I tend to see things differently than most people. I have an inquisitive mind which often asks, "What happened that the camera is not showing?" Or, "What made this person react the way that they did?" People who do not know me or cannot understand me, often accuse me of making excuses for people, or actively searching for ways to excuse bad behavior.
But much like parenting, I don't have to excuse bad behavior to try to get to the root of the problem. Often, knowing exactly what it is we are up against, instead of making assumptions based on only part of a story, can tell us exactly how we should respond, and anger is almost never the correct response.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Not only do we often assume the incorrect response, but it is aslo a misguided reaction. The person you are angry with, is not the enemy.
The person you are angry with is not the enemy.
As with most scripture, God helps me relate, by reminding me of my own parenting experiences. My almost 4 year old daughter and I have been having kind of a rough year. We have been at odds over almost everything. She doesn't want to go potty when I tell her to, or eat when I tell her to, or...pretty much do anything when I tell her to. She has been fighting for control. And while this has been incredibly difficult and exhausting for me, I wanted to see the whole picture, even, or especially, that which she was unable to fully articulate herself. I have tried changing my own tactics. I have tried remaining calm and peaceful in the face of her screaming. I have tried different incentives, and different disciplines, I have lost my patience on multiple occasions, and I have prayed. Throughout all of my observations, God has shown me parts of what my little girl is struggling with.
She lost her playmate this year in her big brother. For all the previous years of her life, she was never without a sibling. When she was born, I was homeschooling, and all four kids were home. Then, for the first two years that the older two kids were in school, she still had one brother here. They didn't always need me. I was able to do dishes and laundry, and tidy up without too much concern. But now he too is in school, and she is lonely, and I am still responsible for the same dishes, and the same laundry, and the same, or often bigger, messes.
When I began to realize some of what her defiance was about, and recognize the pain she hasn't been able to express, I started setting aside more quality time for her, games, reading, trips together to the library, or even the store; anything that makes her feel like we're in this together. Sometimes, instead of using the TV to entertain her while I clean, I will even sit and snuggle with her during her shows. Sure, the house is a mess, and we tend to live in a perpetual state wearing clothes straight out of the dryer, but there's a little more peace, but not because my daughter changed, necessarily, but because God changed me.
When we don't truly know what we are fighting against, Satan can more easily provoke us to anger about all the wrong things, make us doubt ourselves, or those around us, and stir up constant conflict in areas where there could be resolution.
I became insecure about my parenting, I became angry with a defiant child, I lost my patience over things I did not fully understand.
Meanwhile, my child was fighting for control in a world that has been changing around her, and struggling with emotions she could not fully understand.
Is life perfect now that I have figured this out? No. Sometimes I still lose myself in my anger, in rushed moments of chaos, but the realization is eye-opening. When I take the time to remember what it is I am truly fighting, or what it is she is really struggling with, it doesn't always change her behavior, but God reminds me of how to love her through it.
God knows our battles, He knows our enemy, and it is not the people we are at odds with. It is not the people we argue with or the people we disagree with. It is not the people at all. Satan uses these people, these disagreements to stir up conflict in our own hearts.
Knowing your true enemy does not always change the behavior of the person you are struggling with, but rather changes your response to them. Allow God to change your heart. The enemy seeks to stir up distrust and hate and bitterness, but God's truth will bring peace.
Are you a planner? Do you have an organized journal or calendar for planning? Do you make lists of the things you need to get done, day to day, week to week, month to month? Do you plan out quarterly or yearly goals?
I am a wanna-be planner. I pretend to be more organized than I actually am. I buy planners at the beginning of every year, and I start writing things down. But I inevitably become side-tracked, or plans continually change, and I lose track of my plans and my lists. Of course there are missteps, and there is often confusion. If I don't add things to the calendar or my lists, they are easily forgotten. But what I have learned is that God still orders my steps. Life doesn't stop because I have failed to write it down. The problem lies in my failure to consult with God about my plans.
Our human bains often visualize our plans, lists, steps, in a particular order. It might be a mountain, but generally it's still a straight line. And in our humanness, we often think our daily plans are too mundane for God. These are not the things He concerns Himself with. These are just unimportant details of our lives that need to happen. So often, we believe our plans have failed, when they do not go according to our own plans; when instead of a neat straight line, there are zigs and zags, and even drop offs where we lost the plan entirely.
Here's the thing about climbing mountains; it is almost never done in a straight line. You can map out a perfectly good plan in your own head, which seems efficient, and time saving, but some of that path might be dangerous. There may be patches of fog where visibility is poor. There may be areas of loose gravel, where it is difficult to maintain your footing. There may even be times when you have to wait out a storm before continuing on.
And while all you can see at the moment, is the base of the mountain in front of you, and in your head, a straight line up makes the most sense, God can see the whole mountain. He can see the fog. He can see the areas of danger.
Include God in your planning. Take comfort in the zigs and the zags, knowing that your Creator has mapped out the safest, most efficient path, whether you can see that in your humanness or not. Have faith.
I talk about loving people, a lot. Not because I'm super good at it, but because I believe it was the most important commandment from Jesus. He spoke of it often, and called us to love everyone, no matter what. But just because Jesus said so, doesn't make it easy. I fail at this often. Not that I am intentionally mean, but I do not always go out of my way to show love. I do not always make the most loving decision. Sometimes I am selfish. Sometimes I am tired, and I just don't want to do that extra thing, when deep inside, I know it's something I should. Sometimes I become resentful of those I feel may be using me, or those who are not always loving toward me. Humans are a complicated species, and there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in the decisions we make each day. And the truth is, we are often so far in our own heads, that we miss opportunities to show love and kindness.
