Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

We all need a little grace

It’s so easy to complain about people when they can’t hear you. Even if you’re saying true things, it’s a lot easier to say them when there’s no danger of being overheard. Why is that?

For me, I can tell you it’s because I hate confrontation. Even if it’s telling someone something they need to hear, that doesn’t mean they’ll accept it. That doesn’t mean they’ll be gracious. And I’m pathetic. I really am. All it takes to get me to tear up is a sharp word. And while I recognize the importance of a sensitive spirit, it doesn’t make living in the real world any easier.

But if it’s something you can talk about behind closed doors with people who weren’t involved, it’s something you ought to talk about with the person who started the problem.

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are James 4:11-12.

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

We’ve all been there. Unscrew the halos. I’ve been there, and you’ve been there. Something happens. Somebody makes you angry. And instead of going to the person who made you angry, you stuff it down deep inside and press on.

But when the opportunity comes up in conversation with other, uninvolved people, you tell the story of what happened. And everyone shakes their heads. How unprofessional! How immature!

Be honest, grownups. You feel vindicated.

There’s something about having people agree with you that is cathartic. There’s something about having people on your side that makes you feel strong. But talking about your hurt feelings with people who didn’t hurt them is the easy path. And nobody who takes the easy way is usually ever called strong.

Talking about your problems with the person who offended you is the harder choice. Facing the person who made you angry or wrecked your day or whatever and communicating honestly with them is not only difficult, it’s terrifying. And for me, most of the time I convince myself it isn’t worth it.

Can you guess what happens when you take that route?

Yup. Nothing changes.

The problems that are still problems stay problems. And your resentment builds and builds and builds, and the person irritating you keeps doing what they’re doing without being held accountable. Why? Well, quite honestly, until you speak up and let them know that they’re irritating you, they probably don’t even know.

We all have different standards of professionalism. Some people are impossible to work with because their standards are so high. Others are impossible to work with because their standards are so low. It doesn’t mean necessarily that one perspective is wrong and one is right. It just means that we all need a little grace.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t sit back and let your temper build and build until you explode. And don’t be a coward and complain about the situation where they can’t hear. Do something about it. Granted, do something in love. But do something.

First, make sure that what’s bothering you isn’t actually your own issue. When we get stressed out, it’s so easy to blame people around us for our frustrations. But before you jump to conclusions, take a moment and assess your heart and your attitude.

If you can say with a clear conscience that the issue isn’t yours, then approach the person who’s irritating you. Let them know kindly, politely that they’re bothering you. Do it discreetly. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t put on a show. Just be respectful, like you’d want them to be if they were approaching you.

If they choose to make it into a show, that’s their problem. If you’ve addressed them respectfully, reasonably, politely and they turn it into a confrontation, they’re the ones being ridiculous.

But you have to at least give them a chance to make things right before you give up on them. You have to give them the opportunity to realize that their behavior is bothering you before you label them as hopeless cases. If you skip that step, if you give up on them or label them before you’ve even given them a chance to change, you aren’t acting like Jesus.

Jesus is the King of second chances (and third chances, fortieth chances, one-hundred-and-eleventieth chances, etc). How often have we embarrassed Him with our behavior and how often has He labeled us as a lost cause?

That’s right. Never.

So why do we think that gives us the right to do the same with other people?

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Would you ever throw away a priceless gift?

Think of a friend in your life, someone you know well. How long have you been friends? How long did it take for you to get close? How long did it take for you to develop inside jokes and code words and funny stories? How long did it take for you to get to the place where you felt like you could share everything, where you were closer than family, where you could finish each other’s sentences?

Not many friends get to that place. If you have, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And you’ll know just how much work and sacrifice it took to get there. Friendships like that don’t just happen. They take a long time. But they’re worth it.

Oh, they are so worth it.

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Two sunflowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:10.

Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
    It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away.

I spent four hours at a birthday party last night. I was there with my brother, and also in attendance were two friends that my brother and I have known for 20 years.

20 years.

