My mom has a memory like an elephant. She particularly remembers critical comments, especially when aimed at our family from years (and in some cases, decades) ago. It's kind of a joke at this point in our lives, but it has served as a reminder throughout our whole lives of how small, often off-hand comments (like one time a 'friend,' I guess, said that my dad's brother "got all the looks in the family" and that's why friend gets single quotes) can make a really big impact, and for a long time, too. It's not just Mom, though. My dad is a local politician and one of my sister's ex-boyfriends made the indefensible claim that he doesn't make real laws; her husband likes to quote that one still.
Sometimes, if you're not careful, this leads to real grudges. More often than not, of course, those off-hand comments are not really laced with the venom we think they are. One of those moments happened to me at work this week about something rather insignificant. It still made me defensive, though, because, well, engineers are engineers because they are good at math, not diplomacy. He fit that bill. Really, he meant well, but sometimes that just isn't enough to keep me from getting a little irritated. Of course, though, there was nothing I could do about his attitude, and the most recent sermon at church was on self-control, I begrudgingly gritted my teeth and said "thank you" and his comments. I was aware of the relevance of the moment, which is something, I guess.
I guess it was a start, but my heart wasn't exactly in the right place. The only thing I can control is my reaction, and luckily, that's really all God asks of us, as far as I can tell. (If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39, What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' Matthew 15:11). It is rarely that straightforward, though. I have never been punched in the face at all, let alone the cheek. The second one, though, has always been rather significant to me, not just because I really like scallops. I come from a family of communicators: not only is my dad a politician, so was his dad; his brother is an attorney, mine is about to become one; I like to think of myself as a writer and quite frankly, not to toot our own horns, but we say (or write) matters. The words everyone says matter (James 3 outlines that pretty clearly.) I can distinctly remember people telling me they were turned off by Christianity because of a something like a bad date with a jerk who said he was a Baptist. (Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.") It's a lot of pressure when you think about it.
I don't really know what to do about it, specifically. Breathing exercises? Count to ten? I guess, try to be good and practice in the efforts you want to perfect are the short answers, but the details are what get you. The guy from earlier in the story was trying to do his job, and I took it a little personally, due to his delivery. How much of that is on me and my attitude, and how much is rightfully on him? I think this might be one of those "Who cares?" situations. I think there are a lot more of those in Christian application (if not theology) than we like to admit (hopefully this will be a revisited theme in this blog). The fact remains that I can only address my own attitude. Does my reaction really change that much? John 9:1-5 and Matthew 7:1-6 kind of tells us not to worry about what other people do, so probably not. Now, how do I get to the point where I actually react that way all the time? I am just glad that shrimp and barbecue aren't off the table.