I stood at the bottom of the slide watching. The older girl didn’t want to give a “ticket” to my son who was pretending to be the gatekeeper, so she just shoved him hard and climbed over the top of him. My eyes grew wide as I watched the unceremonious scene.
“Mommy, she called me an idiot” he whimpered.
“Okay, son. I’m sorry. You are not an idiot. Next time she comes by just speak to her and use your words. Tell her that you would like her to speak kind words to you and not call you names.” He nodded, sadly.
Up she came to the top of the slide. The man with the heavy Australian accent lumbered over. My son calmly began to say what I had encouraged him to say but then the air was split by a loud boom.
“Hey, you get out of her way!” he screamed. I was stunned.
“Sir, my son is just doing what I asked. He’s simply talking to your daughter to ask her to use kind….”
“I don’t care! She wants to go down the slide!” He interrupted.
My son stood there, as surprised as I was. I motioned for him to move aside.
“Your son just called my daughter an f-ing %&*#@!” he bellowed.
“Listen, Mister. My kids don’t even know those words.” I tried to remain calm as my blood began to boil.
Miraculously, he closed his mouth immediately. I think he knew when his bluff was up. I simply wondered where my husband and protector had disappeared to on the other side of the park. Thankfully, the tourist gathered his unruly tribe and decided it was time to move along the beach away from the park. He was a grown up bully and I wanted nothing to do with him.
"No wonder his daughter is like that" I angrily thought to myself.
Another mom nearby looked at me and shook her head in disbelief. We both tried to shake it off and my kids went on to enjoy the rest of our time at the beachside park, but I was disheartened.
This “encounter” came on the heels of a week where God had been pounding Romans 12 into my head. But apparently, I have not quite gotten the message:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (MSG)
I admit, I didn’t feel one bit of a desire to bless this man as he cursed us. There was no time to think-he wouldn’t even let me finish my sentence, for crying out loud. And the very urgency of it is what revealed my heart.
I still have a long way to go. I still have dirty nooks and crannies in my heart and logs in my eyes. I didn’t even come close to offering to buy him lunch.
It just seems crazy, doesn’t it? Like being taken advantage of? This idea that if we bless those who curse us that we are being a doormat?
And then I see Him. Trudging along the dusty road with His cross on His back, stumbling under the weight of it. Blood dripping down from the crown of thorns and pooling along the pathway as the angry mob followed. Doormat indeed. Jesus was the ultimate.
Here’s the thing, sisters and brothers. When we willingly lay down our need for revenge, to fight back, or to justify ourselves, we are never being a doormat. We are exuding an unparalleled strength and other-worldly control. We are being Jesus to the lost, the weak, and the needy. Counter-culture. Christ-like.
The man left before the scene could escalate, but I tell you what. I would not have backed down. I would not have stood there and taken it. I know that about me. I understood why Peter reached out to slice off the ear of the soldier.
It comes out in other situations too-when drivers in Los Angeles blast their horns and flip me off for going the speed limit.
When that person in my family tells me that the work I am doing as a writer is stupid and a waste of time.
When that friend decides to have nothing to do with me because I hold a different belief than she does.
When that kid at school continues to badger my son.
I long for the day that my immediate reaction is one of unconditional love and grace towards others. My desire is that when my kids are having a banner day of disobedience and I start to feel like it will never change, that what comes out of my mouth is forgiveness and what floods my heart is hope.
I’m not advocating that we place ourselves in harms way and I know there is a time and place for healthy boundaries with others. But the every day scenarios of living life with broken people in a fallen world are opportunities for me to love and let go of my need for vindication.
Maybe you need that too.
Perhaps your spouse left a jagged hole in your heart and though you are committed to staying with them, you keep punishing them. Maybe you have hardened your heart towards a friend and you won’t even pray for them. Perhaps you wake up each day expecting the worst, instead of living out your best through the Holy Spirit.
I wish I could rewind to yesterday and breathe deeply, exhaling a gentler word to that man at the park. I regret that I didn’t follow up with him and offer a different approach-one without justification. I’m thankful for the reminder that God’s not done with me yet. I’ll have new opportunities this week to bless and not curse, and I’ll be grateful for your prayers for me.
And I’ll ask you the same question I’m asking myself “Are you willing to get the best of evil by doing good?”
It starts with honest prayer to God and leads to freedom. I’m itching for that kind of freedom where I don’t internalize the evil around me but quench it with the Fruit of the Spirit. Sometimes we need to “hold on for dear life to good” don’t we?
Here’s to living out our true identity this week and loving “from the center of who you are” as a passionate Christ-follower. Joy always follows obedience and victory is ours for the taking as it flows out of our hearts, one blessing in exchange for a curse at a time.
YOUR TURN! Is this a struggle for you like it is for me?