Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gentleness and Respect

Every lesson that I have been learning lately, at least spiritually, has centered around stretching deeper into what it means to love and understand other people. Practically, this has meant engaging in a number of conversations with people who see the world differently than I do. I like these conversations, and I often seek them out. I wholeheartedly believe in open discussion and think it strengthens us. I know that my own opinions have come with experience and reflection, so I am learning to expect and respect that about the opinions of others.

But it surprises me how quickly we are to dismiss other people when they think differently than we do. And what a loss it is! Within these beautiful conversations, I've occasionally been insulted and called names because of what I think. At these times, the tone of someone's response is sometimes just snide enough to convey an utter lack of respect, or other times outright condescending. What I find most unfortunate about that is not that someone would call a stranger names, but that I think these people are otherwise very enjoyable people who would gladly befriend me if they knew nothing else about my beliefs.

Are we really so scared or so proud as that? To quote someone I can't remember, "We have lost the ability to disagree with civility." And this, this, makes me sad.

The rest of this post is written specifically with a Christian audience in mind:

So what do we do then? This is the stretch. This is the part that Jesus holds in his hands like taffy, and gently pulls further and further. We love.

I can't tell you how many choice words have come to mind in some of these conversations. I wanted to point out that their insults weren't even logical, I've wanted to correct, I've wanted to say a hundred things to establish myself as smart, and worthy, and equal. Sometimes the conversations would stick in my thoughts for inordinate amounts of time. I would lie against my pillow and think about the words that were said, how I could have responded to them better, or sometimes, how I could have just smacked down with an instant-gratification gnarly comeback. I wanted to complain about them to friends and fish for a compassionate "You were right" from loved ones. I wanted many things that were secondary to what I really wanted, which was for them to know and understand how much I loved and accepted them, regardless of what they thought.

Let the taffy keep on stretching...

Christians, remember when you are interacting with people, that they come from so many different places. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut your mouth and listen, ask good questions, seek to understand their stories. The truth is, there will be angry people who will insult you. But chances are, if the topic is faith, they are angry because they've been hurt or disillusioned by someone who looked a lot like you. Love them to the best of your ability, even if it means absorbing the nasty things they have to say about you and swallowing your defensiveness. When you're at your wits end, pray to be able to love them more. Love them by listening. Love them with choice words that are kind, not choice words that are retaliatory. Don't try to be right. Just try to be present.

Be willing to be wrong, too. Just because we believe in Jesus, who is true, doesn't mean that we are true in everything. People will try to polarize you, raise the hair on the back of your neck. Give them ground instead, and give it genuinely. Be ready to accept the wisdom (sometimes sharply packaged) from other people. Reflect on their words. Give them the respect of engaging with them thoughtfully and openly. Always, always, be respectful to the best of your ability. Even if it means that you close your mouth to keep from saying something rude back.

I wish I could write the same thing to everyone, because it hurts when people throw sticks and stones shaped like words. Even when it doesn't hurt immediately, somehow the hate behind the words gets under our skin. But I'm writing to the Christians because we of all people should know what forgiveness looks like. We of all people have been broken, ugly, sinful people - and the tenet of our faith is that God chose to invest in us rather than condemn us. Shall we not act this way, too? There is a time and a place for our words to stand in the void and offer information and guidance. Lots of times and places! But there is also a time and a place where we lay down our lives and let other people walk over us to Jesus.

And finally, I know, I know, that this can be a painful process. We are not doormats in Christ, but sometimes in our journey as Christians we have the opportunity to be bridges. I'm sure you've noticed that bridges get a lot of foot traffic, too. These times are blessings, they teach us to press into our relationship with God to understand and give to people who are so very unlike us. They humble us. They refine us. They make us better.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16

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