Use Negative Experiences for the Good of Others

     Michael has come a little early to church and is sitting alone. It seems he is listening to the worship team as they warmup. I start to pass by on my way to the foyer to greet people as they arrive for the service but stop. Instead, I sit next to him and begin a conversation. He is very receptive.

He’s not quite 13 and his family doesn’t attend church, but he comes faithfully. Would I be comfortable walking into church by myself at age 12? Most adults don’t even like to come alone, especially if they have trouble interacting with people. It can be difficult to break into conversations when people are linked by their history with one another.

Once when I was new to a church, I tried to approach small groups after the service but most had no room for me. Knowing how uncomfortable it is to be on the outside, I look for those who might need to know they are welcome and wanted.

     Our negative experiences can have a positive effect on our behavior. They help us to walk out the scriptures. This has been true for me while learning to walk out Luke 6:31–“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  

     When I first read this passage of scripture, I really didn’t know how to implement it. I thought perhaps this might apply to picking up the lunch check at a restaurant, or allowing someone to easily merge onto the freeway and change lanes, or not talking during a movie at a public theater. These were all behaviors I appreciated.

     Yet a deeper, more profound meaning began to emerge as I examined the scars I have, which are evidence I live in a fallen world. The scars are a result of being wounded.

     For example, when I was about 19 years old, I worked at a summer resort as a busgirl in the restaurant. For some reason, I am not sure why, my boss did not like me. He was critical of my work and nothing I did to improve pleased him. He was an authority figure, and instead of training, helping, and advising he was demeaning and belittling. I dreaded work and cried in private. However, since I didn’t have much of a resume, I was afraid to quit not knowing if I could find other employment. I needed to save money for college.

     This experience has given me a better understanding of how to treat others. Especially if I am in a position of authority. Although it happened years ago, it left a scar as a reminder.

     Scars can develop when we are wounded. They can happen anytime occurring when we are a child, a teen, a young adult and into our senior years. Also, they can be left by the hand of anyone. Sometimes we know and love the person who wounds, while at other times it is a passing interaction, someone we barely know.

     Has anyone ever had a difficult conversation with a physician who was condescending? What about a teacher who made you feel stupid rather than looking for ways to help you understand the curriculum being taught?

Scars can be left by both words and actions.

Words that are demeaning, sarcastic, critical, or unkind might scar. They are often a result of not being well thought out. Sometimes it is best to remain silent, until we know how to deliver a message in a way that builds up rather than tears down.

Of course, we are told actions “speak” louder than words. We can say we care about someone but unless we show it as well, our comments seem disingenuous.

I encourage you to think about your scars. Remember how you obtained them. Then use these experiences to guide your interactions with others. This is practicing “do to others as you wish them to do to you.”

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Image from Pixabay

Let’s Talk:

1-What negative experience in your past has helped you treat others better?

2-Please share an example in the comment section of how you or another Christian has put Luke 6:31 into practice.

Learning From our Less Than Perfect Experiences

     Monday morning, I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles renewing my driver’s license. I so rarely go to the DMV the protocols are unfamiliar.

     “Put your thumb on the blue light.” I hesitate and the clerk points to this small square on the counter that captures your thumbprint.

     The experience made me apprehensive. But why?

     It didn’t take long for the Holy Spirit to identify the reason. Pride. Fear of making a mistake, looking foolish, being looked down upon, made fun of…

     Most define pride as conceit, having an excessively high opinion of ourselves. Or perhaps haughtiness, which is acting in an arrogant manner. But there is a type of pride that prevents us from stepping out.

     An internet search uncovered this definition: “consciousness of one’s own dignity.” It was referred to as self-esteem and the opposite was shame.

     I can hear my mother’s words when I was a child, “What will people think?”

     This phrase usually had to do with family honor. What would people think of our family if we wore shabby clothes out in public, put our feet on the furniture while at a friend’s house, or were unfriendly to a student new to our school.

     Being concerned with what people think can result in good, kind, behavior. But rather than looking at it from the perspective of acting in a pleasing manner to keep from bringing shame on yourself or your family, I would like to consider ways we shame others that result in this apprehension at the DMV and other places. Does our behavior bring shame to another?

