Two things were constant when I was growing up, we moved a lot, and we always walked to school. I don’t know how my parents did it but they always managed to find a house that was fifty yards inside the line where the bus would pick you up. If the rule was the bus picked up kids who lived at least a mile from the school my folks would get a house just less than that, if it was a generous school district and they picked up within a half mile, you guessed it; we would live just barely less than that. We always walked.
Now moving a lot meant we were also subject to the “see how tough the new kid is” policy. There is a hierarchy in elementary and junior high school. Every boy in school knows who he can beat up and who can beat him up. Lucky for me that didn’t take long. I was usually within two or three of the bottom. I could usually take the skinny kid with glasses. (Oh wait, that was me.) I could take the OTHER skinny kid with glasses, but his older sister could whip me, so there you go.
One day we were walking home from school in Rock Hill, SC, me, Charlotta, and Chonda. Cherilyn was still too young for school. A band of bully boys fell in behind us and started taunting and calling us names. “Hey sissy, that’s an ugly dress.” (They were talking to me.) “Where did you get those thick glasses? At the coke bottle store.” (I said they were bullies. I didn’t say they were creative.) I was doing a masterful job of keeping the girls focused on looking ahead and ignoring the bullies. I was a fine, mature Christian, even at age 11. I was also shaking in my boots. The boys kept jeering and we kept walking. The house was in sight. It looked like we were going to make it.
Then Chonda. (How many sentences in my life have begun with “then Chonda?”) Then Chonda turned and said, “Hey, dirt mouth. My brother knows karate and he can whip you with one arm behind his back!” Now just for the record, I DO NOT KNOW KARATE, and I’m pretty sure that I need two good arms to have any chance of defending myself. That’s all it took. Bullies came running. I turned around. Charlotta and Chonda high-tailed it home. And it was on.
Jesus says a hard thing in Matthew 5:38-42. “38You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
I taught the Wednesday night Bible study for the last few weeks at my church on ‘What Did Jesus Say?’ See what I did there? Double dipped doing my blogs and my Bible study on the same thing. (If you’re skinny and wear glasses, only one of which is still true, you’d better be smart too.) For three weeks I talked about what Jesus said about anger, and conflict, and rejection. How did Jesus teach us to respond when we are hurt? When somebody ignores our feelings and steps on our toes?
Yesterday I got an email from a friend of mine at church that asked, “What is the difference in expressing our feelings in a healthy, appropriate way, and just being led by our feelings, reacting to every hurt that comes along?” It’s a great question and one that I think many Christ-followers struggle with. Especially when we read the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s words to “turn the other cheek.” So, here I go double dipping again, answering her email and filling another blog.
What did Jesus say? The whole Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s introduction to the kingdom of the heart versus the kingdom of the law. He has said things like, “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (verse 3) And “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” (verse 9. Hear that Chonda?) He says, “just to look at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery, and just to be angry is to commit murder.” (verses 27 and 22) All of this is to explain His statement “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill its purpose.” (verse 17) And then this hard stuff about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. Jesus is saying, “The Kingdom of God is not a bunch of rules and regulations. It is a matter of the heart, of intentions, of laying aside our own issues for the purpose of showing God to those around us.” “God blesses all of those whose hearts are pure,” He says in verse 8, “For they will see God.”
So, there’s the answer to feelings and following. Keep your heart pure. Put the call of Christ ahead of the need to get your own way. Love God and live sacrificially. Okay, thanks for coming. Have a great day!
Whoa Nellie! Hold your horses! It’s not that easy. What do you do when the bully boys are bearing down on you, when the office jerk is all up in your business, when your husband is crossing the line, being disrespectful, hurtful, on the verge of abusive? How does Jesus expect us to respond in the day to day stuff of life where we get hurt, and rejected, and trampled on?
Let me remind you of another thing Jesus said. In Mark 12 Jesus is asked about the greatest law. (Those religious guys like bringing up the law.) He says, in Mark 12:30, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, with all your strength.” He is quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6. The religious guys look smug. “Yep, done that,” they say. Then Jesus adds verse 31, “The second command is love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There you go with that heart thing again. We need to love other people. Period. That’s the law. Back in Matthew 5, He even says, “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” (verse 44) But notice he says, “Love as you LOVE YOURSELF.” Apparently, Jesus is thinking that loving myself, taking care of me, being healthy in the way I live and respond to those around me, especially those that hurt me, is a pretty good thing. He makes it the measuring stick against which I lay all my other loves. I CANNOT AND WILL NOT LOVE OTHERS UNTIL I FIRST LEARN HOW TO LOVE ME. That single lesson pulled me out of a life of addiction and set me on the road to recovery 15 years ago.
Wow, this is getting long. Let me give you a few thoughts and maybe we will pick it up tomorrow.
- Start with an “I’m important and your important” attitude. Jesus is saying, “Both matter.” It is not stomp my foot and get my own way all the time. Nor is it a ‘be a doormat and never stand up for yourself’ proposition. Listen, what you want and need is important to God and it should be important to you. So, make that known.
- Which leads to the next thought. Make your wants and wishes and feelings known in a clear, concise fashion. Doris and I have been married almost 40 years. This one thing I know about her, I don’t know anything about her. I can’t read her mind, I can’t discern her wishes. She has to express them to me and then I can choose whether to honor them or not.
- Accept the fact that we might feel a little bit guilty saying what we want or feel. We either aren’t used to doing that, or we’ve done it in the wrong way for too long. But don’t be controlled by that guilt. The healthy, I believe holy, way for us to respond to each other is to recognize and communicate our own thoughts and feelings and desires while at the same time respecting the feelings of the other person.
- Finally, communicate with love and kindness. “It really hurt me when you made that comment last night at dinner. I know that wasn’t your intention but I don’t want this to stay between us.” I am saying that I love you enough to have this hard conversation with you because we both matter.
Well, there’s a start. When the bullies are bullying and the jerks are jerking, I don’t have to fall into being controlled by my rage or rejection. But neither do I just need to suck it up and endure whatever they dish out. I turn the other cheek, I go the extra mile, but I do it because I love me and I CHOOSE to respond in that way.
And how does that work out? Well, it’s not a perfect world. Jesus didn’t guarantee that turning the other cheek would be the end of it. But we keep responding in a healthy, holy way and leave the results to Him.
As for me and the bullies in SC, I turned the other cheek, and they knocked me on the other two cheeks if you know what I mean. But Chonda got a good comedy bit out of it, so there you go…
TEN DAYS until Simply Free. I hope you will join us for a few hours of letting God set you free. www.branchescounselingcenter.com