“Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” Romans 12:14-16
LISTEN TO: Josh Wilson w/Matthew West “Pushing Back the Dark”
Diane H. stood in line at the local donut shop holding her squirming 22-month-old sick child, hoping a treat would brighten her spirits. Suddenly Diane was thrust back into middle school. Two women were laughing and whispering behind her. They were talking about Diane. Apparently not realizing, or not caring that Diane could hear, they commented about how her hair was badly overdue for recoloring because her roots were showing. Next they fat-shamed Diane, referred to her as a “whale” and “retarded lard “expletive.”
Holding back tears, Diane placed her order. Then she did one more thing. She ordered coffee for the women who humiliated her. She then went to her car and cried. Later she composed herself, wrote a Facebook post about her experience. Although she is still overweight, she has lost 177 pounds in 22 months. She rarely treats herself so that day, getting coffee and a snack for her sick child, who kept her up all night, was a real treat. Diane had a choice. Would she let these women ruin her experience or would she overcome it? My mother taught me better, she said.
Her message hit a chord and spread wide. Local and national news sources picked up her story.
Most hurts aren’t so overt. Perhaps it can be simple benign neglect. A compliment we meant to share but it just slipped our mind. The lack of building each other up is as much as serious a problem as the cascade of criticisms that shower down, eroding confidence and self-esteem.
In Diane’s situation, most of us probably would be quick to respond with a sarcastic comment, a nasty look or ready to escalate the fight. It takes a spiritually mature person, especially when one is sleep-deprived, just trying get a cup of coffee and some donut holes for their teething baby, to minister to people who are obviously walking in darkness.
Jesus, in his teachings, makes it clear that the mastery of trials are part of the spiritual life: "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:10-11). The parable of the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:1-8, Mark 4:1-9 and Luke 8:4-8) is a delightful story Jesus tells how the pressures of the world, the attacks, the lack of nourishment and the hostility can eat away at our heart and impede and even destroy growth.
God wants us to be a seed of hope and good news that grows abundantly in this world. So we place ourselves in soil of Christ, who trains us up to love our neighbor. Not just our friendly neighbor. Not just the neighbor who brings us tomatoes. Not just the neighbor with whom we shoot the breeze about sports or latest gardening tips. We must learn to love the obnoxious neighbor who leaves garbage in your driveway. Your noisy neighbor whose music keeps you awake at 2:00am in the morning. Your rude neighbor who picks a fight over every petty incident that comes up. This is the one to pray for, Jesus says, if we truly want to have peace (cf. 1 Peter 3:8-12; 4:7-12; James 3, Romans 14:19, Psalm 34:14 Hebrews 12:14 Philippians 1:29).
I don’t know if I would have the grace Diane had to buy those bullying women coffees. However I pray for the day when I am in a similar situation, that I will see not just mean, gossipy women, but lost misguided women. That I will understand they had been hurt and misled to become so mean. I pray I will see an opportunity to shed light and to love. So I pray I will put my wounded feelings aside. I pray I will not only buy the coffee, but have the strength to say to them, “this is for you. I want you to know that God loves you. Have a wonderful, day.”
I hope to get there someday.
Prayer: “God Who Transforms: Help us when we are hurt, attacked, or in conflict to step back and to discern how to bless in situations when we want to lash back. Give us courage and strength to act like Jesus. Amen.