I have long suffered from caring far too much what people think about me, which has led me to become at times disingenuous and secretive, trying hard to conform to the image or likeness that others wanted me to model. Of course, this only applies to people whom I deeply respect. But I had taken the opinions of such people and tried to pour myself into a mold that resembles their image. This was how I used to cope with strong opinions -- conformation. Now I've learned how to embrace what I believe without worrying what others will think; and only when I forget what I've learned in therapy do I not cope well with or react appropriately to expressed opinions with which I disagree.
I've taken notice recently to how often we can speak or type words without the slightest care as to how they will affect others. Without any modicum of compassion, we spew forth words of discouragement, disrespect and disgrace. If we could sit, each one of us, before the face of one another, my opinion is that we would take a much different tone with each other than we do over the internet. But we, in this individualized Western culture, tend not to invest much in the lives of others. You see, if I am involved in your life and I care deeply about what happens to you, I will assume an entirely different attitude with you than I could electronically.
Moreover, if we could look into the eyes of our propositional opponents, realizing the excruciating suffering that Christ endured on their behalf, my opinion is that we would take a much different tone with each other than we do over the internet. How often we neglect to display the godly attributes of the Christ of grace. Charles Ringma, reflecting on the writings of Henri Nouwen, writes:
We are good at criticizing others and even better at giving advice. We assume that we know what is best for others, particularly the more unfortunate members of our society. But we are not so good at compassionate participation. We often fail to draw close. We are afraid of involvement, for we know that we may not be able to control the demands that may be made of us.
Yet compassion asks us precisely to take such a risk. In the words of Nouwen, "compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter places of pain."1
Jesus was once accused by people created in the image of God -- people for whom He would eventually die sacrificially -- of having a demon (John 8:48). I remember when this accusation first impacted me upon reading it. I sat there stunned that anyone could claim that the sinless Son of God was demon-possessed. I mean, what on earth had Jesus done, in order to receive such a despicable accusation? Well, in fact, He had confronted their hypocrisy, their opposition to His ministry, proclamation, and even to God Himself. "You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires." (John 8:44 NRSV) I suppose they returned the favor of being linked to the devil with their own demonic-familial accusation; and this discussion took place face to face, not on-line!
Words can be used as weapons with which to hurt people.
One way to use our hurts is in recognizing how God often "creatively uses difficulty to gain our attention. He does not [necessarily] create the difficulty. We are [all] good at doing that; or sometimes the difficulty springs from the brokenness of life itself. But problems can arrest us. And if we are willing to learn from them, they can become our friends."2
We learn to cope with and respond to being hurt not only by being identified with Christ, who was also hurt by the opinions of others; not only by learning from His example, by His responses; but also by understanding who we are, both in and of ourselves, as well as in Christ.
According to the latter I have to better understand not only who I am, but who I am in Christ, if I am to learn how to cope with and respond approrpiately to the opinions of others with which I disagree. Granted, I am still learning: I have not yet mastered the art of coping with opinions that I find hurtful or damaging. I am, however, a better student today than I was even a year ago. I know my quirks, my triggers, and the hot-button issues that provoke my ire. I know that I am often slow to listen, quick to speak or react, and quick to become angry, quite contrary to the command of Scripture (James 1:19). These reactions only compound the effects of being hurt; they intensify the pain.
But I also know that, being a redeemed child of God, I do not suffer alone with my pain. The Man of Sorrows (Isa. 53:3) is well-acquainted with my sorrows. He invites me to share in and identify with His pain; and I welcome Him to share in and identify with my pain -- even when I'm wrong; even when I fail. I can take my pain to the One who has mastered the art of coping with opinions, sit at His feet, and like a faithful student learn how to respond as would please Him and bring Him glory.
1 Charles Ringma, Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen (Colorado Springs: Piñon Press, 2000), Reflection 11.
2 Ibid., Reflection 20.
This post was written by William Birch. To find the original post, go here: http://classicalarminian.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-art-of-coping-with-opinions.html
BE A MAN.