Sometimes you’re wrong

I like NCIS. Yes, I’m one of those people. I’m not even ashamed to admit it. That being said, I haven’t been able to get into the spin-offs, which is ironic because NCIS is a spin-off (50 points if you can name the show that started it all!).

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS (played by Mark Harmon)

One thing I love about lead character Gibbs is his famous list of rules. Seriously, this man has a rule for everything. There’s a rule for how to deal with lawyers, rules with how to handle emergencies, rules for what to carry, rules for how to treat a man with a cup of coffee. Most of them are really funny, until you get to Rule 51: Sometimes you’re wrong.

I remember when that particular episode aired. I was shocked. Leroy Jethro Gibbs admitting that he could be wrong about something? That pretty much had never happened before.

Ever feel that way? Like you’re always justified? Like you can’t make a wrong move? That you’ve always got a reason for doing what you do or saying what you say?

Trust me, friend. You don’t. And you aren’t.

Even the best of us screw up sometimes. The smartest people still fumble their equations. The wisest teacher still picks the wrong answer. And the most dedicated Christ-follower still puts their foot in their mouth from time to time.

Know why? Because nobody’s perfect. (1 John 1:8-10) We pick the wrong answer. We give the wrong direction. We neglect someone. We hurt someone. We turn someone away when they need help. God can forgive it, so why can’t people?

Well, people are dust, remember? (Psalm 103:14) Nobody has it right. Not even one.

So what do you do? How do you manage in a broken world where the only thing worse than hurting yourself is hurting the people around you?

It comes down to humility. (Colossians 3:12) And believe me, I’m talking to myself right now, because this is something I struggle with in my inner life.

If I hurt someone, I need to be humble enough to ask their forgiveness. If someone has hurt me, I need to be humble enough to tell them about. Why? Because most of the time, the person who hurt you has no idea they did it.

This is the story of my life. People have hurt me over and over again, but I didn’t want to cause conflict. I didn’t want to hurt others in return. So instead of standing up about it, I chose to sit down.

Sitting down is humble, right? Taking it on the chin for someone else is humble, right? Well, it would be if that was actually in my heart. But it wasn’t.

When I chose not deal with the hurt I felt, somewhere in my brain I made a mental check mark in the “I’m better than they are” column. I was a better person because I was willing to suffer the hurt of their words and actions instead of running the risk of hurting them back. I was strong enough to deal with the hurt alone. I didn’t need to have a relationship with them anyway, and if I did need to talk to them, I was strong enough to behave normally around them.

How about we go back and count all the I’s in that paragraph? There’s a lot of them. And that’s your first clue that humility had nothing to do with this reaction.

Whenever someone would hurt me, I wanted to feel superior to them. Refusing to repair the relationship and give them the opportunity to make it right fulfilled that desire. I could hold that hurt over them in silence. They didn’t know, but I did. And because I was being a martyr and refusing to hurt someone, I thought God would honor me.

Isn’t the human brain funny?

I haven’t figured this out yet. I’m learning that my emotions are so tangled up and mixed up and confusing that it’s going to take a long time to sort them out, but this I’m pretty clear on.

When someone hurts me, I need to tell them. Believe it or not, that takes humility, because you have to accept the possibility that you may not be in the right. The actions the other person took against you might have been for your own good, or there might have been other circumstances at work that you didn’t understand. It takes extreme humility to go to someone (especially if it’s someone you love and respect) and tell them that what they said hurt you. And it takes even more humility to accept their response with grace.

But you aren’t responsible for their response. You are only responsible for your own.

If someone hurts you, tell them (Matthew 18:15). But don’t accuse them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Think the best of them until they give you a reason to believe otherwise. Ask them if they even realized that their actions caused harm. Nine times out of ten, they won’t have any idea.

If you discover that their actions weren’t intentional, be gracious about it. Offer forgiveness. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by holding on to it. If you discover their actions were intentional, the same truth applies.

Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes you’re wrong. But that doesn’t give us the right to hold hurt over someone else’s head. Refusing to confront someone about their hurtful actions doesn’t fix a situation. It actually makes it worse, for you and for the person who hurt you.

If you say you love the person who hurt you, show that you love them. Tell them. Give them the chance to make it right. If you don’t, that’s not love. That’s pride. And God doesn’t honor that. (James 4:6)

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Kindness that meets real needs

Whenever I think of being kind, I always think of rewinding rented VHS tapes after the movie is over. I know. I’m dating myself. I fully believe DVDs were invented so people didn’t have to waste time rewinding video tapes at the end of the movie. But imagine how irritating that had to be for people who worked in rental places–having to rewind tapes constantly when it should have been the job of the people who rented the movie.

In my mind, kindness is action. It’s sort of like love. We’re commanded to be kind, so it’s a lifestyle choice. But what is it exactly? I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit this month. Again, I don’t know Greek, but I can read a definition. And kindness (χρηστότης) kind of threw me for a loop because it doesn’t really mean what I thought I thought it meant.

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:12

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

This is one of the ten or so occurrences of the word kindness (χρηστότης) in the New Testament. According to this word study I’m doing, this word actually means “useful kindness,” referring to “meeting real needs, in God’s way, in His timing or fashion.”

See? Not what I thought it meant. I thought kindness was just being nice to people, whether they deserve it or not. Another definition of this type of kindness is “Spirit-produced goodness which meets the need and avoids human harshness or cruelty.” When it comes right down to it, the English language doesn’t have a word to define this idea of being both kind and good.

So where does that leave us? This kindness is a gift that God gives us when we choose to accept Christ into our lives. It’s something the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we let Him, but what does it look like?