That shocks me to realize. It doesn’t seem possible that 20 years ago the four of us were running around getting into all sorts of trouble, making each other laugh, sharing life and telling crazy stories. It’s funny because that’s exactly what we did last night. Some things–and some friendships–never change.

And as I stood and listened and laughed with my friends last night, all I could think about was how thankful I was. Thankful because we didn’t have to still be friends. So much has happened in those 20 years that could have broken us up. And I’m not going to tell you it was easy.

You try being friends with someone for 20 years and see how easy it is. Try being friends with someone for five years first.

With so many friendships that I hear about today, I’m just not sure if they understand what friendship is about. I get the feeling that today’s friendships are about self. They’re about getting in with the right crowd to accomplish something. They’re about social status or opportunity.

And that’s a generalization. Many friendships don’t start like that. But many of them end because of selfish reasons. One friend hurts another friend, and neither (or both) will let it go.

And that’s okay. Some friendships aren’t meant to last 20 years. It’s probably better if some don’t.

But I can tell you I’m glad these friendships did. I’m so thankful–so very thankful–that I still have these two people in my life. They’re two people I know I could turn to at any moment–any day of the week, any time, with any request–and know that they would help me however they could. Because they’re more than family. They’re my friends.

Have you got a friendship in your life that has lasted for a long time? Don’t take it for granted. Don’t take advantage of it. If you don’t take care of it, it might not always be around. Friendship takes work–hard work.

What about the opposite side of the coin? Have you got a friendship you’re getting ready to walk away from? If you really feel like that’s the best choice, then do it. There are some friendships that aren’t healthy. But take the time to find out what a healthy friendship is supposed to look like before you give up. If you’re walking away from a long-time friendship because you got your feelings hurt or because you didn’t get your way about something, reconsider.

Friendship is a priceless gift. That’s exactly what it is. You can’t force someone to be your friend. And if they love you and trust you enough to call you a friend in return, please don’t ever take that lightly. And please think twice (or more) before you throw it away.

And if you’re one of the fortunate ones who gets the opportunity to celebrate a birthday party with a friend of 20 years, you won’t even remember the bad times. And if you do, you’ll just see them as stepping stones to a closer relationship.

Nothing worth having was easy to get. That goes for friendship too. And friendship is worth having.

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Give grace away because nobody is perfect

How often do you get frustrated with people? I wish I could tell you I was the epitome of patience and forgiveness. But I’m not. Not even on my best days.

Some people just have a gift for finding every button I have, and they seem to thrill at pushing it over and over and over again. Sometimes I think they do it on purpose. Most of the time, I don’t think they even realize that they’re doing it.

Seriously. Think about it. Not every person who drives you nuts is a jerk. It could be that they are oblivious to how they are bothering you, and in that case, it’s in everyone’s best interest to talk it out.

What it really comes down to is understanding that nobody’s perfect. We say that. We say it about ourselves. We say it about each other. But do we really believe it?

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we lived in a world where nobody screwed up? Where everyone loved each other? Where no one hurt each other?

That world is coming one day, but it’s not here yet. For now, we’re locked into this world where people with the best of intentions still end up walking all over other people. People who may just be trying to do the best they can end up hurting people around them. People who are just people make a wrong move and cause irreparable damage.

And what can be done about it? Well, if something wrong was actually done, then learn from it. If mistakes were made, correct them. But what if there was no mistake? What if there was no wrong? What if the only thing two people have against each other is their personalities? What do you do then?

Is one person’s personality wrong?

People come in all shapes and sizes and moods and shades and flavors, and God made them all that way for a reason. He’s got a special plan in mind for every person He’s made (whether they accept that plan is up to them), and while we all do need to do our part, just because your personality doesn’t mesh with someone else’s doesn’t make them wrong. And it doesn’t make you wrong either.

Some people just naturally rub each other the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t love them. That doesn’t mean you can’t forgive them when they drive you crazy. Believe it or not, you probably drive them crazy too. Remember that next time they have you climbing the walls.

