Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Hurt My Friends (or "A Lesson in Forgiveness")

Last week I went to Dunn Bros. with my roommate. While we were sitting there enjoying our drinks, she realized that she had this game in her purse. It was a deck of cards with all sorts of questions and conversation starters. One of the questions she asked me was something along the lines of, "If you could write an Eleventh Commandment, what would it be?" Without missing a beat, I replied, "Thou shalt not hurt my roommate." After she laughed, I decided to expand my answer to the broader statement, "Thou shalt not hurt my friends."

I hate seeing my friends get hurt. I'm a fiercely loyal person, and with that trait comes a strong desire to defend those that I love. I constantly want to enforce my "Eleventh Commandment." One of my best friends asked me once if I ever got mad. I told her if someone ever hurt her, she'd find out.

I don't mind nearly so much if I get hurt. I might be upset for a awhile, I might even cry, but chances are I'll move on relatively quickly. I am sometimes reluctant to forgive those who wrong me, but with time (and a whole lot of help from God), I can usually let things go.

If someone hurts someone I love . . . well, that's a whole other story. I can hold onto grudges against those individuals for years . . . sometimes long after the friend who was hurt has moved on and forgiven the offending individual.

I realized at church on Sunday that my attitude in that area is just not ok. I've been in denial about it for a long time . . . but really, if I claim to want to follow Christ, there isn't much I can say in my defense against His words:

Luke 6:27-36
27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

If I'm going to identify myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ, an unforgiving heart is not an option. Righteous anger aroused when the people I love are unjustly wronged is fine — even Jesus got angry in some circumstances (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; John 2:13-17). But allowing that anger to fester and turn into bitterness . . . that's definitely not ok. Besides being incredibly unhealthy and unproductive, bitterness is sinful:

Ephesians 4:21-32
21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Forgiveness isn't optional. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "Forgive others . . . if you feel like it." It simply says, "Forgive others."

Now if only that was as easy to live as it was to type . . .

Friday, October 12, 2007

Coffee > Jesus (or "My Priorities Need an Organizational Makeover")

I love coffee. I will readily admit that I am addicted to coffee. On a typical day I'll down anywhere from two to six cups . . . I think I average three or four. I am totally ok with being addicted to coffee—I know I can stop whenever I want to (provided I'm willing to deal with a couple of days of withdrawal headaches, of course . . . haha). Addiction aside, though, I honestly do enjoy coffee. I love the taste of black coffee; I love the smell of coffee; I love the feel of a warm mug of coffee in my hands while I read a good book. However, I realized this morning that I might be loving coffee just a little too much.

This morning when my alarm went off for the second time, I dragged myself out of bed, walked into the closet, grabbed my bag of whole-bean Costa Rican coffee, plugged in the coffee grinder, dumped the grounds into a filter, dropped the filter into Steve (my coffee maker), and started filling the coffee pot up with water . . . and then I stopped. Because I realized that all I had thought about since waking up was how much I wanted a little bit of caffeine. I had almost finished making my pot of coffee before it even occurred to me to do what I should be doing before I think about anything else: I hadn't bothered to talk to God yet. In fact, He hadn't even entered my thoughts up to that point.

I've definitely made the statement that I want God to be number one in my life. I know that there are times when other things take top priority. Usually they're pretty significant things, which isn't really an excuse, but which make some sense, as I am most definitely human and therefore prone to error. I don't think I've ever really thought about how often small things can take priority over God just as easily as the big things, though. I mean, seriously . . . coffee is wonderful, but it is DEFINITELY not more wonderful than my Lord!

Today was actually full of reminders of how easily I'm distracted from fixing my eyes on Him. There are so many things that can pull my gaze off His face and onto my own life. It's ridiculous, really. I know from experience that I'm really no good at all at running my own life. Unless I surrender everything to Christ, I'm pretty useless.

I think God's really been teaching me lately that I need to be a more genuine, consistent person of integrity. He's making me much more aware of the words that come out of my mouth. I'm starting to learn what it means to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5) I'm become more aware of how my actions affect other people. It's hard . . . at times it's downright painful. But it's so worth it . . . I just hope that I don't throw it all away when this particular lesson is over.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fatal Attraction

I find it fascinating how conclusions drawn from seemingly unrelated incidents can turn out to be very much connected. I have found my thoughts returning to the topic of self-esteem several times over the past couple of weeks. I have also been wondering why it is that we sometimes end up with "friends" who hurt us. In all of this thinking and wondering, I have come to yet another realization. I'm going to talk about this particular revelation in regards to being a woman, so guys, I apologize. Don't think that I don't realize many of you struggle with the same issues; I've just been seeing this a lot in my own life and in the lives of other ladies lately, so that's the way this blog is going to go. Girls, this one's for you.

