If you can’t be kind, just don’t be unkind

Being kind is hard enough when you like the people around you. When the people are mean or dramatic or harsh or difficult, being kind becomes almost impossible. But as Christ-followers, we are always to respond kindly, even in circumstances when we are standing up for ourselves or against something that is wrong.

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:31-32.

1113096_42782006Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Kindness isn’t something you have to go out of your way to demonstrate. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at someone. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But what about in those circumstances where you don’t want to be kind? What about the times when people take advantage of you because you’re kind?

Well, it’s true. If you’re kind, people will take advantage of you. You should expect it to a certain extent. But that doesn’t mean we are called to live life as doormats. There is a way to stand up for yourself and be kind at the same time. And what I’ve learned about kindness is sometimes it’s not going out of your way to be nice to people. Sometimes kindness is simply not doing or saying something cruel. Sometimes kindness is not participating in a conversation or not commenting at all. Sometimes kindness is acknowledging someone’s presence politely.

If you don’t know how to start being kind to someone, start by not being unkind.

See that’s where I come from. When someone is mean to me or when someone treats me unfairly, I want to treat them the same way. There’s that part of me that wishes the Golden Rule worked both ways, so that if someone treats me like dirt it gives me the right to treat them like dirt in return. But that’s not what it’s about. And that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live.

If someone is cruel to you or blames you unfairly or just treats you like garbage, don’t reciprocate. That will make it worse. Don’t give them ammunition. Don’t give them a reason to keep picking on you. Sure, if they want to pick on you, they’ll fabricate a reason, but you don’t have to give them one. If you’re giving them the bullets to put in their gun, everybody will think you deserve what you get. But if you don’t give them any reason to hate you, they’ll just be shooting blanks—and people notice things like that.

But you don’t have to buy them chocolate. You don’t have to wash their car. You don’t have to go out of your way to be kind to them. I mean, if you have the kind of personality where you can do that, do it! But to me, it’s more important to start with focusing on not being unkind.

Say hi to the guy who makes you mad when you pass him in the hallway. Acknowledge your coworker when she sends you rude emails. When that guy you work with throws you under the bus, gently respond with facts and figures if you have them. And if you don’t, be gracious. But whatever you do, don’t pin the blame on someone else.

None of that would be called “kindness” if you think about it. But what you’re doing when you choose not to be unkind is putting the people around you before yourself. You’re giving up your “right” to pay back blow for blow, and instead you’re thinking about the whole picture instead of just the place you have in it.

If you’re in a situation where you just can’t be kind, don’t stress yourself out about it. Don’t try to force yourself to play a role. If you can’t be kind, then just don’t be unkind. You might be surprised how your life, your perspective, and your relationships change for the better.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Dealing with difficult people isn’t about you

Difficult people are everywhere. I’m sure you know a couple. Maybe more than a couple. You probably deal with them in the store, on the road, at school. You might even live with one, and you most likely work with one. Heck, you might even be one.

If you are one … Jesus loves you. Grow up.

For everybody else, keep reading.

Living, dealing, working with difficult people is just something we all have to figure out, because you can’t escape difficult people. If you quit your job because people there are difficult, guess what? Your next job will have difficult people too. If you move out of your house because your family is difficult, guess what? That’s right. You’ll live in an apartment complex or with roommates who are difficult.

So if difficult people are a constant in this universe, the only recourse we have is to learn how to deal with them.

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

There are lots of books and advice on how to manage difficult people, and I’m honestly not sure if there’s one sure answer. But one thing I can tell you that I’ve learned is that if you give a difficult person a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.

Sometimes I think Christ-followers think that being kind to people means that we need to give others everything they ask for. And that’s not kindness, especially if what you’re giving them is bad for them. Like a diabetic. Is it kind to give a diabetic a candy bar? No! I mean, they may want it, but giving it to them will ultimately hurt them. And that’s not kindness. That’s enabling.

