I listened to several sermons to pass the time on the drive home from a visit to my hometown this week, and one thing that really stuck in my heart was the mention of how people are basically looking for a way to be offended these days. Facebook is rampant with people “taking a stand”. It is also full of posts that give glimpses into problems with strangers or in relationships, degrading people who are not able to defend themselves. And this behavior is not just coming from teenagers, but full grown adults.
This brief mention in the sermon really made me think of my blog. It made me consider the time I take to edit each line, reading and rereading it, trying to make sure that it can not be taken out of context. I spend time fretting over whether my writing could be misconstrued to be directed at certain people, and often delete things that perhaps would have been beneficial out of fear of having someone misjudge my intentions.
After spending time just meditating on what this behavior really means for our culture, I came to several conclusions. The fact that people are constantly on the defensive has really impaired the depth of our relationships; from parenting to family relationships to friendships. And we have to be diligent to keep our relationships from becoming shallow.
Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.
Instead of walking around as if we are clad in iron, we are walking around as if we are made of china or eggshells. Any little hint of offense threatens to crumble our attitude or cripple our joy. People in our society can no longer have a cordial conversation about tough topics, instead they are frothing at the mouth the minute they feel opposed.
Where there is strife, there is pride,
but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
We see this as parents in the deplorable trend of people trying to befriend their children instead of parent them. They do not want to handle the tough topics or discipline, so they bend and twist and do whatever they can to avoid them. They try to pacify their children with worldly pleasures in the hopes that they can fill in the cracks that the brokenness of this world creates in their children’s hearts over time. These type of parents will avoid the tough stuff at home, but will be the first to go to battle for their children in meaningless conflicts out in the world.
We are seeing the results of this approach as these children enter the real world. They can not hold jobs, because they can not stand to hear that they are not perfect. Their parents are approaching college professors about their children’s work and tests. These children become adults who feel entitled to a life that they have not earned. They want things they have not worked for. They entrench themselves in heaps of debt, and do not feel responsible to pay it off. If we are weak in our parenting resolve, how can we expect to raise strong and responsible children? If we can not be the iron in our children’s lives who will be?
In our relationships with other adults we see a shallowness that has really never existed before this time of technological advances. We are connected by the internet and cell phone to hundreds of “friends”, but the depth of people’s relationships as a whole is lacking. Our core families and extended families have weakened to the point that the need for foster families, elderly care facilities, and government programs to provide aid for those who have no one willing to help them has increased one hundred fold. What once was considered the duty of a family member has been given over to strangers. Now are there circumstances where these public institutions are necessary, even a blessing? Absolutely, some people need around the clock health care and sometimes there really is not a suitable fit for orphaned children within their extended family, but I firmly believe public institutions shouldn’t be the first resource we consider. Especially when we are considering them due to the shear fact that they are convenient.
Friendships seem to be most vulnerable of relationships. Most friendships anymore, even in the Church, are not deep enough to withstand the trial by fire of a disaster hitting someone’s life. How many people really have life long friends anymore? Or even friends that they have had for several decades? They are very few, and far between. How many believers have even one friend that they can share their deepest woes with, a friend they would say sharpens them as iron sharpens iron? Satan baits us to keep secrets, and he uses isolation as a key component in his plan to destroy. Right now it seems he is using being offended as a way of isolating people more and more.
I blame this trend of weakened relationships on our society’s deep belief that we all have the right to not be offended. Ever. We live in a society that has slowly become so entrenched in political correctness that we can not see the forest of problems it has created for the trees. I also blame this problem on the fact that people have become very self-absorbed, feeling that every little utterance has to do with their specific situation.
A person’s wisdom yields patience;
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
Hear me now, I am totally guilty of many of the things I have shared as problems; although, with the Good Lord’s help I am working to remedy them. Thank the Lord for His abundant grace, because I need it!
As I mentioned earlier, I try to not offend people in my writing, because I have witnessed how the internet’s court system is swift and unfair with its form of “justice”. I have also experienced broken relationships because someone took offense to something I wrote or said without ever asking any tough questions, like whether it even had to do with them, and I was just as guilty for not approaching them. I have allowed relationships in my own family to go to the wayside, because I do not want to have tough conversations with those closest to me. I have lost friendships due to not being bold enough to have hard talks. I have been guilty of slowly removing myself from the lives of several friends because I had my own drama to deal with. I also see the allure in foregoing disciplining my children at times, because being the bad guy stinks.
So how do we fix these problems? What does this mean for our day to day walk?
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
If iron sharpens iron, then we ourselves have to be strong and we have to allow what can be an uncomfortable process of transparency with others and God help form us into the Children of God that we were meant to be. We have to allow ourselves to be sharpened. We need to overlook things that could possible offend us, and look into the heart of the person who is talking with us. We need to quit assuming that everything people say has to do with us, and be aware that sometimes that feeling you are getting is the Holy Spirit correcting you. You have the option to be offended or feel guilty, or you can ask God to help you change that part of your life so it glorifies him.
We also have to be courageous enough to sharpen those around us. That means having uncomfortable conversations, speaking up when it isn’t always convenient, disciplining our children, instructing our children, and learning to listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in all these things. What this does not mean is going around and acting like you are a Holy Spirit Jr. and trying to correct every little thing a person does.
If only we could see the joy that is gained and the amount of our own burden that is lifted when we choose to purposefully communicate and interact with one another. If only we would choose to put aside our childlike feelings and see through eyes of love when someone who loves us tries to speak into our lives, even when they are speaking a bit of correction. If only we could ask God for the strength and courage to speak up to those we love when we see them being self destructive or disrespecting Our Lord.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
This week I was led by the Holy Spirit to put my money where my mouth is, and follow through with this iron sharpening iron thing. I followed His leading to start a prayer group with several ladies that I will be serving with at a retreat in March. These are women that I know pretty well, some I have known for many years, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve racking to put myself and my detailed prayer requests out there. God calls us to be transparent and being transparent takes trust, and surrounding myself with trustworthy friends hasn’t always been easy. As I shared in my last post, exposing weaknesses is really hard for me. Trusting people can also be hard for me. Even though it will be hard, I know without a doubt that this new leg of my journey of faith is going to stretch me spiritually day by day. I am so hopeful for what it means for the growth of my faith, and God couldn’t have picked a more awesome group of women for me to travel with.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Do you have someone that serves as the iron to sharpen your faith? Are you making yourself available to be iron to those around you? Take some time to meditate on how you can build your relationships to increase the fruitfulness of this process. If you do not have these types of relationships, think about how you can change that in the future. Pray for God to bring these relationships into your life, and for Him to give you a heart that is open to them.
All is grace and all need grace, friends.