Saturday, February 20, 2016

The burden of rocks.

In the community group I attend, through my church, we recently spoke about the story of Jesus, and the adulterous woman in John chapter eight. If you know the story bear with me, if not, it's a great view of Jesus' love and non-judgement.
 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Now before you think this was some type of schoolyard bully's rock fight, realize the scribes and Pharisee (scholars of the religious law) were wanting this woman killed by smashing her in the head with rocks. Stoning was a brutal way to punish someone for breaking the law in that time.

In the story, I always wonder what Jesus was writing with his finger on the ground. I like to think it was the names of the people up front ready to hurl the biggest rocks. Maybe it was a list of sins Jesus knew these people had committed. Anyway, Jesus had the perfect opportunity to judge and condemn her, (it seems she was truly guilty) but he didn't. He used her situation to point out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and those who were so quick to judge and demand 'justice'.

Justice is a tricky thing.

We want justice when we have been wronged. We want justice, we demand justice, and maybe even something more, something closer to revenge. Not just an eye for eye, but wanting two times, or ten times as much punishment for the offender. When we are on the receiving end of pain, be it physical, financial, or emotional; we want justice. We demand it. We want to start picking up some rocks.

What about when we are on the other side of that equation? What about when we are the ones who caused pain for others?

Oh, I didn't mean to do it, it was an accident. Oh, I'm sorry for what I did, I was just having a really rough day. Yeah I was pretty mean, but they deserved it.

When we hurt someone or do something wrong, or sneaky, or manipulative, or just plain mean, we start losing interest in justice. No, when we are the ones on the defendant's stand, we're not terribly interested in justice; we want mercy.

Later, when you think back on your actions, you should start to feel bad. That's your conscience working in you. It might also be the Holy Spirit convicting you of your bad behavior. However this manifests itself in you, your reaction may be to rationalize the situation. You start making excuses for your actions, your temper, your outburst. Believe me; I am great at this. I can justify my terrible behavior with a laundry lists of excuses.

I am never truly at fault, because no matter what I did, there must have been a good reason. Even when I have no excuse, I can always fall back on, "Well, I'm basically a good person and I just had a bad day, I lost my temper, I won't do that again." It's one of my favorite excuses, I use it all the time.

The problem is, it's a lie. If I don't change my heart, I will do it again.

So, to sum it up; When we wrong someone, we want understanding and mercy. When we are wronged, we want justice and punishment. That is a double standard for sure. It is also the text book example of hypocrisy.

So what are we supposed to do when we are wronged? Here is what Jesus said;
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunich let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 
Now that is hard to do. It's almost impossible for me. As much as I like to think I am hard to offend, I do get upset at times. To be honest, I usually handle being wronged in one of three ways; I can act against it right then and there, I can ignore it, or I can forgive.

It's hard to list all the situations where you might have a confrontation. They are all different. Someone calling you lazy tub of crap is different than a person smashing you in the face with a chair. I'm probably just going to ignore you if you call me a name. Those kinds of things really don't bother me. I will try my best to ignore it if you hurl that same insult at my wife or kids. However, I'm probably going to confront you and ask you to apologize. What I let slide personally is somehow much more of a problem when it comes to my family. I'm trying to work on that.

All that being said, I am going to stop you from smashing me the face with the chair. I know I'm supposed to turn the other cheek, but if I can't get away from the situation, I'm going to stop you from injuring me or someone else. If you get hurt in the process, I am going to be okay with that.

Sorry. It's just one of the many, many failings I have a Christian.

Thankfully, most confrontational situations we encounter are not the life threatening kind. However, we live in an imperfect world, filled with imperfect people who can be an absolute pain in that ass. (language is another failing if you haven't caught on) If we choose to be offended and hurt, the world will oblige us with an avalanche of anger and pain.

Back to the ways we choose to handle these situations. One of the things we do when we're hurt, is we look around for a rock.

We search around and evaluate each rock to find the perfect one. Just the right size for the amount of hurt you feet inside, maybe even the next size bigger. Once you find that rock, you write their name on it, the time, date and situation that caused your pain, and put it in your pocket. You will wait for the perfect time to unleash this rock at them. You're a strong person, with a lot of hurt. You can carry around plenty of rocks for a very, very long time. You're just waiting for a chance to do the maximum amount of damage. Like the saying goes; Hurt people, hurt people.

That jackass at work? Oh I have four or five big rocks with all the times he screwed me over. My spouse? Oh yeah, I have a dozen or big ones and a few handfuls of smaller hurts to give back. My neighbor who always parks in my spot? Oh yeah, I've got one for him. The guy who cut me off on the freeway? I've got two for him. My family? I may need a truck to haul around all the rocks I have stored up for them. You get the point.

The problem is we pay a huge toll for carrying all those rocks around with us. We are worn down by the burden of all that pain, all that anger. It makes us miserable. There is little room for joy in our life. There is little room for Jesus in our life.

That burden, that weight, it destroys marriages. It destroys families and friendships, and it can turn you into the person no one wants to be around. The person where everything is about them, and what crappy thing happened to them today, and what terrible offense is waiting around the corner. After a few years, or decades, they get used to carrying all those rocks and start to wear them as a badge of honor. They are on the constant lookout for new rocks, new offenses to add to the collection. It's a very difficult way to go through life. 

Here's the thing, we're almost always given the opportunity to put our rocks down. The problem is, we don't. Most of those opportunities come when we sit down and communicate with the person who hurt us. Not the everyday chit chat of our daily routines, but a real dialogue where you have permission to drop some rocks.

Now, fair warning, if you have a lot of rocks, and some especially big ones, there are going to be some smashed toes when these hit the floor on both sides. I like to call these Difficult Conversations. I don't have nearly enough of them with the people in my life and I really need to work on that.

How do you have a Difficult Conversation? You start by asking permission. Both of you need to know that things might get heated, feelings will probably be hurt, but no one is going to die. Get this straight up front. You need to tell your fight-or-flight mechanism to calm down and just relax for a while. Everything is going to be okay, we are just talking.

We are trying to find some clarity. Clarity is a wonderful thing. It's not, I'm right and you're wrong. It is to know a situation clearly, with no misunderstandings, no hidden motivations, or unspoken expectations. At the end of the day, we don't have to agree on everything, as long as we have a clear understanding of the situation and the other person's point of view.

The temptation when having a difficult conversations will be to start dropping those rocks a little closer to that person's feet. You want them to experience at least a little bit of the pain you've been holding on to. However, if you get too wound up, you will find yourself firing those rocks at point blank range.

Like I said, you have to go into this with the understanding that you care you for the other person and you want to make your relationship better. Remember, they will be carrying plenty of rocks too. It's not easy, but it gets easier the more you practice.

Here is the best way (hint: it's Jesus' way) to handle conflict and dealing with pain and anger caused by someone; Forgive them.

If you can, if you have the strength, you can simply lay those rocks down at your feet. You can forgive them for the hurt they did to you. Intentionally or otherwise.

The feeling of setting that burden down is incredible. I have felt it myself. That knot in the pit of my stomach was untied. That gloomy state of mind that I had seen my world through was lifted. It is a freeing sensation that makes you feel lighter, for lack of a better word. It is a game changer, it is a life changer.

The goal is to become very hard person to upset. The goal is to not pick up any new rocks.

Once you get in the habit of forgiveness, you will find yourself searching your life for rocks you may have hidden. You will recognize the minute you pick one up. You will find yourself thinking, "Oh, I picked up this rock for that guy back at the mall didn't I? No biggie, he was probably having a bad day dealing with all those people, I forgive him."


That is the sound of you dropping a rock. It's a wonderful sound.

No comments: