"There are two types of people in the world," I used to tell my kids when they were younger.
Which one are you?"
It may seem overly simplistic, what with all the personality tests and self discovery guides experts have come up with for understanding what makes a person act the way they do, but sometimes boiling things down to a child-like evaluation can be insightful. Environmental and physical factors notwithstanding.
How we choose to interact with this world can be a matter of simple perspective. How we see ourselves is, quite simply, a way to affirm that choice.
Which is why I'd like to throw out another simple thought, in the form of a question again. One that could be very telling. And also very helpful.
Are you the sort of person who takes offense, or the kind who gives grace?
Maybe this isn't as cut and dried as all that. Because a person can be somewhere in between too. But what if you could resolve to be one or the other?
What I mean by that is, what if you could pre-determine to be someone who avoids a rush to judgment--someone who strives not to easily agitated by the actions of others?
I know. It's quite a thought, isn't it?
I often feel as though my skin quickly grows thin to attack, hard to defense. I feel susceptible, vulnerable even, when I witness what I think may be a lack of impropriety, or worse, bad behavior, and we all know there is plenty of both in the public sphere these days. It's a tough time to be human, living in a place where basically everything goes, morality is defined by the individual, and few people believe in manners anymore. It seems.
But what if you were to take a deep breath and a deeper prayer and resolve to live in misunderstanding--in a place where it's okay not to rush to judgment, or even to know the full extent of the circumstances, in a place where you might not have all the information?
In other words, are you able to hold a position where grace rules misunderstanding and love covers all transgressions?
I have to ask myself this frequently. And I do not like my answer. Especially in Costco.
Okay, so anyone who has ever shopped in Costco is tracking with me here. I don't know what it is about Costco, but the place can bring out the worst in humans! Don't get me wrong, I love Costco! My parents had one of the first memberships when the wholesale chain was known as Price Club on Morena Boulevard, in San Diego. My family has been shopping at Costco for four decades and my husband teases me mercilessly about this. I'm regularly boasting about some great buy I've found at Costco and the supplies we've laid up for a year and he's regularly labeling my purchases as "Costcovite". In my defense, you know how fast a couple of teenagers can put away food and it was much more impressive when all our kids were still at home. I have to go to Costco!
And yet, every trip to Costco is a test of my faith. It's really hard to walk with Jesus when the dirty rotten humans around you want to knock you off your feet. Or beat you. From your parking spot. Away from the sample. To the register. Out the door.
To the door is my favorite. It's like being in a Nascar race, where you feel that other driver approach from behind and then smack your bumper as he moves past, pushing you into the guardrail, causing you to spin.
And take offense.
And you really have to feel sorry for the workers at the sample tables. I couldn't do it. I'd never be able to show the love.
I would be so offended!
Jesus would be so disappointed.
Most of the time.
Lord help me but I take offense. And it's the last thing I want to do, given my understanding of what controls it.
Recently, I came to ugly terms with the spirit of offense, and let me tell you, if you don't believe in an enemy who roars around like a lion and incites people to offense, you're missing an opportunity to pray against such. And to offer grace.
I'm working out all of that myself. And sometimes I take it personally. Sometimes I take offense because someone else has been offensive.
Recently I was in a parking lot and had just buckled my grandson into his carseat, settling the purchases I'd made on the seat beside him, when I realized there wasn't a cart return anywhere near the vehicle. I couldn't leave him out of sight for a moment (it's not even legal, I believe) and we were going to be late to school, so I looked around and found a grassy island I could put the cart on. It seemed a win-win to me, what with it out of the way of traffic and my grandson safely provided for. But as I did that, a tall, gray-haired man with a mean grin appeared out of nowhere and began to yell at me. "Are you so lazy you can't walk that cart back to where it belongs?"
"Sir," I told him gently at first, "I have a small child I can't leave."
"What's your problem?" he snarled. "You are a lazy...@#%$*"
At this point he became nearly rabid, hissing and spitting as he yelled at me. I quickly got back in my car and drove away, trembling, truth be told. I also told him he was a terrible human before doing so, further truth be told.
I wondered why I had to suffer such a random attack, for that it what it was. I'd been minding my own business!
A short time later, my daughter Grace and I met my mother for dinner at a Kansas City Mexican food restaurant. My mother had phoned us to tell us she already had a table, so when we made it in the door Grace moved past me and beyond a man standing so as to block our paths, to see if she could spot her grandmother. Grace was well on her way but I stepped gingerly around him, hesitating momentarily. As I did so, he began shouting at me. "That's right, just step right in front of me!"
"I am so sorry sir! I didn't mean..." I began.
"Sure you did," he roared.
"I am meeting my..."
"Just keep telling yourself that!"
What I was telling myself, was that I could make things right. Surely we could talk about this. Surely he hadn't taken such offense at my actions that he wasn't open to reconciliation.
He had. Taken such offense.
I made eye contact. I smiled. I smiled with my eyes. It didn't work.
These are but two examples of more that have happened to me lately, in places where logic and compassion and honesty and grace are as far away as Pluto and truly, there are days I want to climb to the top of the tallest mountain or to the middle of a dense forest and sequester myself away from humans. Maybe even travel to the farthest planet in our solar system to find reason.
Why am I encountering such offense? Why does it seem to be worsening across the planet? I'd been far more annoying in my younger years. I still am on occasion. But I do try to be kind, more now than ever before. So what gives?
It's hard not to take these sorts of thing personally, but we shouldn't. The spirit of offense is at work, and it isn't always logical or amenable to change. If we have an idea of what we are up against, we can pray against it.
Also, we can endeavor to be different. To resolve not to take offense ourselves.
For example, when you are in the sample line for a piece of Godiva chocolate and there are only two left, and you and your children are next, and then some uncouth wretch dive-bombs the line and snatches them away, popping them in his mouth and rushing away before you can bat an eyelash, you can resolve to live in a lack of understanding.
What you don't know is that maybe his glucose levels are down and he needs sugar fast!
Maybe he was raised in a jungle.
Maybe he has brain damage.
Maybe he just Iikes chocolate. A lot.
And maybe the Costco worker needs to hear you appreciate her that day. Maybe your kids need to see you have manners yourself when you treat her graciously and with respect, thanking her for her effort to provide you wonderful, free chocolate!
Maybe we all need a little more grace. And a whole lot less offense.
No offense, but maybe we need to be praying against these things. Maybe we need to do a better job waging war against offense.