Out of the blue, she spoke the biting words, aimed at me, in front of what felt like a crowd. I didn’t say anything—couldn’t look up from the computer—but in that moment my spirit hardened and my own biting words formed themselves loud and shouting in my mind. And this introverted mouth barely held them back.
Have you been here? Accosted without fault, but raring to fire the guns back on the one who shot you?
This just happened to me. And I can’t say I responded the best. My reticent nature turned coldly silent; I barely spoke or looked at her for the rest of our time together. And I was praying, begging God to help me not be angry, all the while feeling my blood boil and fizzle over, unable to turn down the heat.
My internal processor has been working overtime trying to unknot my thoughts about this. After thinking and talking it through, here are a few thoughts. These words are an outpouring of my own process through anger, self-righteousness, and the realization that I am no better than anyone else—especially that person pouring out the hurtful words.
1). We have to recognize the real enemy. This has been the most calming, sobering realization. While that person standing in front of me might seem like the greatest enemy I have, she is not. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). When I am solely fighting that person in front of me, that flesh and blood, I am fighting blindfolded to the real enemy.
When the blindfold falls and the actual enemy is revealed, my anger deflates. Because I realize I’m playing into the enemy’s hands. And—more to the point—it awakens me to the ineffectiveness and sin of my response. (That barrage of hateful thoughts is only hurting me, and displeasing my Savior.) So, what I think I’m gaining through my anger (victory, justification), is not what I’m actually gaining.
2). We are rooting for their success. That person with the scowl, the backbiting words, the hurtful response? Yeah, they are planted dead center in our mission field. Whether they are a believer or not, we are called to love them and love them deeply. Who knows but that our gentle answer in response to their wrath could be the catalyst of Christ-change in their lives? My anger in these times completely closes my mind off to servitude. And honestly, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
I guess Paul must have been pretty hard to love when he was overseeing the death of Christian after Christian. I guess it would have been hard to love Zacchaeus, that stealer of people’s livelihoods. And I know it would have been nigh unto impossible to pass the bread and wine to Judas, moments before betrayal. And yet that’s the kind of purity found in Christ. We’re called to that kind of holiness, that kind of love (no matter what the person does, or if they will ever repent).
3). We get our security from God, not people. This is said so often that it has almost become cliché. And yet, my response in hurtful situations shows my heart so plainly; this truth sinks in mentally but skips over that beating organ in my chest. Taking security in God sounds so easy but is so hard (this is a space where we can be real, right?). But, honestly, that passionate, angry response that feels like justification? It’s not. That humble, calm and kind response? That’s the heart of Christ. We are so defined by Christ’s actions on the cross that nothing can take our security away. I am sure—am convinced—that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
And—side note—we are not responsible for another person’s response. Sometimes even kinds words are not the words they’ll want to hear. That’s okay. Be strong in knowing how firm your identity is in Christ.
In the end, sometimes walking well with God feels an awful lot like losing. But know what? The blood-bought victory full of pain and sacrifice is now filled to brimming with glorious triumph—Jesus seated to the right, the Spirit settled within (sealing us for that future day of redemption). So we can let it go. That anger, those biting words, the grudge that feels impossible to pry away.
We can let it all go in Jesus’ Name, and lay it at His feet.
Amen and amen.