Just because someone comes up and asks you for something doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. And it’s not disrespectful or rude to ask some basic questions about what they want. Why do they want it? How soon do they need it? Who else will be affected by their request? Now, granted, you can ask those questions in a disrespectful or rude tone of voice, and that will change the meaning all the way around. But anyone who gets upset at you for asking basic informative questions like that has bigger issues than what you can fix.

This is the most important lesson I’ve learned in dealing with difficult people: It’s not about me.

If a difficult person gets upset at me because of something I’ve done or something I won’t do, it’s not about me. It’s about them. If I have a legitimate reason for refusing to do something and can kindly and gently back up my reasoning and they still get upset, the problem is on their end. Not mine.

Now that doesn’t give you the right to be mean. That doesn’t give you the right to call names or gossip or hurt people, even if they hurt you. You can gently tell someone no. You can kindly refuse to do something, especially if you have a reason for it. And if that person still gets upset with you, you will have the peace of mind knowing that you behaved in a way that would bring honor to God.

Difficult people thrive on drama, and if you refuse to be dragged into their drama, they don’t have anything to feed on. That’s true in any situation, whether you live or work with them. Don’t get upset at them. Don’t yell at them. Don’t call them names or be passive aggressive and try to get them in trouble. Just be honest with them. If they’re off target, tell them gently.

You be the person you’re supposed to be. You do what God says is right. And God will honor that.

And, besides, you never know what God will do in someone else’s heart. You never have a reason to be cruel or mean to someone else. So even though it’s tempting to call names and gossip, don’t.

Stay out of the drama. Speak the truth with love. Gently stand firm for what’s right.

Dead sunflowers in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Endure suffering like a soldier

I come from a family with a proud military background. No one in my immediate family is in the military now, but many relatives have served this country as soldiers, dating back to the Civil War. Some marched or drove tanks in World War II. Some fought in Korea. And I’m proud of that, and I’m proud to have many friends who are in every branch of the service, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Being a soldier is no small thing. It’s a huge sacrifice, not only for the person who chooses it but for his (or her) family as well.

So when the Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus are soldiers for Christ, what does that mean? How should that affect the way we live? How should that change the way we make decisions? How should that prepare us for the difficult times that are coming?

Dead sunflowers in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflowers in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Timothy 2:3.

Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

How does a soldier endure suffering? I’ve never been a soldier in a military sense, so I don’t know. But I have been around many people who have had to stay behind while their loves ones leave the safety of home and travel to distant places in order to protect our country. And I can imagine that probably produces some suffering on both sides, the soldier who leaves and the family who stays. But what I have observed (at least from the family who stays) is something that challenges me in the way I follow Christ. And if I’m wrong, you military folks, please feel free to correct me. But this is what I have observed.

The ones who stay and the ones who go both have difficulties and hardships they have to endure. They’re expecting them, and they are prepared for them. And while they don’t rejoice to be separated or to have to go through those difficult things, they understand it’s for a greater purpose. So even though they’re lonely, even though sometimes they’re scared, even though sometimes they just wish it was all over, if you ask them, they will tell you it’s necessary and they understand.

And that makes me step back and reassess the way I deal with difficult things in my own life. Because if we’re supposed to endure difficult things like good soldiers (the Amplified Version says first-class soldiers), I need to take a lesson from some soldiers. When trouble comes my way, I shouldn’t hide from it, and it shouldn’t catch me off guard. I need to be ready for it. I need to be expecting it. And just because things get rough, that doesn’t give me the excuse to complain. This is war, after all. War isn’t fun.

What I love about this scripture is that it doesn’t say we’re supposed to endure suffering like a good general or a good admiral or a good commander in chief. It says we should endure like soldiers. Soldiers aren’t really in command. They aren’t in charge. There is someone above them making the decisions, calling the plays, issuing orders. Soldiers are supposed to obey–immediately, enthusiastically, whole-heartedly.

That’s where I get caught. Because when God tells me to do something I’ll do it, but it’s usually not immediately. And most of the time it’s not enthusiastically. And it’s rarely with my whole heart. I want to know why. I want to know what’s going to happen. I want to know the next step before I take the first step. But a soldier who constantly questions the orders he’s given isn’t good for much.

