A quote posted on social media weighed heavy on my heart last week:
“Don’t waste your words on people who deserve your silence. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all.”
It struck me that the perspective of not wasting words on those who deserve our silence, reflects a haughtiness of attitude that is lightyears away from God’s call to love. In fact, to say nothing at all, effectively denying the worth of the other individual, underscores the chilling observation of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel,:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
The truth is, silence is never golden when love is absent.
Instead, silence combined with the absence of love kills and has great potential for hardening hearts–
yours, mine and the one being ignored.
The problem is not new. The Apostle Paul wrote about conflict in relationships and how Christ’s followers were to handle such:
“We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves
and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men,
by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in all aspects
into Him who is the head,
even Christ . . . .” Ephesians 4: 14, 15
So what does it mean to speak truth in love? Is it to follow wisdom of Thumper in the classic movie, Bambi?
“If you don’t have anything nice to say,
don’t say anything at all.”
While that may be a sweet notion, God calls His own to go deeper in our relationships . . . much, much deeper.
To speak truth in love is not about niceties. It often requires:
Sacrificial kindness–a willingness to risk being misunderstood for the good of the other.
Speaking truth in love is a process that requires intentionality. The key to working out that process is given us in Ephesians 4:22-25,
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self, which is being corrupted
by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor . . . .”
Speaking truth in love becomes an art form over time when we remember Christ’s call to us:
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
It is when we take our focus off ourselves and look to Christ as Sovereign and Good, that we begin to understand the value of words. It is when we begin to choose our words prayerfully that we will bless our friends, neighbors and even that irritating individual we would otherwise be tempted to ignore.
Yes, relationships ARE hard and and at times even draining. But when we keep Christ’s call in the center of our thinking as we use words to bless others, life becomes an adventure that is interesting and full of meaning.
It wasn’t until we lived in England, that I learned there is a difference between niceness and kindness. As one friend put it, “Kathie, ice cream is ‘nice’, kindness goes deeper.” Looking at several dictionaries this morning, I found the distinction between the two terms is best understood by considering what is at the root of what niceness and kindness do and do not communicate:
Niceness can tend to be a bit flashy (i.e. “Look at what I just did!”), kindness is more simply applied as it focuses on the needs of others. It all boils down to this:
Niceness is about outward appearances, Simple kindness, is often sacrificial as it reflects what is in the heart. Simple kindness is a fruit of God’s Spirit. Simple kindness, prayerfully applied, is rooted in God’s love.
“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
I Corinthians 13:5
When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story about two societal “nice guys” and another man, viewed a societal reject in that day, who none-the-less, demonstrated simple kindness:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him . . . beat him and . . . left him half dead.A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.He . . . bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.The next day he took out two denarii andgave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:30-35)
Jesus then asked this very important question,
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (verse 36)
The “expert in the law” responded to Jesus’ question–avoiding even mentioning the word, “Samaritan”–answered, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him (and continues to tell us),“Go and do likewise.” (verse 37)
The Scriptures continue to call you and I to,
GO . . . “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:29),
GO . . . “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)
GO . . . “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
What I have learned this week as I have thought about kindness is that:
To act in the simple kindness of Christ, does not require a lot of fanfare, but for it to be truly effective as a fruit of God’s Spirit, prayer is essential.
In my last post I wrote about the Duggar’s, a Christian family featured on a reality TV program called, Nineteen Kids and Counting. Normally I would not write about people on a television program, but as I have watched this family be (essentially) ‘beaten and left for dead’ by elements of the societal elite of our day, I have been challenged to think about MY role in their story. Am I one of the “nice guys” full of self-importance, who says, “Too bad for them”, as I continue on my busy way? Or, do I stop and apply simple kindness by praying for the family and asking, “God, what would you have me do?”
How about you? Are there people or situations that you are aware of, but manage to “pass by on the other side”, because you feel like you cannot take on one more thing? Perhaps you avoid listening to the news (like I sometimes do) because it is always seems to be so . . . dare I say it? . . . not very nice. What I am learning is that, although the world is not a nice place to live and sometimes is even scary, simple kindness applies prayer to every situation, looking to Christ for wisdom as to when and how to help. Simple kindness challenges each one of us to set aside fear, and even our busyness, as we learn what living by faith is truly all about.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:12 & 17
This week I enjoyed the positive slant of blogger Bunmi Laditan in her post, “Dear Kids: It’s OK to Be Bored,”
“Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It is an itch to scratch. Boredom is the dawn of ideas. Boredom is curiosity knocking gently at your mind, asking to play. Being bored is like sitting in front of a blank canvas. Boredom is infinite possibility. You are the captain of your own ship and before you lies an expanse of dark blue ocean and clear skies.”
I have never been able to figure out what people are trying to express when they say, “I’m bored.” When our children were still at home and they made such a complaint, I took it to mean that they were inviting me to entertain them. My response curtailed such complaints–“Bored people are boring people. We have plenty of radiators to wipe down . . . let me know and I will be happy to set you up!” Funny thing, our radiators never did get wiped down (my children found better things to do) and they grew into amazing adults!