The plain and simple truth? Everybody needs grace. Not one person is sufficient to make it through this life without God’s grace. And if God is good enough and big enough and great enough to give us grace for the things that we have done, don’t you think we can give grace to the people around us?

Now, giving grace doesn’t mean you restore someone who screwed up to a position of high authority right away. That goes into trust issues. But what it does mean is that you don’t hold it over their heads. You don’t keep bringing up their screw-ups and you move on.

That’s what God does for us, and that’s what we should do for each other.

So the next time that family member or coworker or fellow church attender does something to make you angry, take a moment and ask yourself if he knows he’s doing it. And if you feel strong enough, ask him about it. If he knows that what he’s doing drives you crazy and he does it anyway, you might want to rethink that relationship. But most likely, he won’t have any idea.

And in that case? Offer some grace. Forgive him and let it go. Life is too busy and too big and too awesome to spend your life fretting over tiny little upsets.

Give grace away. Everyone needs it.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Ignoring conflict never makes it better

For being someone who communicates for a living, talking to people is hard work for me. I’m much more comfortable communicating in written words than I am in spoken ones, mainly because I don’t trust myself to be able to say what I want to say out loud when I want to say it.

Generally I can talk to anyone if I have to.  But it becomes extraordinarily more difficult to talk to somebody if I know they have something against me–or if I have reason to hold something against them. Conversation just falls flat. And it’s my personality to just run away from it, ignore that there’s a problem, and get on with life. Whenever I face conflict, that’s my first reaction. But that’s not healthy, and that kind of reaction doesn’t do anybody any good.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:23-24.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Communication is hard work, and even if you do it well, you’ll still run into times when something goes wrong and somebody gets his or her feelings hurt. And in those instances, you have to make a decision–let it go or face it.

Now, it’s true, in some instances, it’s better to just let it go. Otherwise you’ll be making the proverbial molehill into a mountain. But sometimes communication problems start out as mountains, and they’ll only get bigger if you don’t take steps to correct what went wrong and reconcile everyone involved (as much as possible).

I think it’s really interesting that Jesus talks about this. He considers it so important that He would rather you leave your gift on the altar and go fix what’s wrong between you and the others around you first.

Let’s be honest here. It would be so much easier to just finish doing what you’re doing before you track down people to smooth out your relationship. Am I right?  But that’s not what Jesus says to do.

If you realize someone has something against you, drop what you’re doing right now–even if you’re doing it for God–and go and make it right with that person. Not from a distance. Not with an email or a text message. Go talk to them in person. Sort it out.

Do it first. Or the chances are you’ll never do it at all. You’ll keep finding reasons not to because communication in conflict is more difficult than any other sort of communication out there. And human beings are really talented at finding excuses.

But what if you can’t make it right? What if you’ve missed your chance? What if the person you need to get right with won’t listen or isn’t around anymore?

I think how Jesus phrases this is interesting: “You suddenly remember that someone has something against you.” Think about that.

He’s not saying you’re remembering something somebody did to hurt you. You’re remembering something you did that hurt somebody else, either intentionally or not. You remember what you did wrong, and you take it on yourself to go make it right.

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it that way before. It’s a lot easier to look at conflict as though it’s somebody else’s fault. After all, we never do anything wrong, right? We never hurt anyone else’s feelings, do we?

In all seriousness, conflict always takes at least two sides–at least two people disagreeing about something. Conflict isn’t inherently bad. Sometimes conflict can be good, and we certainly do grow as a result of it. Many times the strongest friendships we have in our lives have experienced some kind of conflict and have overcome it together.

So what’s the point? Don’t run away from conflict. Don’t be afraid of it either. Conflict is a natural part of living on Earth, and if we treat it right, we can learn from it and grow stronger as individuals, families, friends, and teams.

But we always have to remember that conflict is never just one person. If you have a problem with somebody, communicate with them. If you come to a realization that your actions have hurt someone, don’t shrug it off. Don’t ignore it. Don’t pass it off. Own up to your actions. Take responsibility for your choices. And make it right with the people you’ve hurt.

