Monday, March 14, 2011

My epic fails as a Christ follower: #10 Not being nice to people who are mean to me

I hope, that as Christians, we try our best to be Christ-like, but I know that there are certain things I fail at miserably.  I'm going to start a series of blogs on my own personal "Epic Fails" as a Christian.  They are loosely in order from bad to worst, but how do you rank falling short of God's expectations for us?  Mine may be the same or different from yours, but hopefully in sharing my struggles, you find some encouragement in conquering yours.

MY EPIC FAIL #10:  Not being nice to people who are mean to me.

It is really hard for me to not hold a grudge against people.

Romans 12:10 says, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."  

I know that is the biblical way to get back at someone to whom we wish to "heap burning coals" onto.  But I never want to trust that meeting their needs and being kind to them is going to work.  I would rather be more malicious about it.  I think very fast and have a sharp tongue, which is a bad combination to have when I'm confronted with someone who has hurt me.  Even after becoming a Christian and letting the Holy Spirit work  to keep me from going all "crazy white girl" when I get angry, sometimes still, the best I can muster when someone hurts me is to ignore the person or to give them the cold shoulder.

So why is it so hard, then, to serve our enemies?  

I know when I think of my "enemies", not just people who have hurt me once, but people who really seek to do me harm, who have repeatedly sought my ill will, I start to make excuses as to why I should treat them poorly.  I tell myself that if I treat them nice, they will only hurt me more.  That they will never learn how horrible their behavior is if I turn around and reward them by humbling myself.  When someone who has hurt me badly does go "hungry or thirsty", whether literally or metaphorically, I tell myself that is how God treats those with hardened hearts and I accept their neediness as God punishing them for their meanness.  Who am I to interfere with God's punishing them?

The truth is, all these excuses are really a statement of my own pride.  I forget that there are times in my life when I act just as poorly, or moreso, as the people who are hurting me.  My need to have them experience pain as vengeance for the pain they've caused me is rooted in the need to feel better than, bigger than and more powerful than the other person, each a manifestation of pride.

Even for the people who do ill will to me in such a way that I could never imagine doing myself, I have to remember that people who hurt others have been hurt themselves.  They are likely part of a long chain of hurting and hurtful people and are so enmeshed in the cycle of hurt that they cannot pull free from it on their own.  Your kindness may be the first Christ-like kindness they've ever experienced and may be their first step out their pattern of behavior.  We need to make our best effort to see them as God sees them, broken and hurting, needing a Savior, just like us.

Let's talk about the very real situation, though, where you do manage to muster up enough humbleness to feed your enemies when they are hungry and it seems as though it backfires on you.  This has happened to me a handful of times.  My kindness only caused them to rage more at me.  They start spreading rumors about me.  They just took greater measures to hurt me because they didn't think they had "broken me down" enough.  How should we react then?

First of all, if you are in an abusive situation, get out of it.  God doesn't want abuse for His children.

If the situation isn't abusive, but the person either doesn't respond to your kindness, or they come back at you more as your enemy than before, the best advice is to persevere in kindness.  Don't give up on God's way and decide that since it didn't work, you have free reign to treat them as poorly as they treat you.  James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  Situations like these test our faith in God's way being the best way and it requires our perseverance.  In fact, as the verse above states, we should consider these situations as pure joy because it is through our perseverance that we become mature and complete.  Viewing the situation in this light, making an effort to view the person as God views them and trusting that God's way is the best way will help us treat our enemies as God expects us to.

Lastly, we need to forgive and protect our hearts from becoming bitter.  We have all heard the verse about forgiving people "70 times 7" times.  This is important because forgiveness prevents bitterness, which in turn, prevents bondage.  As long as we let bitterness toward another rule us, not only will we be unable to be kind to those who hurt us, but we will also be in bondage with them.  It isn't until we forgive them and cancel the perceived debts they own us, whether that be an apology or some other form of restitution, we are trapped in a web of anger and a hardened heart.  This web will threaten to overtake us and will rule our actions toward others if we don't work to untangle ourselves from it.  Complete forgiveness is the only thing that will free us and allow the Holy Spirit to overtake us instead.

As I sit here now, typing this, I'm thinking of relationships I have where I see the other person as my enemy.  I don't have many relationships like that, but as much as I hate to admit it, I have a few.  How freeing it would be if I would just knuckle under and start leading by example with kindness instead of seeking revenge one nasty look or backhanded compliment at a time!  I may, in the end, find I have fewer enemies and a lot less stress.

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