So are you going through some difficult things today? Are you facing hardships and troubles? Everyone does. If you aren’t today, you will tomorrow; and if you’ve never experienced trouble, you’re not paying attention.  Don’t be surprised when tough things come your way, and make the conscious choice to handle it the way the Message lays it out:

When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did.

It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be lonely. It’s okay to feel all those things, but you have to place more value on choosing to overcome those feelings than choosing to wallow in them. That’s the difference between a citizen and a soldier. A soldier looks past the emotion and does what is necessary. And they have understand that they don’t always need to understand, especially when they have a commander they can trust.

So face the trouble in your life today like a soldier. Endure it for a higher purpose. Endure it with the understanding that the war won’t last forever and we’ll eventually get to go home for the biggest reunion in the history of time. It will change your perspective on a lot of things.

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Does the Golden Rule apply to swine?

I get really tired of doing the right thing all the time. Do you? Some days, I just want to blow everyone off and tell them exactly what to go do with themselves. You can read into that whatever you’d like. Just don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Right? =)

People are very frustrating. And I get very frustrated with people, especially the ones I think should know better. People lose their patience with each other. People don’t respect each other. People don’t put each other first. So what do you do with people who hurt each other? How do you respond to people who refuse to put their own desires on hold to work out a solution with someone they have offended? How you know if you’re supposed to do anything at all?

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair - Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD.

It’s interesting to me that this is the way the longest chapter in the Bible starts out. Psalm 119 has 176 verses, and most of them are about rejoicing about God’s commands. This morning, in the midst of the situations I’m currently dealing with, I could use some joy. And if the key to being joyful is to follow God’s instructions? Well, sign me up. I want to know what God’s instructions are so that I can be joyful. Because in spite of the dictionary definition, joy isn’t dependant on your circumstances. Joy supersedes any situation. Joy comes from God, from the peace you receive knowing that you have done what God desires.

That being said, what are God’s instructions concerning difficult, frustrating people?

Okay. So I Googled “Bible verses about dealing with difficult people” and there are more than 118,000 results. 118,000 results!

Do you think there are so many verses about dealing with frustrating people because everyone gets frustrated with everyone at some point? Granted, some people are superbly gifted at pissing people off, but in general, we all get under each others’ skins at some point because no one is perfect.

And that’s really what I think dealing with frustrating people is all about: realizing that no one is perfect.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Even when I want to do good things, I still end up choosing to do something that is wrong. And if I can’t be perfect for 30 minutes, why do I expect other people to have an innate righteousness? Why do I expect other people to be good when I can’t be good?

Earlier this week, one of the verses I read was Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Otherwise known as The Golden Rule. I didn’t blog on it because I thought it has been done too many times. But, seriously, of all God’s instructions, this one ranks pretty high up in dealing with difficult people. We shouldn’t stoop to their level. We shouldn’t try to hurt them back if they’ve hurt us — or if they’ve hurt someone we love.

But at the same time, I think there’s another verse to remember. Matthew 7:6 says: “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” And if you keep reading, Matthew 7:12 may sound familiar: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

So how do you balance it?

How do you find the balance between treating other people the way you want to be treated but not wasting what precious time we have on people who will ultimately turn on us? It’s a good question and a hard one to answer, and I don’t know if I know the answer yet. But I can tell you the first thing to check.

Check your own heart.

Just as the Golden Rule is found in both Matthew 7 and Luke 6, there’s another passage in both books that should probably be mentioned:

Luke 6:41-42 and Matthew 7:3-5

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend,let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

It’s easy to write people off because they frustrate you. It’s easy to ignore people because they’re difficult. But before you take any step toward correcting their behavior or judging them for their actions, you need to look in the mirror and check yourself first.

It may not be pleasant. It may not make sense. But this is one of God’s instructions. And if we want to be joyful, we need to follow God’s instructions and trust that He knows what He’s talking about, even if it sounds backward.