“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.'”
James 4:6 NIV
It’s a good thing I am not God. If it were up to me to judge the world we would all be spending eternity in the fiery south if you know what I mean. I’ve been called “judgemental” a few times in my life and while I have taken offense to hearing this, I’m realizing that label is a correct one. Thankfully, with the awareness and confession, it’s not a label that I will keep.
I have sinned against many people in my life. Sometimes it’s been accidental. Often times, out of spite, it’s been completely intentional. Yet somehow, God has extended more grace than I ever deserve. I’ve sinned against God more times than I can count, often times even praying belligerent prayers. Yet God still takes care of me, provides for me and guides me, no matter what I mistake I make. I, on the other hand, have completely cut certain people out of my life all while striving to live “Christ like.” Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?
Recently I had a disagreement with someone I considered to be one of my best friends. Things said to me cut deep. I spent the day alone crying and stewing over what was said. It also emotionally threw me back to a time when I endure a lot of verbal abuse. A time I don’t like remembering or going back to. In this recent disagreement I set a boundary asking to not be spoken to in such a manner. However, the next message I received was an ongoing response of cuss words and accusations. Rather than continue to argue I chose not to respond at all. A mature choice, right? I also chose to block this person from communicating with me ever again. I had resonated in my heart that I was done with this person and the friendship.
Since that time, my path has crossed this person’s path a handful of times. Each time I have done an excellent job at completely ignoring their existence. To be honest, I have actually been proud of this behavior. Why? Because in my past I was the doormat type who would allow people to be verbally aggressive to me and actually believe their angry words were my fault. I spent too many years allowing others’ opinions to define my character. The past four years I have flipped this unhealthy behavior but gone to the opposite extreme. I’ve confused boundary setting with total disconnection. This too, is an unhealthy way to handle conflict and definitely does not build or maintain relationships.
Last Sunday, at the new to me church I’ve recently joined, the minister gave a calling to pray for others to know Christ’s love and shepherding. He asked us to think of one person we could commit to praying for daily. Guess who’s name immediately popped into my head. I knew it was from God but I mentally argued and literally asked God to send me a new name. He of course, is far more stubborn than I could ever be and I resonated with the fact that He was still calling me to pray for this friend. I reluctantly agreed. However when Monday morning hit, my heart was almost too hardened to pray. In fact, I expressed great impatience with God’s timing as I have prayed for this person for several years. I did soften and pray. I stuck to my commitment and have prayed for this person every day, with a stubborn, stony heart. I also ignored this person again when our paths crossed just a few days ago.
Yesterday I felt a stirring in my spirit that I was not walking in love or acting Christ like. I finally broke down and confessed this to two friends asking for help in processing the right way to handle this situation. Here’s what I’ve learned.
As painful as this disagreement and separation of friendship has been I have learned that I am full of pride. My choice to block this person, to completely ignore them when I have run into them, even some of the prayers I have prayed for them have all been done from a heart filled with pride and pain. You know how God handled me during my own sinful time this month? With more grace and blessing than I could ever deserve. I’ve been a jerk and God has continued to lavish His love and provision over me and my family. If the real Judge of the world chooses to love me in spite of my bratty behavior, why do I struggle with choosing to love others in spite of theirs? If Jesus chooses to pursue me even when I am acting my worst, why do I just give up on someone when he or she shows me their worst behavior?
The truth is, in my own human strength there are people I do NOT want to love. They are toxic, untruthful, vengeful, and abusive. Who wants to love any of those qualities, right? Surely God doesn’t love those qualities. But God DOES love the person/people who display these behaviors. God also calls us to love everyone, in spite of their behaviors.
There’s another person I don’t always choose to love. She’s impatient, undisciplined, unkind and at times, hateful at others. She cusses and thinks really mean thoughts when she’s mad. Her temper has embarrassed her more times than she can count. She doesn’t always keep her word. She can hold a grudge for a decade or longer. Her list of faults is endless really. But God-He loves this woman more than she could ever comprehend. Which means, I need to love her too. That woman, is me. I even judge myself. I went from refusing to let others judge me to judging myself. I can be really harsh on me too!
Pride and punishment do not come from God. Yes, the Old Testament is full of stories of God wiping out entire nations with leprosy, plagues, famines and wars. Yes, the New Testament tells us we will all face judgement day. However, the New Testament also reminds us of what Jesus did on the cross. Scripture depicts exactly how Jesus handled toxic behaviors and personal attacks. He took it and He prayed for his offenders. He did not walk in pride nor did He seek out punishment for His accusers. In fact, Luke 23:34 tells us that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, nearing death, He prayed for those who were screaming “CRUCIFY HIM”, for those who spat on Him and beat Him. He prayed “Father for give them for they know not what they do” as people were casting lots for His clothing. God calls us to do the same thing, to pray and forgive those who have offended us.
The advice my two friends I spoke with yesterday and today, gave me included this: Instead of blocking someone, pray and ask God to give you eyes to see them the way He sees them and a heart to love them the way Jesus loves you and me. They both also talked about forgiving this friend and asking myself how would Jesus handle this situation. If you’re going through something similar, I want to encourage you to study what God’s word says about pride, recognize what is and isn’t Christ like and ask the Lord to remove your heart of stone, replacing it with a heart of flesh. Most importantly, confess your own sins, be reminded of God’s grace and forgiveness extended to you and always choose to walk in love. One last thing, just this morning I confessed to the Lord there are people in my life that I want to hate (the friend described in this post is not one of them) especially if hating meant they would change their toxic behavior. God answered me with this: Hate is not what changes the world. Love and intentionally choosing to love those who are hardest to love is what brings about the change I desire, within them and within me.
Don’t choose pride. Never choose punishment. If you do, like I have, expect your prayers to be futile. Instead, choose love and choose forgiveness. Then watch how effective your prayers will be!