Address The Mess Part 5: Messy-er
On Sunday 29th January at our morning service,we finished our series 'Address The Mess' with the topic 'Messy-er'. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
To download the talk to listen to off line, please click here.
Sometimes when we get into a messy situation, our first reaction can be to carry on doing the very kind of things that got us into a mess in the first place. The angry snap back at someone who upsets you, the escalating tensions that can arise between fellow motorists driving discourteously, the lie you told and the temptation to keep lying to cover it up.
There is a great danger that we can become entrenched in a mentality of blaming anyone and everyone else for something, when actually we should step back and consider what WE could have done differently to avoid the mess in the first place, what WE can choose to do next to clear up the mess, and what WE can do to prevent ourselves getting in a similar mess in the future.
It comes down to having some sense of self-awareness and holding ourselves to a more virtuous standard. When someone says something inconsiderate, hurtful or downright nasty, we can either retaliate in kind (and sure as eggs are eggs things will get worse) or we can stop and consider what the other person’s perspective might be, and what we may have done to elicit their response (unwarranted though it might feel!)
Ultimately we’re not accountable for the way other people behave themselves – for their words and actions. That reflects on them, not us. However, we ARE accountable for our own words and actions and these are within our control.
A wonderful illustration of this attitude in action can be found in the bible, in the story of King Saul and David. The mess was that Israel had a King (Saul) but also an anointed King-to-be (David) who was seen by the people as a leader. So Saul felt threatened and tries to control, then to kill David. You can read about this here.
David has opportunities to kill Saul – the obvious first option was presented to him! Saul walks into a cave alone… and David and his men are in there. The perfect opportunity – King Saul walks in… King David walks out! But David resists… and does the virtuous thing. He spares Saul. He was in a mess and it wasn’t his fault! But he resists the first thing… and does the right thing.
David’s men said that this was God saying “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.” But David said: “May the Lord judge you but my hand will not touch you.”
In effect, what David was saying was “I’m opting for virtue over hurt-you.”
Such an approach caused confusion and consternation in Saul and his men – and caused Saul to realise how badly he was treating David in light of the mercy David had shown him. This was much more powerful in the long term than the “obvious” option David had passed up! David eventually became King – in virtue and with reputation enhanced, with no skeleton in his closet (or in the cave!)
If we ignore virtue we will eventually make a mess. And you don’t clean up a mess with more of the same. You don’t clean up after a failure of virtue with another failure of virtue. Sure, a response can be justified. It can be expected. But that doesn’t make it virtuous.
When we’re dealing with other people we should try to remember that we’re all sometimes in a mess, and there may be stuff going on in the other person’s life that we don’t know about. Also, messed up or not, we’re dealing a beloved child of the most high God!
The day will come when your messy season will be reduced to a sentence or two in the book of your life. “A few years ago I lost my job. There was a time when I fell out with a friend. Oh one time I got in a fight…” So what is the virtuous ending to that story you’ll want to tell? I got bitter, I got revenge? I got even? Or I accepted it, worked on it, prayed on it, fasted on it, and moved on in forgiveness and love and virtue? I opted for virtue, not hurt you.
Don’t do the first thing. Do the right thing. Don’t add mess to your mess. Don’t choose an option that makes you a liar for life or a hypocrite for life or racked by guilt or unforgiveness for life. Don’t use someone else’s bad behaviour as an excuse to behave badly.
Forgiveness sets someone free – you!
Follow Jesus and he will walk you around all kinds of messes that other people will fall in and wallow in. The way to avoid a mess, the way out of a mess, the way to make a beautiful thing from an ugly thing is to follow Jesus. What story do you want to tell? And who then will you follow?
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Can you think of a situation in your life when you did the first thing instead of the right thing? What happened next – and how did you feel? What resolved it in the end?
2. Talk about a time when you forgave someone who had been at odds with you. What was the feeling afterwards?
3. What adjustments might you make in your “default” reaction when you next feel slighted or insulted? Can you plan ahead and pre-load an attitude of virtue not hurt-you in response?
4. Is there a repeating mess in your life that your own behaviours contribute to? What can you do to break the cycle?
5. Abraham Lincoln said: “Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?” Who do you need to forgive today? Do you need to tell them or just forgive them in your heart?
6. Do you pray and fast and reflect with God on your own attitudes and behaviours? Can you set aside a time and place to do so?