Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Rude Awakening

It happened over 15 years ago. I was spending time at a church camp where a friend of mine was also staying. One afternoon, she came to me in tears. She had overheard several of the ladies talking about her. It was not good. She was devastated, angry and hurt. My heart broke for her. We sat on a bench together as she shared her pain and I did my best to comfort her. As she shared the things that she had overheard, I began to feel a discomfort within me, like heartburn, only in my spirit instead of my esophagus. It grew as I heard the words and labels used to describe her. It developed into full-blown, bilious misery as I recognized the hurtful words were ones that I had in the past used to describe my friend in conversation with others. I felt sick.

My friend, let's call her *Melanie, had lived a difficult life, and like many people who live difficult lives, she had ways of coping with her struggles that sometimes caused other people to struggle as well. I often found myself overwhelmed by her needs, and when I allowed resentment to build up I began to grumble and complain about her to others. I know now that there were other ways of dealing with the issues I faced with Melanie, but when we allow ourselves to indulge in the more miserable, hurtful ways of coping with other people we deny ourselves the possibility of learning new, more effective and loving ways. I was allowing myself to grumble, to gossip and tear down someone who would have been utterly devastated if she knew what I was saying about her.

That much was obvious, as I sat beside her trying to console her. I was overwhelmed with a sense of shame. The ladies who's gossiping she had overheard were not close friends, but she respected them and wanted them to like her. I knew that if she had ever heard me involved in a conversation like that, it would have been disastrous. As I listened to her, I was in an inner dialogue with God. He was dealing with me in His severe, Fatherly way. He reminded me that the fact that Melanie didn't hear me talking about her like that was a protection for her, not for me. I'm pretty sure if she had been stronger and it would have led to something positive for her, God would have exposed me like a bug under a rock. And I deserved it. I was ashamed, and knew that I needed to change the way I looked at people and handled the frustration and even irritation when they arose. I had, and still sometimes am broken, and I know the care and patience that I hope for from those around me. I needed to be ready to offer the same to others.

Were it not for the forgiving love and power of God, I would probably still be wearing the scarlet "H" on my forehead. "H" for hypocrite. For pretending to be what I am not, pretending to think things I don't, pretending to be more patient and loving and self-controlled than I am. I think gossiping and tearing people down behind their backs is one of the clearest examples of hypocrisy, and one that very few of us escape. It's clear, because of the whole, "behind their back" thing. And saying nasty, rude, ugly things to people's faces doesn't clear us from the charge of hypocrisy unless we will also admit to being nasty, rude, ugly people. One definition of hypocrisy is this, insincerity by virtue of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have. Often people will be insulting and rude, and claim that they are just telling the truth. We can tell if these people are truly dedicated to the cause of truth by how well they handle the truth about themselves.

One of the main things that I learned from this incident with Melanie, aside from the horrid consequences of gossip and grumbling (don't believe for one moment that gossip is a victimless crime), is that I needed to be careful throwing words like "hypocrite" around. One of the ways that God instills kindness and mercy into us is by showing us who we really are, behind all the designer clothes, make up, trophies, bank accounts and titles. I couldn't even be angry at the ladies who had been gossiping about Melanie. I was below them, because I loved her! The thing with God is that while looking at ourselves as we truly are is a painful endeavor, it is also just a stepping stone. There is forgiveness available, instantly. There is the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us (ah, the mystery of it all!) to bring about growth in the beautiful fruits of His Spirit ~ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.(Galatians 5:22 - 23) There is freedom from the pull of doing these awful things, that begins when we are willing to admit that they are, indeed, awful and not just when they are being done to us, but also when they are being done by us. There is wisdom to show us other healthy, loving ways of dealing with things when we have given up our own messy, wrong ways.

So now, I use the word, hypocrite, lightly. I do my best to be real and honest. I make mistakes, and avail myself of God's grace and the forgiveness of the people around me often. I try really hard not to label entire people groups or religions as hypocritical because I believe that when we do that we are not being authentic ourselves. Besides, labels shut the door on truth. On second chances. On God's ability to change hearts and lives. On our prayers for others. On the possibility, however vague (ha ha) that we might not be in the position to know all the facts, all the details, all the truth involved. We certainly can't claim to know all the people in a certain group well enough to be able to claim, with any integrity, that they are all anything. I am more careful with my words, because I believe that my tongue is akin to a loaded gun. I seek to find my significance in God alone, in His view of me, in His love for me so that the opinions of others, while they may sadden me, are less likely to trigger a knee jerk anger reaction. It's either that, or cut my tongue out. I try because I care. I try because I am weak. And I try because going through the rubble of a life scarred by harsh words was a lesson I will never forget. I have since gone through the sting of what Melanie experienced. Going through it as a victim of it, though, wasn't nearly as poignant or powerful as being the guilty party. It is scary to look at ourselves with honesty and clarity at times. But what Melanie taught me is that it is scarier not to.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent*

No comments:

My Zimbio