But as much as I might want to wallow in the positive perspective of Laditan, I remain convicted that there is a darker side of boredom . . . a dangerous aspect that warns us not to think of boredom as merely a phase people go through. Webster’s 1913 dictionaryaffirms my conviction with this definition:
BORED: adj. 1. tired of the world; bored with life.
2. uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence. Opposite of interested.
Is it sinful to be bored? Going by Webster’s definition . . . YES . . . ABSOLUTELY!
Certainly, God did not put us on this earth to be bored. In fact, God’s plan was simple and rooted in blessing. From the beginning of Creation, God deemed all that He had made to be “good”; we can infer from Genesis 3:8, 9 that God fellowshipped with Adam and Eve in the Garden until sin entered and spoiled everything. I wonder if, at the root of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, was boredom to blame?Had they forgotten the blessing of fellowshipping with God as they entertained doubts about God’s goodness?
What about when boredom morphs into depression as described in Jeremiah 17:5 & 6?
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.'”
(Verses 5, 6)
I must clarify here that not all depression is sin; much that happens in this world is depressing! However, when we embrace boredom as “cool”; when we become disinterested or we disengage ourselves from relating to others . . . that is a definite indication of sin. As I watch the news, I wonder if a souless-boredom is at the root of much of the senseless brutality being reported? I ache for the victims of such evil as well as for their families. Yet I also mourn for the perpetrators living in the hell of dark hatred. Many times, when I see pictures of those who have committed such horrific crimes, the words of Jesus on the Cross flood my mind, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
We live in a world where “bored” is “cool”, where the concept of God as a loving Redeemer is increasingly unknown, and where love and simple kindness are thought to be archaic. So what are Christians to do? As we press into the New Year, I offer the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who, while living in horrific, uncertain times, encouraged his friends to follow his example,
“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:13, 14
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
I Corinthians 13:7-8a
What do porcupines and prickly people have in common? They need determined, creative, risk-taking people in their lives who are willing to reach out despite their outward appearance. Porcupines are known, not only for their daunting quills, but many believe they shoot them at anything that comes its way. (The truth is, they do not/cannot shoot their quills but apparently will spray a noxious stink that will deter most intruders.) People and other animals DO get pricked by their quills when they get too close!. Prickly people, on the other hand, are not equipped with outward barbs but their body language seems to send out a stink that warns:
Do Not Touch!
Don’t Even Try . . . .
In other words, porcupines and prickly people (can’t we all be included in that category at one time or another?) need the steadfast love and mercy of Christ. Before discussing insights into how you can love the prickly people in your life, I invite you to watch a small miracle I found online that demonstrates creative, intentionally applied, risk-taking love to (of all creatures) porcupines! Personally, I have always thought of porcupines as cute and wistful. We see them mostly alone (for obvious reasons!) and at first glance they appear to be fine with their singular status. However, what we “read” outwardly about porcupines (and people) can be deceptive. Hit the following link to observe a little fellow named “Stinkers” on the receiving-end of creative, intentionally applied, risk-taking outreach:
Do you see what I mean? Bridging the obstacles of those outward prickles made for a delightful encounter! It is a skill each of us needs to think about if we are to honor God’s command to, “Love your neighbor.”
How can we apply this example to prickly people? I gained insight into this challenge when we still had three teenagers living in our home. (Let’s face it, trying to love a prickly teen can can be very daunting!) Ross Campbell’s book,How To Really Love Your Teenager helped me come to terms with MY side of the problem. There is nothing wrong with self-protection (note the gloves the young woman wore to reach out to Stinkers!) However, when we form our own barbs to guard against getting hurt by the one we are supposed to love, we no longer reach out in the love and mercy of Christ. Instead, we actually compound the problem!
Campbell suggests breaking down those barriers through intentional light touch. I started by putting my hand on the shoulder of our prickly teen as I put food on the table. I then looked for other creative ways to love that teen as I became more willing to risk the occasional barb that got through. The big moment came when I had to address a problem. Instead of distancing myself to avoid the potential barb, I sat down next to that teen, listened to what they had to say, put my hand on their forearm and then prayed:
Thank you Father for _____”s life. Thank You for the privilege it is to be their mom and for loving both of us as You do. Help me Father to be the mom _____ needs to help them become all that You intended. Please work in both of our hearts Lord, so that we will honor You in what we say and do. Amen
The thing I remember most about that encounter was that when I thanked God for that teen and asked God’s blessing on both of us, the barbs of self-protection on both sides of our relationship came down!
I have since learned to love the prickly people I encounter in ordinary life as well those I meet in the Counseling Room with what I refer to as “broad-spectrum love.”
Broad-spectrum love is rooted in God and is therefore sacrificial.
Broad-spectrum love listens and prays for the neighbor who is obviously hurting. It is intentional and patient, in respecting the boundaries of the other while praying for the walls to eventually come down.
