No Matter What
Men Building Bridges #9
“Have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.”
An acquaintance recently shared a quote and comments from St. Augustine & Oswald Chambers. Having recently been reminded of it, I was compelled to write. The relevant portion is Oswald Chambers’ discussion of St. Augustine’s prayer for forgiveness from the ‘lust of vindication’, and reads as follows:
Another thing that distracts us is our passion for vindication. St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Such a need for constant vindication destroys our soul’s faith in God. Don’t say, “I must explain myself,” or, “I must get people to understand.” Our Lord never explained anything—He left the misunderstandings or misconceptions of others to correct themselves. – My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (from ‘travel the road’)
While I thought I might understand the insight offered, I was immediately struck by the inescapable fact that in order to even attempt to vindicate a mistake, one must *first* be able to, and indeed, is compelled, to *admit* to a mistake, before any attempts at vindication can take place. The irony invoked by both the speaker and their actions, in light of their quoting Oswald Chambers and St. Augustine, left a distinctly foul taste in my mouth. The light was flickering, however dimly. If we think we are always right and know everything already, we will never be able to learn anything. We love to nurse our painful, self-righteous grudges against those who’ve wronged us, especially when it has been unfairly, unexpectedly, and publicly done. This was a particularly painful and humbling lesson I brought entirely on myself. I could have avoided this lesson by first, responding in love as opposed to responding in kind. This, then, is my own account of what happens when we fail to respond in love, no matter what.
My first failure with this person was after receiving an unexpected, abusive, angry, accusing, challenging, hateful, extended outburst. I failed miserably, by accepting his challenge. I responded with my own contempt & anger. Unchanged, the other angry, accusing challenger left the room after repeating his taunts. I was ashamed, wondering why this happened. The next day, I approached the man whom unexpectedly had lashed out at me, sincerely apologizing for responding to their anger with my own. I wanted to heal the breach. He seemingly accepted, and I happily hosted his lunch with afternoon drinks, and later that same day, hosted his dinner, both at my expense.
While at this dinner, I and the others in attendance, were stunned, when, during completely innocuous, relaxed, easily flowing conversation, the same man unexpectedly launched on another contemptuous, angry, hateful, accusing outburst. He was shaking with anger and rage. I was grateful to have been too stunned to respond in any form the second time. I completed the meal in silence at the restaurant. As I had offered the meal days prior to any of this, I paid the three-figure check for all in attendance and silently went home.
I despaired, not engaging in conversation with this man again. A few days later, I emailed him to extend an open invitation to resolve whatever had caused this in a peaceful manner, offering a possible solution. I was completely clueless of how it started and why such rage was repeatedly directed at me. The offer was declined, no apology nor acknowledgment would be forthcoming. I had done nothing in either case to warrant such raging outbursts.
Several months passed during which I received the unexpected gift of an apology from someone else entirely. It instantly prompted my respect and forgiveness. It was disarming, humbling, sincere, and honest. As this person spoke, my understanding began to flicker. I was moved with love and compassion for them. It was bittersweet as my own desire for an apology extinguished the flicker and changed into a feeling of entitlement and demand producing my own contempt and resentment.
Still later, I had occasion to contact the man whose outbursts had affected me so deeply. Seeking to clarify a possible miscommunication in an upcoming meeting which he had invited me to, I dialed his number. The conversation turned, quickly once again, ugly, as I thought I should bring up first, the unresolved breach. My query was perceived offensively as an accusation and an affront. This man once again raged, casting even more accusations, some of them painfully accurate. I then, used his blind rage to justify my own observation of his hypocrisy. The flicker of understanding awoke.
The phone conversation was able to continue as I challenged the man to please listen to what I was actually saying, and not focus on what he was feeling. He began to repeat my words, several times, until he calmed down enough to understood what I was asking. He was making an effort to listen. Acknowledging nothing, he assured me he would look into any miscommunication.
He relayed to me that the previous incidents ‘were resolved in his way of thinking’. I asked, ‘How am I supposed to know if it was resolved one way or the other if no one could tell me?’. ‘How can silence, without acknowledgement, and ignoring what happened resolve the continued expressions of rage and accusations?’ I asked.
‘Why couldn’t you *say* anything to me?’ I asked. All I received was a shrug. “How hard is it to say ‘I’m sorry’?” I inquired aloud, “just acknowledge what you did and say ‘I’m sorry’?”
He never did acknowledge nor apologize for his raging, spittle-filled episodes. I wasted no more time on them, nor him.
The meeting later happened without incident. I was unable to sleep at all. I researched Oswald Chamber’s comments & St. Augustine’s prayer. I let go of my need for vindication & contempt. I finally understood. In doing so, I received a quite unexpected gift: release from the prison of my own contempt, replacing it instead with freedom and peace. I realized, I may *never* hear the words ‘I’m sorry’. The words would have satisfied my wounded pride and may or may not have released me from my contempt.
I am responsible for my own actions, thoughts and speech, not others’ actions or lack thereof. It is not my place to neither blame nor demand anything. An apology, acknowledgment, and request for forgiveness, all, are gifts, not tribute to be demanded by my ego. Will he say the words ‘I’m sorry’? No, probably never. Will it bother me? No. Will it bother him? Again, not my concern. It’s his concern to resolve, nor not.
Giving and receiving a most amazing gift: whether an apology, or requesting forgiveness for our own offenses releases both the offender AND the offended. However, it must be freely, and willingly offered. I can never demand it, and we may never receive it from those who have hurt us. There will be plenty of opportunity to give and receive these gifts as we may gather with those who have hurt us in holiday gatherings. We may not ever receive an apology, acknowledgement, nor request for forgiveness. Never expect it. Holding on to resentment, contempt, anger, and vindication only imprisons ourselves and hardens our hearts towards those who have hurt us. Don’t worry about what someone else has done to us, no matter who they are. Worry about ourselves. We are to be loving advocates for each other, even those who hurt us, not contemptuous accusers of each other.
During this holiday time, before offering anything to anyone, if you have hurt someone, giving ‘as good as you’ve gotten’, instead, give them the gifts of release and peace they will never, ever expect: an apology or forgiveness. You may just receive a stronger, deeper relationship and peace for both of you in return. You will definitely have a better relationship with yourself and others. Who sharpens you? Who holds you accountable? As men, hold each other accountable, sharpening each other, however painful. I am daily thankful, for the mentors who hold me accountable, and in turn, allow me to hold them accountable, encouraging each other and building each other up in our daily struggles. As men, respond in love, no matter what.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”
“Make this your common practice: Confess your faults to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.”
“Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
(emphasis mine) “…I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters: If you enter your place of worship/meditation, and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out…”