If you don’t, you’re going to be distracted. If you continue to muddle your way through life, leaving a trail of conflict behind you, even if you’re serving God, you’ll be so distracted by all your unfinished relationships that you may not hear God speaking to you.

It’s time to clean house, Christians. Be honest with yourselves. Who have you hurt? And are you courageous enough to face that person and try to reconcile?

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dealing with anger before it can control you

I hate misunderstandings, don’t you? I really think most of the problems between people can be solved by reducing misunderstandings because so many times people hurt each other and don’t realize it. And then, the person who gets hurt is afraid to speak up and say anything about it, so the situation never changes. And it just continues in one vicious cycle until both sides end up bitter and resentful.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:26-27.

And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Anger is one of those strange emotions that can be both positive or negative depending on how you react to it. It isn’t a bad emotion just by virtue of what it is. It’s an emotion that everyone feels or will feel at some point in their life. We just have to decide now (when we’re not angry) how we’re going to handle it when it does come up, and this passage is a good thought to keep in mind.

Anger can come on quickly, and if you’re not prepared for it, you’ll react to it by lashing out and hurting others around you. Maybe you want to do that, and maybe the people around you deserve it, but that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to behave. Make the decision now to not let anger control you. When you feel it, recognize it and take steps to manage it. Don’t hide it. Don’t deny it. Deal with it. Because the longer you sit on it, the worse it will get.

That’s why I think this advice is really good. Don’t end the day still angry. And what I think is interesting is that the word angry has some other meanings, according to the Amplified Version. It means anger or fury, but it also means indignation or exasperation. So this isn’t just talking about anger because you’ve been mistreated. It also means that you shouldn’t end the day if you’ve still got frustrations bottled up inside you.

Why? Well, it says why. The longer you sit and stew on those negative emotions, the more opportunity you give Satan in your life. He’s always looking for a way in, and focusing on those negative emotions opens the door just a crack. Enough for him to reach in and poke at your life.

That’s the last thing you need. Life has enough trouble on its own without inviting trouble from our enemy!

So the next time you’re angry or frustrated, step back and calm down. Think about it, yes, but don’t think too long. Granted, it does depend on the situation.

I think this is interesting, and I’m not sure if I understand it entirely. But the part of this verse that says, “t sin by letting anger control you,” is actually pulled from the Old Testament.

Psalm 4:4

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
    Think about it overnight and remain silent.

My first thought when I read that was shock because that looks like a contradiction. The Old Testament says think about your anger overnight. The New Testament says deal with your anger before the sun goes down. What?

And I don’t know if this is right or not, but I looked at who wrote each of these passages. Paul wrote Ephesians. David wrote Psalm 4. (Both of them were writing under the inspiration of God, of course.) Any of you who know the Bible may already know where I’m going.

The personality differences between Paul and David are massive. They’re like opposite sides of the same coin. Paul was a scholar, an educated man, polite and appropriate and respected. David was a shepherd. Yes, he was a king, but he was also a warrior and an artist. Paul and David were both passionate in different ways.

For Paul’s personality, it was probably better to deal with his anger and frustration immediately after he recognized it. For David, if he’d tried to deal with his anger immediately, he’d probably make things worse because he hadn’t gotten over it himself yet. Either way, both means of dealing with frustration prevent anger from calling the shots.

The key is to recognize when you’re getting angry or frustrated, and whether you decide to deal with it immediately or let some time pass so you can cool off doesn’t matter. Notice the Psalm says think about it overnight, so don’t think about it longer than that. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to address.

But you have to do it.

Your relationships are worth it. Your own sanity is worth it. Don’t hold on to anger or frustration. Deal with it. Work through it. Talk about it with the person who hurt you, and you’ll probably discover that they didn’t mean to. Or you’ll discover that you hurt them to start off with. That’s how human relationships work, friends. We’re all screwed up.

So let’s cut each other a break. Value your relationships enough to talk about the misunderstandings. And even if you don’t sort everything out, at least you will know where your own heart stands and so will they.

Peace of mind is something you can’t buy, and when your mind and heart are at peace, Satan can’t get in.