Because loving sacrificially and creatively is a God-thing, the Scriptures are very instructive:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”I John 4:10 & 16“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”Philippians 2:3“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”John 15:13
As God has worked in my heart I have learned to not be intimidated by the prickly exterior of others. Truthfully, part of me actually enjoys the challenge of prayerfully penetrating the prickles with the love of Christ Jesus. If there are such people in your life whose prickles cause you to prickle (!?)–don’t run . . . PRAY! Trust God to provide all you need to love that other person in His stead and be blessed!
I never cease to be amazed at the way God can use just about anything to get my attention. It happened again this week while watching an excellent DVD series, The Reason for God with Tim Keller. In the six session series, Keller (senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) meets with a group of people to address their doubts and objections to Christianity. The conversations are interesting, thought-provoking and instructive as Keller and the group talk about the Bible, the exclusive claims of Christianity and about God in relation to rules, homosexuality, suffering, the church and the world at large. Especially impressive is the way each participant is afforded the opportunity to express their views, ask pointed questions and are treated with respect as Keller moderates the discussion. It was actually one of the discussion participants God used to get my attention–a young man of about 25. The discussion question was, “What gives you the right to tell me how to live my life?” The young man talked about his rebellion growing up and how irked he became when he asked “Why?” he had to clean his room, and his parents responded with, “Because I said so.”
I later thought about the young man’s struggle, wondering how many times I may have said “Because I said so” to my kids when they were still at home? Even though it was not a major part of my “parenting arsenal”, I felt convicted at the thought of having said it at all. I realized how self-centered such a response is! It occurred me that a much better response to “Why?” might be something like:
“Because God loves you and has a plan for your life . . . because you need to be able to take care of yourself when you leave home . . . because I love you and want you to succeed at whatever God has for you!”
I began to wonder:
Be we parent, grandparent, teacher, friend, neighbor or stranger . . .
if the love of God is our motivation in how we respond to kids,
would the world be any different?
I think it would. Rather than responding in frustration, anger or with the knee-jerk response of protecting our “turf” (isn’t “Because I said so” truly a reflection of our own selfishness?) what a difference is made in any relationship when God’s love is our motivation!
Consider the example given us by God in how He dealt with rebellious Israel after they were taken into captivity in Babylon. Their rebellion resulted in their loss of every provision God had given them except for one . . . God Himself. I invite you to consider and learn from God’s loving assurance to Israel in their brokenness:
“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” ( Jeremiah 29:10b-14)
Although our “nest” has been empty for over a decade, I still remember the tension of trying to get it right as a parent and feeling like a failure much of the time. (In fact, I still feel that tension as a parent, grandparent, neighbor and counselor at times.) As I reflected on this fresh approach of saying, “Because I love you and God does too” to the age-old question of “Why?” I was struck by how taking the focus off of “I” and interjecting the love of God softens the whole picture.
Sometimes there are unavoidable consequences that must come into play when rebellion is at the heart of the matter, but even so . . . responding with “Because I said so” is never going to accomplish anything good in the angry heart. Having the courage to respond wisely with the love of Christ however has all sorts of possibilities!
When it comes to relationships, how are you at keeping score? More to the point, how do you think God is at keeping score? Humanly speaking, we all have the potential to be expert players at the game of “tit for tat.” Yet the Bible warns against score keeping in our relationships because doing so taints our motives:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1,2)
While there is a human tendency that pictures God as a sort of giant score keeper in the sky, nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus challenged the thinking of His disciples (then and now) in Luke 6 as He established what truly counts in the heavenly realms:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.”(vs.32-34)
Three times the question is asked, “What credit is that to you?” for doing something “even sinners”do. The answer . . . NONE! Certainly we benefit from doing what is right, but expecting extra credit is downright silly. God is far more interested in our spiritual growth and character reflecting His goodness; He very generously rewards us when we integrate Jesus’ teaching in our more difficult (seemingly impossible) relationships:
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (vs 35, 36)
True followers of Jesus aim to emulate Him as He reflected His Father. Our actions should reflect what He so graciously has granted each of us: Kindness and Mercy.
In mylast post I shared a verse from Galatians 5 that I find particularly inspiring: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (vs.1) Actually, the entire chapter would be well worth memorizing as it clarifies what truly counts in the mind and heart of our Creator when it comes to relationships. Consider verse 6:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
When the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Galatia false teachers had infiltrated the church. The lie that many had embraced was that circumcision, in addition to Christ, was necessary to secure their salvation. Sick and angry at the awfulness of what was being embraced Paul’s outrage was plainly expressed when he wrote, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (v.12)
It is entirely appropriate to hate sin, but where we think in terms of keeping score God watches and waits to see the motives of our hearts demonstrate His Love, His Kindness and His Mercy to a dark and needy world. I must confess that it is more than a little tempting to dish back to the world what has been given. But if we are bent on reflecting what truly counts in the heavenly realms, we will demonstrate our faith in the One who has saved us by looking for ways to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us. Whatever you may be facing today, resist the temptation to dish back what has been given. Instead, prayerfully choose to delight God’s heart by demonstrating His love and forgiveness today.