Slightly Obsessed #082: When the Problem Isn’t the Problem

 

Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead.

– Chinese Proverb

 

You know it’s happened to you.

That one guy in your office or your class constantly needles you. He cajoles you into taking on more of the work he’s supposed to be doing. Or the new female co-worker repeats gossip about you to people you respect and admire under the guise of asking for prayer. They both offer copious and unsolicited advice on every decision you make.

Day after day, their irritations buzz around you like persistent flies. You swallow down the anger fermenting in your gut, smile, and tell yourself you are doing the Christian thing to bite back the urge to speak up. You seethe in silence.

Then you have a bad day. An innocent remark or minor disturbance finally pushes you over the edge. You lash out. From the shocked faces of the people caught in the crossfire, you realize you may have over-reacted a bit.

Sometimes, it’s worse. Sometimes you have smashed a hatchet into the forehead of a friend.

What should we do when an iceberg of disaster lurks under the surface of our relationships?

Most of us grew up being taught to “turn the other cheek.” It’s true God commands us to respond with grace in the face of an attack. But Jesus never walked away from speaking the truth, in love, to those with whom He came in contact every day. It’s healthy and more respectful of others to face an issue before it has grown into a full-blown disaster.

I, too, am learning from painful experience how to dodge the icebergs of disaster on the tumultuous sea of relationships. Here are a few tips I’m learning in my own journey:

  • Draw reasonable boundaries around your personal and professional life and refuse to let others cross them. If you gently pull someone back at their first step into forbidden territory, it’s so much kinder and easier on both of you.
  • Give to others the respect and honesty you want from them. If you have shared gossip about others, it smacks of hypocrisy to be shocked when they share gossip about you, too.
  • Pray for them. “Pray for those who despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:28) Resist the urge to turn a prayer session for them into a mental replay of all their sins against you.
  • Live in grace. The word grace means “undeserved favor.” Favor is a gift bestowed on the undeserving. It helps to remember we, too, are undeserving. We live in a fallen world. People will fail us, just like we fail them and God.
  • Focus on the good traits in those around you. Let them know you appreciate these traits. You might be surprised how much that changes their attitudes toward you.
  • Respond, don’t react. When a problem looms on the horizon, don’t ignore it. It’s so much easier to address an issue before you invest so much emotional energy in it you can’t be impartial or fair in your response.

While we live on this earth, our relationships with others will be an ongoing learning process. But with the Spirit of God living inside us and leading us, we can be the extension of His grace instead of condemnation to those with whom we share this moment in time.

 

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

– Colossians 4:6 (ESV)

 

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