Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Not To Give Up On Impossible People

Photo by fireyes

"I give up!  I can't do ANYTHING with him!"

"Years and years and years of this, and nothing ever changes!  He NEVER listens, NEVER learns, and NEVER will!"

"How am I supposed to fix this?"

Co-workers, spouses, neighbors, church members, classmates... impossible people are everywhere.  But in some cases, much more than others, we feel the burden almost unbearably.


Because these "impossible people" happen to be our God-given responsibility, that's why.  We've been entrusted with them, and we've been commanded to "raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4).

And, to make matters even more complicated, we LOVE the darn critters.

I don't know if you know this about me or not, but I have an angry mouth.  I'm a verbal person, so my mouth is one of the first places where my sin nature broadcasts itself in all its ugliness.  No, I don't use curse words, but I can manage to spoil even the presentation of biblical truth by the anger that I corrupt it with.

And, at some level, I still firmly believe that the right angry words could change "that person" if only I could find the right words and say them angrily enough.  I know it's not true (see Jas 1:20), but I still believe it in my gut, in the part of me that I react from when I'm in knee-jerk mode.

(There's plenty of jerk in my knee jerk, believe me.)

The other thing you might not know about me is that I'm a born quitter.  Actually, I prefer avoidance, but when I find myself in a situation I can't handle or control, and my anger doesn't make it work, I have one strategy I can be counted on to adopt.

I quit.

I give up.

I withdraw.

So, basically, here's how I see my options in life (when I'm walking "in the flesh")

Painful situation

  • Can I avoid it?
    • Yes?  Then go knit something, play something, or watch something.
    • No?  Then get control of it.
  • Can I control it while being calm, cool, and collected?
    • Yes, people are cooperating, so stick with it.
    • No, people are not cooperating, so get angry and ugly.
  • Are anger and ugliness working?
    • Yes (if you consider sullen obedience "working.").  Congratulate yourself on having "won."  (Best to ignore the emotional and spiritual harm you've just done.)
    • No?  Then get even angrier and uglier.
  • Are the increased anger and ugliness working?
    • Yes?   Congratulate yourself on having "won."  (Best to ignore the emotional and spiritual harm you've just done.)
    • No?  Then quit.  Be sure they know you've given up on them, and go find something you enjoy doing.

Yep, that's me in a nutshell (which is doubtless where I belong).

Do you see how hopeless that model is?  Do you see how it offers absolutely no way to "win" that doesn't involve setting up your children...the offspring of your body and your heart... as "the enemy," and then crushing the opposition?

Do you see that such a "win" is really a dreadful loss for everyone, and especially for our Heavenly Father whose reputation we've just sullied?

But what else can we do with situations we can't control?

And it's here that Jesus meets us with words that make no sense to our fleshly selves.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (Matt 5:5)

What does it mean to be meek?

I'm sure I can't comprehend the full depth of it, but here's how I currently understand it.  To be "meek" is to be eager to operate from a place of total inadequacy and dependence on the Lord.  A meek person is not obsessively driven toward mastery of life in her own strength, and is not envious of those who seem to have it.  A meek person does not seek to take by force what can only be inherited from the Father.  A meek person does not seek to control people, to control situations, or to control God.  A meek person seeks to control only her/himself, placing self in humble submission to the Father.

A meek person is fine with not being in control of others or of situations!  Do you hear what I'm saying?

But at the same time, a meek person doesn't stop loving or caring.  Meekness isn't anywhere close to my "withdrawal, giving up" strategy.

Meekness values godly influence over others more than control of others.  A meek person knows, to the depths of her heart, that when SHE has snatched control of a situation, she has probably lost her godly influence, and she would have been better off if things had worked in reverse.  Everyone else would have been better off, too.

A meek person isn't caught in the hopeless flow-chart I pictured above.  She has other options.  Options based on faith, hope, and love.

As I'm writing this last paragraph, I have just received another "bad news" phone call.

I hurt.  I really, really hurt.  I can't control this, and I mustn't throw in the towel.

I can't control this, but God is in control.  In fact, God insists on occupying His throne alone.  He never commanded me to sit there.  What He has commanded me to do is this:  To do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with Him.  He has commanded me to speak the truth in love, and to hallow His name in all that I do.  He has commanded me to be an imitator of Him, and to walk in love as Christ loved me and gave Himself up for me.

If I focus on controlling MYSELF, and keeping myself in humble submission to Christ, then I will have had a godly influence even though I have no control of others.  And someday, that influence can be used by the Holy Spirit to reach someone for Christ, where my "control" would only have pushed that person further away.

Love is patient.
Love bears up under it all, believes in all that God can do in and through self and others, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends...

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