Recently I learned one of the most important lessons in my life. Why can’t we learn all the important lessons at the age of 12 or 14?
A few years ago I knew an older couple, and the wife was a severe critic of everyone. You know the type. The problem for me was our failed relationship. When I visited them I always left angry.
Her criticism of me was irritating, but maybe I deserved it and maybe there was some good advice in her cruel words. My breaking point was all the judgmental things said about other people. I didn’t want to join in and sometimes I tried to defend my friends. I can remember my anger as I write this. It’s impossible to correct an old critic.
These old people were devout church-going Christians, respected by everyone who knew them, and I am a Christian, so this was one of the biggest defeats in my life. My clinical description above doesn’t show my emotions; those people made some of us crazy.
And then I learned the secret.
I’m sure you are just like me; we try to change the source. We are surrounded by bad drivers, nosy neighbours, mean bosses, and other sources of irritation. So let’s road rage at those terrible drivers, tell those neighbours what they need to hear, quit that job, and generally lash out as needed. You too can have a defeated life.
I learned the secret when I was travelling. You might have missed it, but that old couple were my parents, my Mom and Dad. Mom was good a correcting the rest of us, in her old age. They spent half of the year in a trailer park in Arizona, but when they were home the irritation started again.
One time when I was traveling I had to change planes in Phoenix Arizona, so I extended my stop-over to a few days and picked up a rental car which I drove to the trailer park. Of course they were surprised, and I was surprised when we had a really fun day together. I hung out with them and Mom had no chance to make a plan.
At the end of the day she asked me to get a hotel room and come back again, but I could see the problem starting and I told them I had to go.
I drove down the road to Tucson and found a motel there. The next day was Sunday so I found a small church nearby. People in the church were friendly and the pastor and his wife took me out for lunch. They listened to my stories about people in my life who needed to be corrected; my Mom was not the only one.
They advised me to live under God, like a Christian with a clear conscience, and avoid any behaviour that I disagreed with. Just turn down the noise. We feel better when we drink less poison. And that is the secret; the responsibility to change is not on them, it’s on me.
From that time I changed my behaviour. With my parents, I started to carefully plan surprise visits, and I always left when things stopped being happy. Not long ago Mom died, and now I have good memories from her last years, with no arguments or hurt feelings.
With other people, I lost a few friends but good people came into my life to replace them. Some people really enjoy bickering and stress, but I know God did not call me to live that life. A few weeks ago some of my old friends started fighting with each other, and it is sad to see the destruction. They have started a fire that they can’t put out.
There is a story about an alcoholic who could not defeat his addiction until he learned my lesson. He carefully chose a route home from work that avoided the sight of all bars and liquor stores. And it worked; he turned down the noise and stayed sober. Just don’t have the argument; winning is overrated.
There are responsible ways to solve problems, and there are wrong ways. For Christians, the Bible gives clear instructions “But if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be consumed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5: 15 and 16)
Sometimes a good argument is better than a movie with no ticket price; it’s entertaining. Our problem is that we all have a limited time to do good work for God, and we can’t replace any day that is wasted.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. (Romans 16: 17, 18, 19)