Jan Johnson

Wisbit - October 2015

A Day of No Retort

In a class I teach at HIU, Reading for Spiritual Formation, my students do exercises each week to experience the ideas in what they read. During the week we study and reflect on the virtuous life, they do A Day of No Retort exercise

Choose a relationship that is an everyday challenge for you. Perhaps you have a tendency to feel judgmental or impatient toward someone (or a situation, such as traffic). For one day, make a concentrated effort to avoid sharp responses and witty comebacks. Try to not even think them. Replace them all with a phrase such as, “Bless you.” (Ask God to help you mean it when you say it.) Then reflect on this exercise affected you inwardly. (Revised from Humbling Guide/Mentoring Sacred Arts)

This exercise fits the virtuous life, which is about treating others with love that flows out of our friendship with God. “We regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire” (Gregory of Nyssa). As we do this, God leads us into “holy habits,” such as A Day of No Retort

One student chose traffic for the entire week: “When someone cuts me off, this sparks anger and I retaliate by cutting them off and giving them dirty looks. Yet I know that as a follower of Jesus I want to show compassion and patience. I confess the car offers me some kind of power. So I started by praying a simple breath prayer for drivers who bothered me: “Bless that son (or daughter) of God.” This changed my heart so that even when I felt slighted, I saw that person for whom they truly are: a child of God. Sometimes I would slow down next to them so I could focus on forgiving them.

Another student found himself showing compassion for a chronically needy church member who seemed to need endless amounts of attention. This man never took his advice yet always took his time! So he prayed for the man and decided that he would listen more actively and ask questions, putting the ball back in this man’s court: What are you going to do about that? What have you tried? What else could you try?” My student wrote, “These questions confront powerless people with their responsibility and their capacity to make choices and control themselves.” Sure enough, the man stepped up to the plate.

Still another student was confronted that week by church leaders who said that people were criticizing his wife. “Few things bring out rage and defensiveness in me more than when I feel my wife is being attacked,” he said. “Blood was boiling beneath the surface as these leaders spoke. I restrained myself, but my thoughts whirled with anger.” But in light of the exercise, he began wondering, Could I be certain that they were actually on the attack? Could it be that this is a place where I need to choose not to respond? He reported that a “strange calm” came over him and he prayed a blessing on these men. “I heard the voice of the Spirit asking, ‘Am I not your defender? Am I not the one who will redeem this? Why not lay this burden down? It is too heavy for you to carry.’” And he laid it down. The dust-up ended being nothing at all and was never mentioned again.

Others saw staff conflicts healed and couples coming together. I am concerned that my students don’t do the exercise out of a sense of being forced (which is always the danger with assigned exercises) so I ask them to let the Spirit open them up, which is what happens. They also learn that reading the classics is not enough; they need to try out the ideas.

If you’re led, you may wish to experiment with a Day of No Retort. Or the next time you read a really good book, ask God, “What might be a small little exercise I could do to experiment with living out the truth I’ve just read about?” Don’t make it too challenging or too easy. Ask the Spirit to guide you. If so, feel free to respond to on my FB Author page.

    Grace and peace,
    Jan Johnson

Excerpted from Invitation to the Jesus Life, ch 5. ©Jan Johnson



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