We all have things that push our buttons and tick us off. Even the gentlest and kindest among us have at least a few complaints about the practices of others we deem foolish or frustrating.
Most of my pet peeves have to do with the stupid or rude driving habits of others:
When entering a freeway, it’s wise to enter at freeway speed, not 30 mph!
For the last hundred years or so, all cars come with blinkers for a reason!
When I signal (using the wonder of a blinker), that is not a racing challenge to drivers behind me. Instead of speeding up to prevent my lane change, why not be courteous and let me in?
The visor mirror was not created so you can drive while putting on your face!
If you want to do the speed limit (or less), please don’t drive in the fast lane!
Riding my bumper in the fast lane does not make me go faster if there is no place for me to go due to the snail driver ahead of me!
When you pull into a drive-through coffee shop (where you have the option of going inside to order), don’t order six blended drinks for all the gals at the office. It’s supposed to be a quick drive-through, not a parking spot!
Okay. I feel better because that’s off my chest, but here’s my BIGGEST pet peeve: When people make their pet peeves more important than people.
Like I said, we all have personal beliefs and practices that create tension in us when ignored or unknown by others. We get frustrated when the other seven billion people on the planet aren’t nearly as smart as we are. Sadly, our anger seems justified when our desires are trampled on by the selfish or the ignorant.
Some of the meanest and most ungodly words to ever come out of my mouth have happened in my car. I yell at people all the time even though the only one who ever hears my temper-tantrums is my poor wife. I stopped honking my horn in anger some time ago after I did so to a parishioner in my church (that was embarrassing), but if Jesus were riding shotgun, He’d be disappointed with my language.
But what if?
How would my attitude be different, and my words kinder, if I valued people more than my pet peeve? What would it be like if I put the needs of others before my own? Perhaps life would be better if I had this attitude:
Oh, you need to order six drinks, and I only need one; that’s okay, please go ahead of me.
Maybe that old guy has suffered from a terrible auto accident and he’s bound by fear; that’s okay, please go as slow as you need.
Perhaps the mom not using her blinker, or not stopping at the red light, is an emotional wreck today because of a horrible relational issue. Lord, give her peace (and protect her!).
By no means am I excusing sin or foolish behavior. Of course, there’s right and wrong. Yes, for the common good, laws should be obeyed. I’m not rationalizing idiocy or encouraging stupidity. But when we violently lash out at others because they’ve crossed a line, we cross into vileness. When we return evil or cursing for evil, we become the ones in error.
What’s your pet peeve? Tattoos? Loud worship music? Pit Bulls? Preachers in jeans? Parents who bring kids to R-rated movies? Beer? Homosexuals? People who throw gum on a sidewalk? Jerks who take up two parking spots? Democrats? Republicans? Bad spelllors?
What ticks you off so much that your reaction to people reveals your love for being right more than your love for being relational? Without question, Jesus had high standards and He was always right, but He loved even the wicked because that’s what love does.
You can have your pet peeve, but please don’t put that above being like Jesus who was kind and loving to messed-up people like you and me.
“Love your enemies, do good to them . . . .
Then your reward will be great,
and you will be children of the Most High,
because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Luke 6:35 (NIV)
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In the midst of some extremely tough losses and difficult decisions several years ago, my uncle looked me in the eye and said, “I believe in you.” The power of those four simple words profoundly encouraged me. I remember thinking, My uncle Don believes in me more than I believe in myself . . . incredible.
Recently, I was with another uncle over the 4th of July holiday. In fact, he’s the only uncle I have left in this world, and that makes him pretty special to me. We celebrated his 81st birthday, and I only hope I’m as strong as he is when I’m in my 80s. Uncle Bruce has always been a hero in my life. Just before he left, he put his arm around me and said, “I’m proud of you.”
King Solomon wrote, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21, NIV). His wise words still ring true even thousands of years later. We can build up or tear down. We can encourage or discourage others through what we say to them and about them.