I have often used driving in traffic as an example of this. There is something about being behind that wheel, and surrounded by tons of metal, that makes us bold, self-righteous, and entiled in our anger, and selfish in our choices. I mean, no one else on the road could possibly have anything more important to do than we do, right? We drive with blinders on, not that we don't see that guy trying to get over into our lane at the last minute, but we are convinced that our journey is more important than his.
Am I wrong?
This driving in traffic scenario is much like our lives. We get so wrapped up in our own journey, our own goals, that we don't make room for anyone trying to reach theirs. Cut throat competition opens between corporations. Doing things out of character to get ahead of competitors, becomes normal, and we excuse it by telling ourselves that they did it first. Maybe, sometimes, that's true, but should it matter?
The Bible says it should not. If Jesus was clear about anything, it was love. As imperfect humans, we often withhold our love and forgiveness, like children with a grudge, unable to see someone else's story, or value someone else's journey.
But Philippians 2:4 goes on to say, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
Can you imagine what this world might look like, if we all strived to put this into practice? If everyone was earnestly looking out for the interest of others, everyone's needs could be met.
Life is messy. Life is chaotic and busy, but in this traffic jam of life, if we took our blinders off for just a minute, and acknowledged that blinker, maybe we could slow down for a minute, and show our neighbor that we value their journey as much as our own.
When I think about people in our nation's history, who truly lived out their faith, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the first to come to mind. He believed firmly in nonviolence and in love. He spoke of it often, and he lived it out in his every day life.
Today, as we honor him, I have one very simple message to share. It is a message of love. It is a message of peace. It is a message that the world seems to have forgotten.
When people are wrong, love them. When people are right, love them. When people are arrogant, self-righteous, stubborn, unkind, love them. Jesus shows us this throughout all of the New Testament. His stories, assembled together, are like a how-to book for loving people. He loves people through mistakes and through hardships. He even loves people he knows are going to betray him. As he took his final breath, he even prayed for those who killed him.
Nothing is simpler, and yet nothing seems quite as difficult for us imperfect humans, especially in these tumultuous times. Martin Luther King Jr. got it though. He understood this. He knew that hatred plus hatred would never equal love. He knew God's Word and he believed it, and you couldn't convince him that evil should be repayed with evil.
I have a toddler who proves this point for me almost every day. The louder she objects, the angrier I get. The angrier and louder I get, the louder she objects. However, if I stop and hug her in the middle of her fits of anger, it calms the storm. It doesn't happen right away, but confusion often sets in; wait, you're supposed to be angry with me...not hugging me. What's happening? And then I often have a better chance at getting to the root of the problem. But our anger will often just ricochet, back and forth off of each other, picking up speed, without bothering to look for solutions. Love doesn't ricochet; it soaks. Love doesn't bounce off, quickly searching for a way to defend itself. Love stops to get absorbed. It doesn't have an agenda. It doesn't have an argument to win. It just lands on a person and says, hey, I'm here if you need me. How and when the love gets absorbed just depends on how thick their skin is. But no where in the Bible does it say to give up.
Do everything, everything, in love.
Last week I talked about personal growth during this month, which is arguably the most self-centered month of the year. I do not necessarily mean that in a negative light, but January is a time of year when people are trying to better themselves. They are shifting the focus from the selfless giving of December, to pay time and attention to their own needs, most often involving physical health. Today, I'd like to share with you a less conventional way of shifting the focus to your own growth.
What if, while we are shifting that focus onto ourselves, we shifted our prayer lives a bit? I don't know about you, but the majority of the time, I am more likely to pray for others, than for myself. Sometimes there's guilt involved in asking for something for ourselves, but then there are also many times in our lives when we are faced with difficult people or circumstances. If our first instinct is to pray about them at all, our most common prayer is that God would take those difficulties away from us, or that God would change those people who are making our lives more difficult. I would argue that during times when we should be focused on our own behavior and decisions, is often a time when we deflect onto others.
Here's what I mean by that; what if, instead of praying for God to change other people, or change the difficult circumstances, we prayed, sincerely, that God would change our own hearts toward them? In the world, we often tell people to 'be the change you wish to see.' This can be reflected in our prayer lives too. It doesn't have to be either or, of course. Continue to pray for those challenging people in your lives as well, but often, when we shift the focus a bit, we can see more clearly how they need prayer. It might not be at all about how they are effecting your life, but rather about their own personal struggles that are causing them pain and difficulty. While God changes your heart toward them, suddenly it's easier to understand and love them, than to only see how their behavior effects your life.
We cannot take responsibility for other people's actions, nor should we, but we can hold ourselves accountable for our own reactions. I would challenge us all to shift our prayer focus to our own behaviors, our own decisions, and how we react to difficulties.
Some practical ways to apply this might be:
God hears all prayers, but I believe such prayers like these, with a genuine heart, are answered more readily. They show that we are seeking not just a magical genie in the sky to take care of all our problems, but rather to actively be more like Christ ourselves, and to be used by Him. Prayer is an area in which I have always struggled, but one of my goals this year is to revitalize and refocus my prayer life.
Remember, like I said last week, we are maker empowered. He is within us, and we should seek Him for ourselves, and watch how He can transform each of us!
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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