Not Getting What I Want Is OK
While reading about the opposition the scribe Ezra faced in restoring the Temple, I came across this sentence: Seldom is the work of the kingdom of God accomplished without conflict. I confess that upset me because it’s often true; not only do Christians disagree but they also resort to mean language and hurtful actions to get what they want, usually because they think it’s “God’s will.” But God’s will is to be patient and kind and for us to be woven and knit together in God’s encompassing love (1 Cor 13:4; Col 2:2).
I also reflected on our last difficult church situation, in which I responded differently. A big decision needed to be made and two opposing sides became increasingly bitter toward each other. I kept asking God what the right decision was but I didn’t get an answer. Instead, all I heard was, “Don’t forget to love.” I began to see that the most important thing (the Great Commandment) was not the ultimate decision but how we as followers of Christ treated each other in the midst of disagreement. Could we speak the truth (disagree) in love? Could we at least disagree agreeably? The church being the light of the world (or what we call “success”) had much less to do with the outcome of the decision than it did with how we treated each other. Would we choose to love? Or just work hard to “get my way”?
So I began reaching out to both sides and refused to talk about others. (Warning: This isn’t popular—no one wants to talk to you, especially in the church parking lot.) Eventually my husband and I figured out which way we thought the decision should be made and finally said so, but we refused to bad-mouth the other side. We worked at loving each person, no matter what they thought or said.
As I look back on this, I see that disagreements in church, friendships, family, neighborhoods or work relationships are soul school. They provide “classes” in learning how to love our enemies (defining “enemy” as anyone I find difficult today or disagree with). They hold possibilities for our transformation into Christlikeness. As I’ve written curriculum over the years I’ve often designed simulated classroom situations in which people could choose to love, but those role plays could never be as transforming as a group of people who in the midst of disagreement said yes to the adventure of loving each other well. This is the essence of soul school: working together to learn to follow Jesus’ love and commands; to let the Holy Spirit do miraculous things inside us and between us. Church should be about learning to be and do those things.
So a successful church, friendship, family, neighborhood or work relationship is not one without disagreements but one in which people have a vision of life in Christ in which followers of Jesus love one another in disagreement and do the behind-the-scenes work of keeping their heart right and praying fervently for each other’s well-being.
Such times help us answer this question: What am I like when I don’t get my way? Can I be sweet and kind? Between those times of “soul school” disagreement, we can practice disciplines of abstinence that help us with this. Can I be cheerful when I’m fasting and don’t get to eat what I want? Can I be content when I don’t buy something that looks appealing? Can I not be distracted and crabby if I don’t watch television for a month? Can I feel OK if I skip saying things that manage how people see me? In those moments of relying on God instead of self-indulgence, we learn that the Lord really is my shepherd and I really do have everything I need. That kind of person reaches out instead of feeling overlooked or neglected.
As you may have guessed, I’m writing about this because I’m facing a few situations in which I’m in need of doing what I’ve written above. May God give us all the power and strength to do so!
Grace and peace,
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