Have you ever just wanted to say to someone, “Wow! You’re a terrible person!”? Maybe it’s someone you work with who is always being a jerk to the people around them. Or, maybe it’s someone closer, like a family member or friend, who just acts out in selfish and ridiculous ways. Or, maybe it’s just a random stranger who cuts you off in traffic or is rude in an uncalled for and public way. I’m sure we’ve all had those moments when we just wish we could really give someone a piece of our mind and let them know how we really think.
I have learned to have a pretty good filter on my lips and have a much better harness on my tongue than when I was younger. I’ve learned that I don’t like to eat words spoken in anger – they taste pretty bitter. And, I really try to envision the consequences of what I’m going to do or say and decide, beforehand, if I’m prepared to live with them. This has been serving me well in my relationships. I know Nick is really thankful for this filter! More often than not, a fight is avoided because I realize my emotions have skewed the reality of a situation, and I hold my tongue until I can be more reasonable.
My prayer partner in Georgia had a beautiful way of setting me straight when I thought someone was a terrible person. When I would tell her about something that had upset me or a situation with which I was struggling, she would gently point me to Ephesians 6:12. She would remind me that our trouble wasn’t really with that person, but with the brokenness of the world. It was always a good reminder that people aren’t necessarily the sum total of their actions. People have bad days. They get drawn in by drama, gossip or misinformation. And, when people are wounded, they tend to lash out and wound others. Maybe they weren’t really a terrible person after all.
Last night, our small group focused on Ephesians 4:17-32. There were two parts of that passage that caught my attention and have been rattling around in my mind today. First of all, Paul is talking about the actions of people who are darkened in their understanding, ignorant and hard of heart. He calls to the church, who should know better, to behave better than that. Until you are told to behave better, you may be unaware of a problem. Unless someone is taught what is acceptable (boundaries), they may have no idea that they are causing pain. And, secondly, he says:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:25-27
This is something with which I struggle. Too often, I just say that everything is “fine”. Maybe it’s growing up in a Southern culture where the polite thing to do is to sweep everything under the rug, but whatever the case, I have a difficult time confronting people who are mean to me. Even when being harshly judged and unfairly punished, my first instinct is to extend grace and an opportunity for reconciliation. But, I’m learning that continuing to excuse bad behavior without confrontation is not a loving thing to do. People can’t be better until they know better.
It’s ok to be angry. It’s a very human emotion and even Jesus experienced it. I think the more important question is what we do with that anger. Telling someone they are a terrible person, no matter how much we may want to believe that, is probably not the best course of action. Direct and honest conversation, without much delay, should do the trick. And, if they can’t respect the boundaries after being made aware of them, it may be time to move on from that relationship.
So,I’m working to remember this: People are not the sum total of their words and actions. Something they do or say may be terrible, but that does not mean that they are a terrible person. That’s not to say the world is devoid of evil, because that’s just not true. There are truly evil, terrible, selfish, damaged people in the world. But, the chances are, they just need to be taught there’s a better way. At least, that’s the hope I’m going to hold onto the next time I’m holding those words on my tongue. I’m a work in progress and it’s an interesting journey.