Can we legitimately look at our neighbor and will their good over our own? How many times have you been wronged by a friend, a coworker, or a boss and in your anger prayed for them? Have you envied the position of someone you thought didn’t deserve the status or position they attained? Have you ever known anyone to abuse their power, and thought, “I hope they get what’s coming to them”? Do we have it in us to forgive the unforgivable acts committed against us? Can we gaze into the faces of those who would wish us dead, and bless them as the proverbial stone is dropped upon us? Don’t be mistaken, faith is a matter of one chapter ending and another beginning. Faith is everything, as we know it, placed into the perspective of eternity and then thrust back at us, to choose life or death. Life of course, is the eternal existence with God, and death is reality of knowing we will never be in the presence of God ever again. An emptiness so lonely we haven’t the words or ability to comprehend its effect on us. Though, based on the saints on interpretation and Jesus’s reference to a “fiery Hell” (Matt 5:22), this is also no where I think any of us wants to be. For some of us who think God isn’t around, I would remind them, God is the creator of all, so in this very understanding, God is in all things we see, feel, and know. We also must never forget, it isn’t about one or the other, all of this is about learning to fall in love with God. God is love, and we run to him in our exuberance, our zeal, our love unconditionally as he does for us. It’s never been about rules per se, but instead, look at your spouse. It’s about the effort applied to find a more loving and accepting relationship, to become open and unafraid, to become unconditional in our efforts to find oneness with the other. Though this isn’t just for our spouses or our family, but just as important we do this for our neighbor.
I am the kind of man, who remembers a wrong, especially one which was perpetrated against me with malice. This might have been an embarrassing incident where I was the butt of a joke (mean-spirited of course), or a person made my time in whatever I was doing interminable through their constant manipulations or passive aggressive behaviors. As you can imagine, I didn’t handle these tests of faith very well at all. I used name calling, yelling, me on subversive behaviors to undermine what I perceived them to have done to wrong me. In the end, I was no better than them, and in many cases when I really think about it, I probably was much worse. I knew where I should be at, and I knew what I should do, and I turned my back on what was right to avenge and uphold my honor. My honor was the biggest issue in my journey to charity, my honor created more stumbling blocks for my life than any single factor I can think of. Don’t be fooled by the word “honor” either, this isn’t a medieval word or something of a Southern Gentility where people take off a glove and proceed to have a comedic slap fest with it. No, honor is a very real thing, a very debilitating way of looking at life. We hold a form of honor so high in our culture, we are willing to some of the evilest acts as a matter of keeping our honor intact. Hollywood’s staple blockbuster movie is about a heroin regaining their honor by destroying their enemy, by whatever means possible. We rarely see a character willing to put everything on the line as a matter of faith and humility so vengeance will be eliminated and representing a true morality of character. This just isn’t good entertainment, death, destruction, immorality is the best form of entertainment our culture can come up with now. We can do better!
I want to start with work, and the unfortunate events which happen daily to us as we meander our way through the jungle of work politics. Men, we can’t think everyone has a basis of understanding when it comes to morality or ethics as they might pertain to us, but everyone does have an innate longing for truth (the truth being God), and a recognition of this truth as it pertains to their lives. So, when we work with people of similar backgrounds, races, and religions we naturally will have similar expectations when it comes to the moral landscape. However, this isn’t the culture we live in anymore, the world has become much smaller, and inclusivity means everyone is welcome to the party. Naturally, we work with every type of differentiation of character, race, religion, and orientation possible. This isn’t an easy pill to swallow for many people, because we have beliefs which are so ingrained in our person, we recoil when we are confronted with an altering point of view. Especially points of view which run completely counter to our very faith beliefs, or social understandings of ethics. Ok, now how do we deal with this drastic change in philosophies or culturally acceptable behavior? We accept everyone is a treasured soul in the eyes of God, and everyone deserves more consideration than even we think we do ourselves.
So, how many times have you ever been wronged by your fellow-man? Was the pain tremendous? Were you enraged by their actions so much, for years when their name was mentioned, you became immediately angry and unable to find a calm? I am not sure of anyone else, but for me, this has happened more than once, and in my anger, I found a revolving door of shame and more anger. There was no respite from my inflammatory feelings, and within the procession of my anger, I took it out on the people I love the most. Those people who were closest to me, received my vitriol, my rage at those who had perceptible wronged me. Yet, this anger was somehow intoxicating, I wasn’t reducing my wrath, I was increasing it with ever turn of phrase. I shamefully will admit, I would hand gesture my favorite gesture when passing their offices or homes. When asked by anyone about my feelings, regarding my enemies, I had nothing but anger laden insults to hurl at these people. Was anyone trying to stop me, yes, my lovely wife, but I wasn’t listening. Instead, I was paying attention to those people who would encourage me to feed off the bitter angry vine I found succor in. The parallel I noticed, was everyone was beginning to give me cause to anger and everyone was wrong but me. My family was wrong for not agreeing with me, my friends were wrong for having a difference of opinion. My wife was the most wrong of all, she loved me enough to tell me the truth, and I couldn’t handle the truth, and pushed her away. I pushed her away in the most figuratively violent ways possible. I avoided her, I wouldn’t discuss with her, I wouldn’t listen to her, and I passively decided I wasn’t in need of her at all. To my shame, I was so utterly wrong, I can hardly bear to write the words you are reading now.