     I ask this because I realize my problem with unfamiliar places is a result of past embarrassment or shame. I am fearful of situations that result in these experiences. Knowing this, I tend to focus on reacting well to the actions of others, not allowing their behavior to deter me from practicing righteousness. But I can do more. I can make sure I do not cause such shame and embarrassment to others.

     “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Luke 6:31

     Sometimes it is impatience we have for others that makes them feel inferior. I hesitate to enter the “self-check” line in a store where I am not used to the machines. Those who routinely self-check can have an attitude of disdain when someone is slower than they are or makes mistakes and requires the clerk’s help.

     I put a check in my mental notebook next to “be patient” with those who are learning a new skill. Patience prevents shame.

     Navigating a freeway system in a large city, I do not know, causes apprehension as well. As I frantically try to read signs so I might change lanes to make the interchanges, other drivers tailgate, refusing to let up on the gas so I can squeeze into their lane to make an exit. Mentally I note, “practice kindness.”

     I think of things I don’t want to admit to others because I will be laughed at or called stupid. Once I subscribed to a publication that promised a “daily word” I assumed was from the word of God, only to find out that it referenced the Bible but was false teaching. What are people afraid to share because it might bring humiliation. I vow not to humiliate others.

     As Christians, we often remind each other that it isn’t so much what others do to us but how we react. I frequently grab the command to love our enemies and if someone does something despicable to us respond in kindness. (Luke 6:27-28)

     But after my trip to the DMV, I am reminded to make others feel comfortable in those unfamiliar situations by coming alongside with patience and kindness. Making sure I am not that person who brings shame upon another, prompting them to determine how to respond kindly to me despite my callousness.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Image by Al Gr from Pixabay

Let’s Talk:

1-What “less than” experiences have you had that have resulted in a greater understanding of how to treat others?

2-What have you learned from the acts of unkindness you have experienced that has helped hone you into the image of Jesus Christ?

Want to Love Others? Seek the Voice of the Spirit

     I have started a journal to trace acts of agape. That ability to remove yourself from a situation and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. It is difficult to clear our hearts and heads of all the misconceptions about “good” and “best” we have learned from family, school, books, cinema, social media, friends… The world cannot understand agape love because it is of God, and we cannot deliver it apart from the Holy Spirit.

     “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

     But the Holy Spirit can give us a heavenly perspective, provide a fresh outlook. We often say, “I never thought of it that way.”

     When I learned that incorrect information was being passed on about an incident that had occurred at church, I immediately became indignant. How did this seemingly inconsequential exchange become so twisted? In my flesh I became annoyed and defensive.

     Yet amid my anger, I saw that this person was struggling, caught in the grips of all the traps Satan can lay when we are vulnerable. Traps like self-pity, hopelessness, doubt, and fear. Spiritual insight into a situation can only come from the Holy Spirit. At these times all our fleshly responses dissipate and the good of the other person becomes the desire of our heart.

     Best was prayer for this person, seeking guidance on how I might truly help rather than allowing Satan to drive a wedge between myself and another Christian with thoughts of unforgiveness for slander or malice. The Holy Spirit caused me to step back and consider the feelings of another. What would cause her to slightly alter the details of the story about a situation?

     Satan immediately came to mind. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. [1 Peter 5:8] He is a deceiver and all of us succumb to his deception from time to time.

     No foothold for Satan here. Instead, I look for the loving act this person needs. I do not yet know what God will require of me, but I am willing.

     I loop back to the start of this blog. With my new perspective on the situation, free from all animosity, my tendency is to just leap into action with “acts of kindness.” But that is self, doing what “I” think is best. Working on my timeline, my schedule, my wisdom. There is no power in acts of the flesh no matter the motivation. It’s not our idea of kindness that makes a difference but God’s idea.

     And thus, we must quiet the outside voices in our heads so we can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Make sure there is no competition. The outside voices often enter our thought processes attached to self. But the Holy Spirit introduces another point of view, the possible reason for the actions of another and points us to a loving response.

Let’s Talk:

1-When have you been surprised by the Holy Spirit with a completely different perspective, which was selfless?

2-How do you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit when so many voices offer direction?

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved