Ordinarily, I make it a point not to discuss my penitential practices during Lent; however, given yesterday’s controversy, it seems appropriate to share one of the disciplines I am attempting to practice during this season of reflection and repentance.
Instead of giving up something easy and relatively meaningless like chocolate or coffee for Lent, I chose to give up snappy comebacks and questioning the motives of others. I struggle mightily and daily with the temptation to respond to the least provocation with an acidly unkind rejoinder, and to regard offers of help as criticism or rebukes.
Our children look to their parents as examples in all things, and since I am the parent with whom they spend most of their waking hours, they hear and see my responses to just about everything. There is nothing quite so convicting as hearing my own unpleasantness coming from the mouths of my preschoolers, to hear my questioning of others’ real intentions, and realizing that along with spelling and skip counting, this is something they are learning from me.
Regular readers of this blog are, I’m sure, aware that my husband and I are striving to raise children who are good, kind, loving, and wise. While there are times when it is appropriate to ask what lies beneath the surface, as students of Greek history can readily attest, it serves none of our goals to raise children who respond to criticism or correction with a biting comment, or who fail to recognize that the more discomfort a comment causes, the more likely it is that some self-examination is in order.
Scrutinizing the motives of a person who offers an observation, criticism, or piece of advice is, in my case, usually a highly uncharitable act. The Lord Himself commanded us to help one another. I have no way of knowing who He will send to my aid, and sometimes, He realizes that I need assistance before I do, and the person offering help or guidance is His messenger. Instead of speculating upon another’s motive for offering help and advice, it is fruitful for me to consider my reasons for refusing it. Am I refusing the offer because I genuinely have no need, or am I committing an act of pride, wrath, or envy with my refusal?
This is also an exercise in humility for me, an area in which I need to set a proper example for the tribe as well. The Lord has blessed me richly in many ways, and because of the abundance of His gifts, I often fall into the trap of thinking that I need support from no one else to have a happy and Christian life. That thought emanates straight from Hell itself, and will certainly lead me there if I indulge it for long. If the Lord has seen fit to bless me with friends, family, and other interlocutors, I am showing a poor appreciation for His bounty if I roughly shove them aside when they say something that hits a little too close to one of my human frailties.
Sorry, no cute stories today; however, I would like to ask that if you shared a link to the St. Patrick’s Day post, please share a link to this one as well. I would also appreciate any re-blogs the WordPress family would care to grant; this post matters more than most to me. I’d also like to invite you to join me in my discipline for the remaining two weeks of Lent, and beyond, whether or not you believe in the Resurrection. A gentler world has to start somewhere.
And please, if anyone knows the commenter who posted as “Joan,” would you kindly make sure she sees this?
Today’s prayer: Lord, help us to be gentle with one another. Help us accept Your generous gifts without suspicion or fear. Your Son was regarded with both during his time here, to the detriment of many. I would teach Your blessings that discomfort caused by the words of another should cause them to reflect on Your instructions to us more than the motives of the utterer. Please, Lord, grant me a heart that takes neither pleasure nor pride in delivering insults and humiliations. Grant me the grace that I would teach Your blessings — to please You by using Your gifts to foster love, not its opposite.
Postscript: I’d like to tip my hat to Lori Schulz, who quoted Ephesians 4:29 in her post today: “No foul word should ever cross your lips; let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners;”