At the end of the day, I fell, I wronged, and I had become a perceived shell of God’s creation in love. At least I thought! This is where the fire began to grow in me, once at a low point in my life, the light began to burn the brightest, I began to see what is for some the beacon of hope, and for others the path which would lead out of the forest we call “shame”. The deceiver wants us to forever stay in his forest of shame, he forever wants us to lament our decisions and create a never-ending spiral of degradation which we cannot ever recover from. Judas is our primary example of someone, who in his very own decisions, decided to listen to the deceiver and betray the Son of Man, and in Jesus’s passion we find the very answer to the dilemma of charity. Jesus, forgave the very people who put him to death. Jesus, hung on that tree in a place known as “skull”, Golgotha, and he forgave. He forgave the Sanhedrin, he forgave the soldiers, he forgave Pilate, he forgave you and me. Let this sink in for a minute. If Jesus can do this while hanging in the most unbearable pain, bleeding from his cuts, his lashes, and his nails, can’t we take the anger which wells up in us and just let it go? What is the worst which can happen? Will people make fun of us? Maybe we aren’t perceived as being as strong as people once thought we were. Does it matter what people think of us? Doesn’t the truth just exist with God? Are we not more in search of a loving relationship with God, than what our neighbor down the road thinks of us?
The matter at hand is our ability to understand just who we are, and what our purpose is. My purpose as a man is to be a man. I am here to help lead my family with my wife, and show love as a matter of daily existence. To accept people is not always going to do what we would like them to do, but as a matter of love, do our best to understand why they do it, and then to pray for people as we may be the only ones who are praying. We may be the only person to show another, who may treat us poorly, any type of love whatsoever. Should we shirk this amazing responsibility? I don’t think so, we should approach it head on, and allow God’s will to form as it was intended. I’m not suggesting we do anything which would be foolhardy or wrought with degrading circumstances, unless this is the only route to love we can see. Sometimes we must walk the line of danger (danger in life, danger in love, danger to put one’s self out there to be ridiculed for one’s belief) to be the loving example God intended us to be. I can remember many times in my life when a circumstance would have completely changed, if for nothing more than my willingness to accept and the other person, understand where they were coming from, and pray for them. I’ve always heard this phrase, “seek to understand, then to be understood”, everyone can stand to benefit from its platitudinal expression of wisdom at the sake of sounding too easy to work. When was the last time you were derided for anything you’ve done or believe in? Were you made to feel small or less intelligent? Did you feel foolish for talking about it to begin with? Maybe, you turned in a project, but the project was completely wrong, and since you pride yourself on doing good work, you looked silly turning in something so completely awful. I’ve done these, and I lived, and not only that, I found it in me to put myself in the position of the person who’d suddenly become my adversary and found reason to understand their point of view. I realized in an instance, I wasn’t so much angry with them for their behavior, although if could have been better, but I was more apt to see things in a clearer light. In some cases, I still saw my point of view, but I could understand their point of view as well and this understanding allowed for a more conducive discourse between us.
As I began to learn I wasn’t the center of the universe, and I learned other people’s opinions were as beneficial and useful as my own, I found growth beginning to occur. I found I wanted to listen more to what was being said, and I found weakness in my own points of view. This truth was a point of realization for myself, a recognition of my overall inadequacy as a person, but deep down what it showed me was a desire to know my neighbor more fully. I was taking the skin-deep approach and applying it to everything in the past, but now, I want to know everything I can, and I have found a couple of wonderful benefits to come from this catharsis of selfish individuality. I found I want the company and encouragement of other, plus the ample discussion which comes from friendship. I also can see the beauty in most everyone I speak with, man or woman, a true and deep love for the people who enter my life. I don’t mean a love of Eros, but a love instead known as Agape, a love which looks to God and is a fulfillment of our deepest desires in life. I find everyday an inescapable feeling of thankfulness for the conversations I’ve had, or even the opportunity to bless the person who just cut me off in the fast lane. I want God to create in me a clean heart, one which looks to the charity of another and the hope for the best of all circumstances which will allow them to see the true light of faith in God as we should all want. Charity being the epitome of our wilfulness when it comes to love, sacrificing our time, our efforts, our energies to the benefit of another. Just think, if you can give just a few seconds of your day in prayer for the person who causes you the most grief, perhaps you will see the light of Christ begin to emanate from them in the most peculiar of ways.
I was never more challenged though, than when I had to forgive and even pray for those people who caused me the most grief in my professional working life. These people went out of their ways to stop my advancement, and to create an atmosphere of derision within every turn I made. I was taken to the brink of complete misapprehension and lowest self-esteem of my life. I blamed everyone one for everything, and if I told my story to anyone and they didn’t take my side, I wrote them off as well. I was completely wrong, I should have prayed for those people who didn’t understand me nor I understand them. I should have tried every day, either in prayer or in conversation. I should have been fearless, because God was always there with me, and I should have never worried about how I would be perceived. I was so wrong to not trust in God.
Men, as strong caring persons, we must always remember, strength of character comes from struggle of life. If we struggle, then we are learning to become men. Struggle within our marriages and how we can become a better spouse to our wives. We struggle to become a better parent to those kids who just refuse to listen to our knowledge. We need to understand who they are, who they want to be, and how their expectations fit in with the life God chooses for them. This is the same with our neighbors, for whatever reason we are placed in the path of another, God’s plan is infinite, and we are only exposed to a minuscule portion. We were never meant to understand everything, but instead trust in God. If we choose to trust in God, then we choose to struggle to love, we choose to accept what is given us, and in our acceptance, we will move forward in our faith journey. I do hope and pray, if there is a circumstance which is hampering your daily life or even bringing your down in spirit you do the right thing. Pray for those individuals, pray for their understanding of faith, pray for your love (your Agape) to abound in the favor of another as it God wills us. Remember, men, we are helping to create a foundation of faith, hope, and love in our cultures, and within our efforts we have the need to be understanding of all and willing to sacrifice in the name of God those things which keep us apart. I pray you are finding a loving balance in your family and with those you meet daily. We all need to be doing more, in the name of God, and in the pursuit of our love of God. May God bless you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!