For some of you, this first Thanksgiving after the global shutdown will be a time of joy and celebration as you reconnect with family you perhaps haven’t seen in years. Others of you are feeling anxious as you consider the relational tension certain to sour your holiday meal. Arguments over politics, mask-wearing, vaccinations … religion. Maybe even critical and attacking comments that one person inevitably hurls at you, and many times, when you’ve tried to be loving and kind.
That’s often when hurtful statements wound most.
We can understand and even excuse words uttered in a quarrel. After all, everyone says things they don’t mean on occasion, especially when upset. Verbal assaults cut much deeper when they feel unwarranted by the situation, I think in part because we’re more apt to take them as rejection.
When my daughter was in high school, one of her classmates seemed intent on making her miserable. My daughter’s discernment, coupled with the insecurities that plague nearly every high schooler across the globe, caused her to wrestle with conflicting emotions. She’s always had what I believe to be a supernatural ability to see deep into people’s hearts, to see the pain and deception motivating their behavior.
Because of this, she recognized the girl’s ugliness came the darkness and self-loathing within her, but the attacks still stung. One afternoon, after a particularly uncomfortable school day, my daughter came to me in tears. “I don’t understand it. Dani’s* not like this with anyone else. Why does she hate me so much?”
Wrapping her in a hug, I said, “She doesn’t hate you, sweetie.” Then I repeated what a friend told me, years ago when I’d found myself in a similar position. “She’s fighting against Christ in you.”
God spoke similar words to His prophet Samuel. The last of ancient Israel’s judges, he’d faithfully served God from childhood, and he’d led God’s people well. Not perfectly (1 Sam. 8:2-3), mind you, but well. What’s more, he was the one God had assigned to do so. But they weren’t interested in seeking or following God’s will. They wanted to do what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it, and in this situation, what they wanted to be ruled by a king.
Rather than the authority of God.
Although they’d given a much more palatable or respectable reason, the Bible indicates that was the motivation for their words. But Samuel couldn’t see that, most likely because the people’s request seemed so logical, and maybe even warranted. According to Scripture, as Samuel grew old, his appointed his two sons to act as judges over the national of Israel. Unfortunately, these men were either already corrupt or allowed their newfound power to corrupt them, because vese 3 tells us they accepted bribes and perverted justice. Eventually, Israel’s elders banned together and approached Samuel, saying, “You are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have” (NLT).
And Samuel, the one responsible for raising them to fear God had appointed them to their positions. He must have felt a fair amount of papa-guilt. And granted, he should have been more proactive, as far as his sons were confused, either not commissioning them as judges in the first place, if they’d demonstrated poor character prior, or removing them once they turned corrupt. But either either way, his negligence didn’t justify how the people’s behavior. Their failure to seek God or to talk things out with Samuel.
Here’s why this is important. You and I are just as flawed as Samuel was, and as was every leader and judge before and after him. Similarly, if pressed, my daughter could have stated numerous reasons for her classmate’s hurtful behavior. Although she’d tried to respond with grace and love, I’m certain she had moments of exasperation, times when she snapped or rolled her eyes and maybe said things she wished she handed.
You can probably say the same in regard to that one particular family member who’s always so quick to attack you. Do we behave imperfectly? Absolutely. But so does everyone else in the room or with whom the other person has contact with. That doesn’t make us failures; that makes us human.
If we’re striving for perfection, we’ll inevitably live in self-imposed condemnation, perpetually offended and insecure. We’ll in essence own other people’s poor behavior, meaning, accept it as valid. But God calls us to rise above, to live anchored in His grace.
Here’s the truth we must continually remember: If we could live and love perfectly, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die. But we can’t and He did. Because of that, we are wholly accepted and loved and more than sufficient in Him.
That doesn’t mean we excuse our sinful tendencies, but it does mean we pursue intentional growth from a position of grace. When we do that, other people’s actions and reactions won’t wound us quite so deeply.
We won’t place our identity in other people’s opinions or our behavior. We’ll reserve that position for Christ and Christ alone.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.
If today post resonated with you, you may find the below podcast episode helpful.