Updated: Nov 12, 2020
God's work in my heart reminds me I still need grace and forgiveness.
Judy and Trinity met in college. They hit it off immediately, bonding over shared hobbies and common interests. Each year brings new milestones; college graduation, marriage, babies, kids leaving for college. They remain the best of friends through multiple relocations and health challenges, sharing memories on FaceBook, pictures on Instagram, and texting funny reminders of their friendship. Trinity's difficult marriage brings them closer as Judy spends hours on the phone listening to her friend's pain. Judy is an only child and calls Trinity her sister by choice. Nothing can push them apart.
It starts with innocent conversations about how the world is changing, moving in the wrong direction. As discussions progress, Judy realizes Trinity does not agree with her on who or what will put the world back on track. Trinity wants everyone to stop fighting, she wants the world to work together to find solutions for today's complex problems. Judy says it's about standing against the world, not with it. Trinity says it's about loving those in the world, not fighting them.
As the days, months and years progress, both women become angry and disillusioned with each other. "This is not the same friend I met in college," thinks Judy. "I cannot believe Judy is so hateful," says Trinity. A once beautiful friendship is now distant and cold, with little room for error. Both are afraid to say the wrong thing to each other for fear of "setting the other off". It's easier to just avoid talking altogether.
I recently heard a counselor say, "we are flattening out our understanding of people." Meaning we are losing our ability to look at others with depth and compassion. Our conversations become less about learning others, and more about finding the right words or amount of passion to change minds. When minds are not changed and hearts are not moved, we set up hard boundaries and call them righteous. Instead of looking at people as multidimensional, full of their own experiences, beliefs and emotions, we now see them as either for us or against us. Righteous or heathen. Lover of democracy or power-hungry socialist. Right or wrong.
I remember getting into an argument with my sister not too long ago. We are both in our 40's and still push each other's buttons when we're tired of listening to the other's well-intentioned yet ill-advised opinions. If she was just better informed she would agree with me. If only I knew what she knew, I would agree with her.
This particular conversation with my sister was part of a family gathering. The discussion moved from calm consideration of another opinion to patronizing and heated disagreement quickly. I remember it taking me by surprise. The rest of the evening with our family felt off-kilter. I didn't sleep much that night, not because of our disagreement, but because of the pride and arrogance I personally displayed as the conversation devolved. God worked on my heart and didn't let me sleep. I don't function well without sleep.
The next day my sister and I spent a long time talking on the phone. We both realized our love and care for each other matters, and it's up to us to make graciousness in our conversations a priority. I am not her Savior, she is not mine. I do not need her to agree with me, or vice versa. We do, however, want to know each other. We want to continue to remain in each other's lives and stay close as sisters who care about one another more than we care about changing each other's minds. Oh, and we both asked for forgiveness. Sometimes there's nothing better than a heartfelt apology.
God doesn't call me to humility, patience and self-control only when it's effortless. The gospel requires us to make little of ourselves while the Holy Spirit in us changes our heart, mind and attitude. My personal opinions matter little next to the damage caused by my words.
This is not always easy. Sometimes we are related to people or friends with individuals who are not like-minded in pursuing compassionate conversation. Those dynamics can be complicated and may require some boundary making. However, careful consideration is warranted. We can sometimes overuse the idea of boundaries in our desire for a life free of emotional difficulty. Be careful not to give up on a relationship simply because it is challenging.
Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another; as God in Christ forgave you." Proverbs 15:1 proclaims, "a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." It's like God knows us or something (sarcasm intended). He's spot on. Every. Time.
There really is little room for anger, rage or bitterness taking up space in the heart of believers. It's not that we won't feel anger, rage, resentment or bitterness - it's more we are required by God to fight their hold on us.
Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." As Christians, our hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in turn fills our hearts with the fruit of the gospel, pushing out the pride and arrogance that leads to anger, clamor, malice and slander. The fruit of the Spirit are the tools of my heart's own personal Prize Fighter, fighting the ugly thoughts and emotions that will kill my soul from the inside out.
Tenderheartedness becomes a by-product of exercising the transformed heart's prize-fighting tools. Even when I mess up, there is joy and peace found through the difficult act of intentional repentance, patience and humility. In turn, when others hurt me, God's work in my heart reminds me of my own need for grace and forgiveness. Tenderheartedness is a result of facing and fighting my own sin, with God's prize fighter in my corner.
Where is God challenging you to pursue tenderheartedness in the people you know or encounter? What relationship(s) in your life is God perhaps asking you to invest in more deeply? God does not abandon us in the scary moments, or in the times where we really want to "flatten out our understanding of people." Or, when we want to simply flatten people? Hah!
We are all tempted to under-utilize our heart's prize fighter and his tools - the Holy Spirit and the fruit it brings. Let's not assume it's use requires nothing of us, but instead tend to the fruit of the Spirit as we would any prize fighter with an amazing right hook or incredible bob and weave. Any winning fighter needs practice, care and preparation.
This is definitely a time for pulling out the best - it's time for us to pay close attention and not let our heart's prize fighter go to waste. Take the challenge - pull out the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and let them fight pride, arrogance, hate, malice, resentment and anger. Because nothing can win against the Heart's Prize Fighter.