I was sixteen and my first boss was a big guy named Ron. He managed the grocery store where I spent the majority of my time during high school. Typically, I stalked shelves from 4am to 8am Monday through Thursday, and I’d go in at midnight on Friday to put in an eight-hour shift. How I graduated with a 3.6 GPA is a mystery.
Ron was tough. He came from the old school of managing people, and he believed the best way to motivate was to intimidate. Unfortunately, he was very good at it. I’m not sure if he had any kind words in his vocabulary, but if he did, he never used them on me.
Why bring up a guy I worked for over forty years ago? Because the negative power of his words are still fresh in my memory. In fact, after busting my butt working for him for months, he said one day, “I’m terribly disappointed in you and in your performance.” (I found out later, he said that to everybody, but it still hurt.)
I forgave Ron decades ago. I carry absolutely no animosity toward him. I realize now that if I didn’t suffer from performance-driven insecurity, I probably would not have cared as much as I did. But his words cut into my soul, and those cuts ran deep.
Why is it so easy for us to be negative? Why do we tend to say hurtful things so often? What sick, dark, and broken part of us prompts us to verbally abuse the people in our lives? We know, from firsthand experience, that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words do, in fact, also break us, and yet we say them anyhow.
I fear that in a culture that values sarcasm and devalues self-control we have become masters of cutting people to shreds with our tongue.
To put someone else down is to lift ourselves up (or so we think).
We think it’s funny to leave someone speechless with our witty retort.
We have drifted from healthy debate and constructive criticism to degrading and verbal ugliness.
Again, Solomon wrote, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV). What would it be like if our words consistently brought healing? How would it radically change the nature of our relationships with our kids, parents, friends, neighbors, and co-workers if we were known for “encouraging and building others up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)? How would the people around us respond to “I believe in you” even when they blow it and let us down?
Of course, there’s a place for truth, but it is always to be the truth in love. Didn’t the Apostle Paul write, “If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love . . . always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 4-6, NIV).
Sounds like love believes the best and always speaks with patient kindness.
May I pray for you?
God, help us to not only guard our hearts, but to guard our mouths. Reveal the source of negativity in our minds, and renew our thoughts and the words that flow from them to others. Teach us to speak the language of love. In a world filled with hate and destruction, help us to be beacons of light that heal. In Jesus’ name and for His kingdom’s sake, Amen.
Over the past four weeks, we’ve looked at some relational disorders in others that are difficult to endure. My hope is that you’ve seen how to better relate to the challenging people in your life. We all have them, and we probably always will.
But what if it’s you? What if you’re the one suffering from one or more of these negative relational problems? What do you do if you’re the critic, the control freak, the volcano or the sponge? Is there really any hope for you or are you locked into a personality and way of life that cannot truly change?
Many years ago, a man came to me after a service in our church. He was in his 50s, married, and he had two sons. With tears in his eyes, he told me the highlights (or better put—the lowlights) of his life. He was a recovering alcoholic. He’d been in prison. His sons despised him. His wife was afraid of him. You could say he was the poster-boy for three of the four things we’ve covered in this blog series. He had a terrible temper, was as negative and critical as anyone you’ve ever met, and he was the ultimate control freak.
That day he asked me one question: “Can God change me?” And without hesitation my answer was, “Yes, restoration is His specialty!” That man died about ten years ago, but God did radically change him and his relationships during the last years of his life.
I believe with all my heart that whatever we are does not have to be who we will become. Whatever character issues or problems you have right now can be healed and resolved by the transforming power of God in your life. You can change, and there is hope because nothing is too big for God.
That being said, we do have a responsibility to cooperate with God.
Let’s take a look at our part in the process:
1. Be honest.
It’s imperative that you take off whatever mask you tend to live behind. The first step toward genuine and lasting change begins with honesty. As long as you live in denial or pretending to be something that you’re not, you hinder the transforming power of God in your life.
It’s like tying a knot in a hose; there can be all sorts of “living water” available, but it can’t get beyond the obstruction you’ve created or allowed.
King David understood this better than most when he wrote, “When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.’
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” Psalm 32:3, 5
No one is perfect. So why pretend or hide? Wouldn’t it be better to get real and to take off the mask?
2. Get help.
It is important to admit that you’re broken, but it’s not enough. You could walk around the rest of your life saying, “Man, I’m messed up!” But acknowledgement is only the first step. Once you’ve owned your sin, you need to get the support and encouragement that comes from accountability. You can’t do it on your own.
This is hard for some of us (most of us) to admit. Our culture admires rugged independence. We are stubbornly autonomous, and we believe that strong people are self-sufficient and only weak and needy people require the help of others. What a bunch of hooey! What a lie. We all need help and it’s okay. We desperately need God’s, and we absolutely need the help of others.
The guy I mentioned earlier got into the Word of God. He learned to walk in the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit, and he developed significant relationships with two other brothers who loved him and helped him grow. He told me once that it was like being on a roller coaster, lots of twists and turns, slow at times and occasionally scary, but always moving, changing, and growing.
You are not alone, and you were designed to function best when you are properly related vertically with God, and horizontally with others.
3. Be patient.
I’m not a very patient man. Once I know something or see something, I then want something, and I want it now! However, on a regular basis the Lord reminds me: “You didn’t create this situation or mess overnight, and it might take more than a night to change it and you.”
Just because you now realize what you’ve been doing and how you must change doesn’t mean that change will come quickly or easily. Can God do an instant miracle? Of course, He can. But often with Him the process is as important as the end product.
I want it now; He wants it to last.
I want it my way; He wants to teach me His way.
I want it easy; He wants me to grow.
Patience is far more than a virtue; it’s a way of life that must be cultivated.
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:8 (NIV), “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”
You also must be patient with your friends, family, and those who might have written you off as a lost cause. It’s vital that you give them time and opportunity to see what God hasdone and is doing in you. If they’ve been wounded or abused by you, then healing of your relationship will take time. Endure.
Above all, hold on to hope. God can and will change you and heal your broken relationships. But He needs you to yield to Him, to cooperate with Him, and to trust the work of His love and His power in your life. The God who saves us, transforms us from the inside-out. How cool is that?
Most of us know someone that sucks the life right out of our soul! Like a dry sponge, they absorb everything in their path leaving the people in their wake empty and dry. It’s that person you try to avoid at all cost, and the one who makes you thank God for caller-ID. You know you’re supposed to be loving, accepting, kind, and selfless, but the truth is some people can be so difficult to be around that you’d rather die for them than live with them.
What do you do with the person who is always in need and rarely, if ever, gives anything back? How can we deal with people who are immature, self-centered, guilt-inducing, and smothering?
When Laura and I were first married, we lived in an apartment. The neighbors on one side of us were friends of ours from high school, and they were great. On the other side of us was a young couple; they were nice people, but they were also a real challenge. We’ll call them Harry and Mary.
I enjoyed Harry because he was a kind and simple guy. He had this big infectious laugh and never seemed to have a bad day. Mary, on the other hand, was insecure and needy. She soaked up everything and everyone around her like a dry sponge. She wasn’t mean, vile, or harsh, but she was like a leech that would emotionally grab on to people and drain the bone marrow right out of them. We felt uncomfortable around her and guilty for avoiding her, but we didn’t know what else to do. The day they moved away was a happy day for us (sad, but true).
Do you have someone like this in your life? Probably. So let’s begin with the anatomy of a sponge.
The four mostcommon characteristics of a sponge:
They attach themselves to someone like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. They are smothering and panic when they sense any distance in a relationship. Often, they hover over you in a vain attempt to stay close, and in doing so they ironically and negatively affect the very closeness they desperately desire.
Sponges are often broke, down on their luck, and never seem to be able to get ahead. This is not to say that all poor people are sponges, but lots of sponges are poor and needy. For whatever reason, they tend to live financially belly up most of the time. What’s worse, they are so concerned about their own needs that they rarely look beyond themselves. They are so consumed by their own situation that they find it nearly impossible to think about and care for others.
