Far Side Jerks

Relationships. The quip has been made, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” The action is with people, though. You don’t serve an organization, system, or cause. God is at work in people. Where there are people, there are relationships. If the Kingdom of God is anything, it is a kingdom of right relationships.

Relationships are the focus of God forming Christ in his people. You probably wonder why others make God’s work so difficult of forming Christ in you. The Spirit’s fruit of patience and gentleness and goodness would easily bloom if those around you would stop challenging those things in your life, right? Like a harsh frost, difficult relationships damage or kill what would easily be something beautiful and abundant in your life.

The facetiousness of the above reveals the problem is not simply people. However, no matter where the problem lay, I would submit living in the kingdom of right relationships is decided by the perspective and response you take. Henri Nouwen offers sage advice about perspective and response in relationships.

“One of the essential qualities of creating community…is not to judge. Essential. Do not even in your heart figure out, ‘He’s just a jerk.’ Try to get beyond that. As soon as you start dividing your parishioners into jerks and non-jerks, you’re lost, because community is primarily an interior thing. Everybody has to have a space inside you….That doesn’t mean you have to be stupid and let everybody walk over you. There should be compassion. People have to know that in your heart that there is space for them.”(1)

I am sure you can think of one or two (or ten) difficult people in your life. Perhaps you have a few labeled a jerk. When you do, you do damage to the Kingdom of God. Nouwen did not come up with this on his own. Not judging and having compassion is Jesus’ directive. But how do you get this perspective? Then, how do you respond?

I was really helped by John Casey a few weeks ago in a talk on that passage about not judging–the take-out-the-plank passage in Matthew 7. When you get your hackles up toward something you see in someone else (a speck in their eye), you must consider how that “thing” may be true of you (the plank in your own eye). Jesus says it is an issue of perspective. In Matthew 7:5 is the phrase “then you will see clearly.” As Nouwen said, you have to make space inside yourself, and part of that is creating solidarity in the problem. How is what you hate in you?

John Casey offered this process for withholding judgment in your relationships:

1. Anger (at whom?)

2. Arrow (about what?)

3. Auto (turn the arrow around)

4. Approach (freshly engage the relationship)

Relationships are where God’s Kingdom comes. Having his perspective is essential in the work which you are called. Calling people jerks reveals the malformation of the kingdom within. How can you freshly approach the difficult relationships in your life?

1. Jesus Jujitsu.

2. Run to the tension.

3. Motives, Wounds, & Needs.

4. For fun: the power of lollipops.

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