I think as women we tend to struggle so much with comparing ourselves to each other. It's horribly cliché, but I think we really do end up feeling a lot of pressure from the world to look, dress, act, etc. in a certain way, and since the vast majority of us don't fit into that "perfect" mold, we end up believing all of these lies about ourselves: we're not pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, sexy enough, feminine enough . . . that we're not "enough" in general. The really sad part of it all is that we're so used to the lies that half the time we don't even realize that we believe them. Whether we realize that we believe them or not, those lies are often some of our most closely held beliefs about who we are.

Every girl desires to be loved. Most of us have caught ourselves wishing at some point or another that we'd find our Prince Charming or Knight-in-Shining-Armor who would make us feel like princesses. The problem is, many of us have also been ensnared in the lie that we don't deserve to be loved like that.

Most people are under the rather misguided impression that "opposites attract." While that's true in some respects (some difference is good—it's good to be able to play off each other's strengths and weaknesses in a relationship), people tend to be attracted to people with similar characteristics and beliefs.

This leaves us in a sort of strange place. We want to be loved, but we don't believe we deserve love . . . so we end up with friends (and, unfortunately, "significant others") who don't seem to believe that we deserve love either. They'll treat us just well enough that we'll rationalize and claim that they really are our friends or that they really do love us, even though just about anyone on the outside of the relationship is able to see that the relationship is hurting us more than it's helping us.

I really believe that's why so many women end up in abusive relationships that they can't get out of. I also believe it's one of the reasons that we struggle to let go of the lies we've come to believe about our worth: if someone I claim as a close friend confirms with his or her behavior toward me what I already believe about myself, it's going to take a lot more to change my mind than if I'm the only thing standing in my way of breaking free of that lie.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hurting Can Be Helpful

Friendships are wonderful, beautiful things. Being able to love and to be loved are two of the greatest joys we can experience as humans.

Unfortunately, the people that we love are also the people who can hurt us the most.

A very dear friend of mine had to deal with this today. She truly desires to be the best friend she can be to people. Sadly, this sometimes means that she lets people walk all over her. I have a tendency to do the same thing, so I can understand how difficult it can be to stand up for oneself in relationships (meaning relationships of all sorts -- friendships, family relationships, etc.). Today, this friend of mine did what was quite possibly the bravest thing she's done in her entire life. She chose to very gently and lovingly point out to one of her friends that he had hurt her. She could not have been more sincere in her desire to make their friendship work out, and she actually stood up for herself so that he could learn to be aware of how his actions affect other people -- so that he could learn to be a better friend and a better person in general.

However, her friend chose to go on the defensive, twisting her words and interpreting them as an attack on his character. Rather than realizing the true purpose of her gentle criticism of his actions -- to help him -- he focused solely on his bruised ego, taking extreme offense to something that was intended for good.

Hurting someone to help them is a bit of a strange concept. It's so easy to take offense at the constructive criticism our loved ones offer -- rather than acknowledging that they're acting out of love, we wallow in self-pity, claiming they have no right to tell us how we ought to live our lives. At the same time, we can often so easily offer criticism (constructive or otherwise) about others. At some point last year, I decided that this particular principle can be summed up in one simple sentence:

It's easier to look through a window than into a mirror.

I know I tend to be far too sensitive to criticism. Rather than learn from the observations of others, I persist in acting like an idiot until it really gets me into trouble. Rather than acknowledging my sin when God convicts me of something, I push on in rebellion. I want to feel like I can run my own life and make my own mistakes without ever affecting another person.

But that's just not how life works. My decisions, my stupid mistakes do have an impact on others. My refusal to accept criticism can forge barriers in my relationships that, if not properly addressed, can end up causing those relationships permanent damage.

So, now I come back to the two basic principles of my last two blogs: I need to learn to surrender, and I need to be conscious of how my words and actions are affecting those around me.

Think God might be trying to tell me something?