective can go a long way in snuffing out our indignation. But if not, if our passions threaten us, we turn to God, pick up His guiding Word, go to the Psalms, pray for the nemesis (and that we would be forgiving) and let maturity in Christ take root and stabilize us in our moment of hair-pulling as well as going forward. 

The point is to truly crave a clean heart and right spirit before God. When that replaces all fleshly drives, we will hear joy and gladness and our broken bones will rejoice. We will indeed be sustained with a willing Spirit to please God alone (Psalm 51). Only then will we be free of the prison of other people’s hold on us.

Copyright Barb Harwood

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence
And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Romans 12:1-3

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Romans 12:14

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

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