Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Extending Reciprocal Grace

When James had his mountain biking accident followed by a seizure this past fall, I sat in the emergency room longing to call/text every single person in my contact list on the cell phone. I wanted to post a status update on Facebook asking all my friends for prayers. I wanted everyone I knew to come visit us during our three day stay in the hospital.

But it wasn't about me.

James was the one suffering the hospital stay. He was the one being poked and prodded and imprisoned in the bed. And he didn't want anyone fussing over him. While I would have been comforted surrounded by my friends, James would have felt...well...under the spotlight, so to speak. He would have felt extremely uncomfortable.

We are told, quite often, to obey the Golden Rule.

"Do unto others what you would have others do unto you."

But the problem with that rule is, what if they don't appreciate the same thing you do? What if I had invited all of James friends to the hospital room to cheer him up. I would have been following the Golden Rule, right? I would have wanted tons of visitors and so I would merely be doing what I would have wanted, right?

Of course that happens when you take this Rule at face value. But you can't do that, you see. You must take it to a deeper level.

To do unto others as you would have others do unto you, you must look at their feelings. Would I want James to do something that made me uncomfortable? Would I want him to broadcast personal information about me when I asked him not to? The answer is no! So, in return, I would not do anything to make James uncomfortable. But that involves knowing James and understanding what actually makes him uncomfortable. I cannot assume that we have the same levels of comfort or even the same desires.

But situations get sticky very quickly, don't they. 

I mean, think about it for a minute. If you lost a loved one, what would you want your friend's response to be? What words of comfort could they offer you that would ease your suffering? Now step back for a moment and ponder this. That which comforts you  might bring pain to someone else in the same circumstances. While one person would appreciate their friends coming and sitting with them for days on end to help them through the situation, another may need time alone, in bed with only their tears and grief. If I lost James, I would feel completely abandoned and alone if no one came to stay with me during my grief. But not everyone is like me. Someone else might feel invaded or bombarded by the attention and really just want to be left alone for a while.

I appreciate phone calls from my friends. I like it when people call "just to check in" on me. Those little acts of kindness speak volumes to me. I will not call people when I need something. I feel like I am needy when I do that. Other people feel differently than I do. They feel like these "checking in" phone calls are an invasion and if they needed something they would call and ask. So, how do we do unto others in these situations? We must step outside our own comfort zone to reach people where they are and in a way that means something to them.

Take a look around you. There are so many people hurting. So many people in pain, going through extremely difficult circumstances. But how can we reach out to them, comfort them, obey the Golden Rule without hurting them further? This is my question. I think about it a lot. Because I am not good at this. I am terrible, in fact. I don't know what to say when someone tells me they suffered a miscarriage. I can't think of the right words of comfort when a friend loses a loved one. I don't know how to help someone grieving. I try and fail, because no matter what I do, it isn't right.

But do you want to know something? This may come as a surprise to you, but here it is.

I don't mean to hurt people.

I don't walk around with harmful intentions stored up in my heart. I really don't. I say what I think would help. I try to follow the Golden Rule, the deeper aspect of it. But you know what? I say things I regret sometimes. I don't always get it right. In fact, I would go so far as so say that I rarely do get it right. And that's where I ask for reciprocal grace. Could we, as Christians, stop assuming that everyone is out to offend us? Could we maybe begin assuming that people actually mean well? They might not say exactly what you want to hear at that moment, but you know what? They are trying. I am trying. We are all trying. We all need grace. We need it offered to us and we need to offer it in return.

I guess it all boils down to what the famous Love Chapter says about it.

"Love is not easily angered."
- 1 Cor 13:5

And let's remember what we are told in Colossians 3:13

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

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