Sponges are experts at one thing: making you feel guilty if you don’t help them in the way they want you to help them and when they demand it! They take and take, yet seldom give anything in return. But the second you attempt to draw a boundary, they will attempt to make you feel horribly guilty.
Crisis is pretty much what they live for, and it’s what gets them out of bed in the morning. It’s a part of their identity, and they wouldn’t know what to do without an emergency. Why? Because they know that a personal catastrophe can bring out the most help and attention from others, and attention is what they crave. Tragically, they go from one crisis to another, from one disaster or calamity to another, and they live in a perpetual state of emergency and find strange comfort because of it.
Okay, this is who they are, but let’s take a look at what we can do.
Surviving and really helping the sponge:
1. Empathize, don’t just sympathize.
Here’s a little insight that can make a big difference:
Sympathy is to feel sorry for or to feel bad for someone else. The focus of sympathy is sharing the feelings of others, especially feelings of sorrow and anguish.
Empathy is to identify with and to understand another’s situation, feelings, and motives.
The two sound alike, but there are important differences. To empathize means we are going beyond just feeling what they are feeling, and we are understanding why they feel the way they do. We’re not just understanding their situation and feelings, we are understanding their motives.
We tend to feel bad for the sponge because we see their plight and hear their grief, so we’re sympathetic to their needs and try to do something to help. But it is crucial to understand what is driving the sponge. Often, their presenting needs may not be the true or deeper needs.
If all you do is sympathize, you only feel what they’re feeling and are then reacting in some way to try and make them feel better. But if you empathize, you’re objectively analyzing their problems with a view to helping them meet the true need in their lives. Your goal should be to help them be better, not just feel better.
Years ago, my wife had a friendship with a needy woman who thought Laura walked on water (she does, of course, but only for me!). This woman monopolized her time and was very demanding of Laura’s attention. If you know Laura, you know she is sweet and kind, but she knew that something had to be done. God gave her some amazing insight into why this woman was the way she was, and that gave her a way to help this woman to grow and change. The process wasn’t easy, but it was good for all.
2. Confront when necessary.
Often when you see and understand the why, you become aware of a character flaw or sin in the life of a sponge. It’s always necessary to face and deal with your own sin first (to remove the log from your own eye before you attempt to help anyone else), but assuming you’ve done so, there is a place for humble and gentle rebuke.
The Bible has a lot to say about this issue:
“He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.” Proverbs 15:31 (NIV)
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Proverbs 27:5 (NIV)
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” Galatians 6:1 (NIV)
We have a God-given responsibility to “speak the truth in love” for the purpose of mutual edification. There is a place for godly confrontation. Think of it as holding up a mirror to help the sponge see what they are doing and how it is harmful to them and others.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to do this gently and in love. Remember, as a general rule, sponges typically suffer from low self-worth. In their hearts, they tend to believe that they are worthless failures. So try hard to speak into their lives in such a way that builds rather than destroys. Be sure to affirm their value to you and God as you confront and correct.
3. Learn to say no, and don’t feel guilty about it.
It’s okay and good to establish healthy boundaries. It is frustrating and miserable to be in a relationship without any guardrails.
You are not the Savior, but Jesus is. Sometimes we suffer from a Messiah complex and we think we’ve got to fix people. When it’s all said and done, you are responsible for what you do with your time and energy, and to manage those resources in a manner that honors God. You can’t save anyone.
Yes, God calls you to lay down your life for others. And yes, you are to serve sacrificially. But your needs are also important to God, and you cannot give or serve out of a vacuum of emptiness! Even Jesus withdrew from the crowds because He needed time alone to rest and refresh. (Check out Matthew 14.) If the Son of God found it necessary and wise to draw some boundaries and to take care of His own life and soul, then I want to suggest you follow His example.
Do the right thing for the sponge, and it will probably cost you to do so. But that does not mean you ignore your legitimate needs or your family in the process. Love and serve the sponge in your life, but sometimes that means saying no. Just because you can help doesn’t mean you always should.
Next week we’ll look at God’s answer to the question: What if I’m the high-maintenance person? What can I do to change?