I actually had a conversation with my best friend yesterday over Skype. Not the video chat but the texting kind of Skype. (Just saying, Skype has saved my sanity while she’s been on her year-long adventure in England because trying to function on a day-to-day basis without the other half of my brain has been very difficult.) But she was asking me how I was doing, and answering honestly I have to say I’m frustated because I’m at a point in my life where everything around me seems to be going wrong but I only have the time to help with parts of it.

Right now, I have major projects at work that I have to focus on. I have trips to plan for. I have responsibilities at church for ministries. I have major storm damage at my house. My mother is sick. My parents’ house has termites. I have all these friends who are graduating from college or getting married. And some of my closest friends–my sisters even–have experienced loss in their lives. And I want to fix all of it, but I can’t.

To me, in my mind, kindness is killing myself to provide for all of these problems. I want to run around and fix everyone’s issues. But I can’t. Even if I could do that, there’s too much. But the kindness that is a Fruit of the Spirit isn’t killing myself to be kind. It’s not kindness at the expense of my sanity. It’s helping people the way God helps people. It’s meeting the real needs the way God cuts through the clutter of our lives and deals with the real problems. And let’s be honest about this: None of us can do that on our own.

I’m a fixer, and I don’t like to think that there’s something that I can’t fix. But this is an unavoidable truth of being a follower of Christ. Being a follower of Christ means you accept there are some things you can’t fix. Some things you have to rely on God to fix.

Am I saying don’t even try? Am I saying to stop trying to help people? Absolutely not. We are here to support each other and help each other through life. But this type of kindness isn’t about running around like a crazy person, killing yourself to do good for people. This type of kindness meets real need. It cuts to the core of the problem.

Maybe in some instances it’s obvious. Maybe in some instances you already know what the real need is. But sometimes I don’t think we know until God reveals it to us, and when He reveals what the core problem is, then He will equip us to meet that need. And if He doesn’t, maybe you’re not the one who needs to barge in with your two cents. As a person who often barges in where angels fear to tread, that’s something for me to think about.

If you see a child getting ready to be run over by a car, go get the child. If you know someone has run out of gas, take them to the gas station so they can fill up their car. Meet needs. In most circumstances it feel like we try to fix external issues instead of the root of the problem. We try to control behavior instead of fixing the heart, and that’s where the problem is. It’s our hearts that need to be healed, and God is the only one who can do that. So if all we are able to do in our lives is point someone else to Christ, then we’ve done our job.

If you see a real need, meet it. But meet it the way God would and make sure you’re clear on why you’re doing it, because otherwise the person you’re helping may not understand that you’re acting on behalf of God.

A wardrobe that never goes out of style

As much as we like to deny it, our clothing identifies us. People like to think that it doesn’t matter what you wear and that everyone remembers that everyone is equal no matter how much their outfit cost, but I just don’t think that’s the case. I wish it were.

I’ve never been into fashion. Actually, I have always run away from it screaming. Anything related to fashion, I usually pretend that it doesn’t exist, mainly because I see it as a waste of time. But that’s my philosophy, and a lot of other people don’t feel that way about it. And that’s perfectly fine. That’s just my choice. I have a style that’s my own, I suppose; I don’t know if it’s a good style or a fashionable style, but it’s mine. And I’m perfectly pleased with it. But it’s interesting how the clothes I wear identify me to other people.

The best example I can give is my latest work trip to Florida. I came home to Wichita, and it was freezing. I had expected to get to go directly home from the airport, but it was late and I had to be in early the next day. So I spent the night in town and went to work from my parents’ house. However, I didn’t have my coat. It was still at my house. So I went to work wearing my mom’s coat — which is quite a bit different in style than my own. It’s not ugly by any means. It’s actually very cute — and it’s very cute on her — but on me it just looked odd. I didn’t really think about it, though. It was warm, and I was off to work, accompanied also by a giant blue scarf and a pair of pink gloves. And it confused everyone at work, and they wondered what was going on because I never wear colors like that.

Once I explained that I had left my coat at home and was borrowing my mom’s, they all laughed. Actually, we all laughed. It was really funny. One person I worked with told me, “I thought you were looking a lot more colorful than usual.”

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that they were really right. I don’t wear overstated colors and I don’t wear flashy things. That’s just my style. Understated. I prefer it that way. I don’t like people looking at me. And I’m perfectly all right with that. It was just fascinating to me.

So it’s doubly fascinating to read Colossians 3:12 when it talks about putting on clothes of a different kind:

 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

It’s interesting, I think, that God chooses to use the word clothe in this context, referring to these character qualities like they’re something to wear.

When you wake up in the morning, do you think about what you put on? I do. I mean, I don’t plan out my wardrobe the day before or anything, but I don’t just pick the first thing I come to and put it on. It wouldn’t match and it wouldn’t look right. I have no fashion sense, but I know that much. And, working a corporate job, I have to keep up a certain level of professionalism, especially in my appearance. So I have to think about what I’m going to wear and make a conscious decision to choose things that match.

It’s the same thing with these character qualities. These things aren’t just going to appear in our lives automatically. You have to choose to put them in effect in your life. Mercy is the least automatic virtue in the world. Kindness and gentleness may be a little easier for some people who are just kind-hearted, but I guarantee no one immediately volunteers to be humble. And patience is one of those things that requires a lifetime to build. We have to choose to use each of these things in our lives just as carefully as we select our clothing that we’re going to wear for the day. Why?

People identify you by the clothing you’re wearing. So if you wear these virtues like clothing, people will know you belong to God. And, what’s really nice, is that these traits never go out of style.