Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
All around me are relationships in crisis.
From common and trite forms of sibling contention to damaged marriages gasping out a final breath and everything in between, I have seen a great deal of contention.
But there are also marriages which are thriving. Siblings who truly adore one another. I know of marriages – my own included – which have been salvaged only because the foundation is built on God even when every other part crumbled. Many of these are growing deeper in an active, genuine, and practical love day by day.
What’s the difference?
In several – though not all – cases, the conflict arises from a most intriguing dichotomy of human nature: our tendency to expect others to assume our best intentions in each of our actions while assuming the worst intentions of those who we believe have wronged us.
Often conflict arises because one or both parties have fallen for the oldest trick in the Book. Literally.
All the way back to the first man and woman, the Adversary’s tactic was to make the woman doubt the intentions of her Creator.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say… ?”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
(Genesis 3:1b, 4-5)
From the dawn of mankind, the Adversary has been tempting us to assume God does not have our best interests at heart. Centuries later, the habit is so ingrained in us that we not only assume God has it in for us, we assume everyone else does, too.
We want to be forgiven when we’ve done a wrong – if we even own up to doing wrong, that is. Yet we are reluctant to forgive, preferring to lick our wounds and seethe with resentment.
When we cut someone off during our morning commute, we trust they will know we are late for a meeting, or we’ve had the flu and are just spacey, or whatever. But woe to the one who cuts us off as we drive.
If we are rude, it is much the same. When we are wronged, how dare they? Yet when we wrong others, why oh why do they not see our wrong was simply a mistake?
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given for parenting teens was not to take anything personally. The eyeroll, the death-glare, even the occasional exclamation of hatred – none of them are personal, even though they feel remarkably personal. Most of the time, the teen is just acting on their own hormonal sea of confusion. Their brains are not working.
But sometimes I do take it personally. And after that, I take it to God, who teaches me forgiveness and mercy.
Somehow, as I’ve prayed through this difficult aspect of parenting, God has been changing me. Not only are the horrible things my teens occasionally say or do not personal, the horrible things I occasionally say back are not, either.
My husband loves me. Thus, if he does something I find irritating or feel hurt by, I remind myself to assume his best intentions. Not his worst. In so doing, I have found it easy to appreciate him. And it just keeps getting better.
In fact, when I assume the best intentions of the driver who cuts me off or the rude grocery clerk and answer sour faces with a smile, I find my whole life is more pleasant.
How interesting that our God would encourage a behavior in us which only leads us to enjoy His peace and presence more and more…
After all, at a time when I rejected Him, He didn’t take it personally. Or rather, He took it intensely personally. So much so that He offered the blood of His Son and to lovingly discipline me until I was overwhelmed by His astonishing grace. For me. For all of humanity.
As a challenge – for myself as well as you – if someone rubs you wrong, try to remember a time you were a little prickly yourself. Feel a pang of sorrow for them because their day is clearly not going well. Recall the grace of a God who would be justified in eradicating each one of us, then smile and remind yourself, “It’s nothing personal.”
Let’s pray both that we can be a bit less delicate and for God to show us how and when we can outdo one another in showing honor.
Let love be genuine. Oh Lord, let it be!
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.