…So Far As It Depends on Me…

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

The bold sentence is the one I have been thinking about today, although I wanted to show it to you in context because it bugs me when people take a random sentence from the Bible out of context just to prove whatever point they are trying to make.

I have been confused about how much my ability to proceed peacefully through life and community depends on me. What I am learning is that there is no one clear cut percentage that I can apply to all situations. There are so incredibly many factors that affect how I will respond to others that I am left to think that if I am going to actually live the life of Jesus in the world, I may need some help to do it. As I researched context (because, as I said, that’s important to me), I realized that there is some helpful instruction for me in the surrounding paragraph. Things that have really wide application, whether I am chatting with my highly political friends, trying to stay calm when faced with whining for what seems the hundredth time in a single afternoon, trying to figure out if some friend or another is upset and what I should do about it if they are, or even just  trying to calm the teething baby.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.“- I do not presume to claim persecution. I am not one of those who thinks there is a War on Christmas, and I don’t think that just because my religion isn’t widely preached in public schools I am not welcome to have faith. However….if we are supposed to bless those who persecute us, then what excuse do I have for getting upset with some person outside whose car alarm woke my sleeping baby? Is it really communicating who God is to allow personal insult to be felt where it is not meant?

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.“- Well, this isn’t always meant literally. It does not help my children when they are weeping if I weep too. I know. I’ve tried. Mostly at 2 in the morning. But the spirit of this statement is, I think, that we should enter into each other’s emotional space. As E. goes through her day, she experiences many highs and lows. While I don’t have any wish to ride the roller coaster with her (my weight would throw the whole thing off the tracks in a terrible crash anyway), I need to respect where she is if I am going to help her. And now, as S. grows, he is on his own little emotional trajectory. God help me. I must get used to participating in their emotional lives now, or I will have no hope of it later.

“Do not be wise in your own estimation.“- Well, I don’t have anything to say about that one, for obvious reasons. It speaks for itself.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.“- It’s not that hard to see that we shouldn’t haul off and hit our kids if they haul off and hit us. Even the most staunch spanking supporters I know would say that it shouldn’t be done in a vengeful way. The place where it begins to get trickier is around things like rudeness. It is hard not to be rude back, but it really does make it so much worse for E. if we get into a rude loop where she just says, “Mommy I want {whatever it is}!!!” and I just say “NO! I DON’T LIKE HOW YOU SAID THAT! AGAIN!” She is learning this, too, with her younger brother. If you push him, I say, he is going to think that is how people deal with people sitting on a chair next to them. If you take things out of his hand because you want them, he will learn that is how you get what you want. Is this what you want to teach someone you will be housemates with for the foreseeable future?

Respect what is right in the sight of all men.“- This doesn’t mean everyone else gets to be in charge of what I do. It means that other people have the ability to see things and will likely see things I don’t sometimes. That is worth remembering, and considering when someone suggests that I, for example, stop examining Facebook comment threads and read a story instead. “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Even when they are four year old girls.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.“- Growing up I claimed complete immunity from this directive. I didn’t mean offense so if other people were offended, that wasn’t my fault. Now, I am less sure what implications this has on a case-by-case basis. The part that confuses me is what depends on me and what doesn’t.

Some things that don’t depend on me:

My baby crying or not crying.

My daughter’s decision to whine or not.

Other people feeling victimized by me.

Other people feeling overwhelmed by me or my children.

Other people feeling judged by me.

Hmm….for expediency’s sake let’s just say other people’s feelings.

Some things that do depend on me:

Knowing the people I am speaking to, and doing my best to speak in a way I think they will understand.

Remembering when I learn something about where people are coming from, and remembering what in their life might lead them to draw true or false conclusions from my words.

Not passing judgment on other people’s parenting, food choices, lifestyle choices, or whatever.

Not defining someone’s entire personality by one emotion that I witness, whether it was lovely or extremely awkward.

Speaking from a place of love, and a desire for the best interest of my “neighbor” whether that person is an irate fellow driver or a sad child.

If I am overwrought or tired or for whatever other reason don’t work at the things that really are mine alone (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentless, self-control, etc.), then my positive effect on the world is diminished. If I am too busy concerning myself with things that aren’t mine to accomplish, then I really can’t focus on what I need to focus on in order to bring out the best in myself and those around me. The tricky and important first discernment to make as I come to each obstacle is to figure out what work goes into which space, so I can actually move forward.

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