Always Take The High Road
As the old joke goes, experience is a wonderful thing. It allows you to recognize the same mistake the second time you make it. As you get older you (hopefully) gain a lot of experience. That means you either have made a lot of mistakes in your life, or you are wise enough to learn from the mistakes of others. I do things the old-fashioned way and learn by stubbing my toes and smashing my thumbs with the hammer. Amazingly, sometimes I have to hit my thumb two or three times before I learn to hold the nail with a pair of pliers. Like I said, experience is a wonderful thing.
Over the past couple of posts I have shared some experience that I have gained in my years as a minister/preacher. The things that I have written about have not been profound, but if a young man reads them and gains some valuable wisdom, then so much the better. Actually, I think that what I wrote is valuable for every Christian, but maybe has a little more application for the life of a preacher. Certainly we can all learn to hold our tongues when we are angry and also to learn to withhold our criticisms. Today I would like to continue in this thread, but hopefully change the tone slightly. Today I would like to focus on a positive character trait that will serve anyone well, but especially someone who is serving in a professional ministerial context.
If you choose a people helping profession to earn your living (or even to volunteer!) you will get hurt. It is a horrible fact of life, but it is absolutely certain that either the people you are trying to help will hurt you, or someone closely related to them will hurt you. Maybe the same is true for accountants and engineers and carpenters, but when you sign on as a preacher, a teacher, or a counselor you open yourself to some harsh and sometimes vindictive emotional attacks. It is in the nature of the service. The closer you get to the center of someone’s life the greater the danger of exposing their wounds. When those wounds are opened up it causes a great deal of pain. The most obvious response is to strike out against the one who exposed that pain, and with very few exceptions that means you, the preacher, minister, teacher or counselor. When that occurs (note I said when, not if) you have a couple of options.
The first option is the “low road.” The lowest road of all would be to retaliate in kind to the person who hurt you. Return their fire – if it is an elder, a grumpy church member, a defiant divorcee – whatever, blast them with everything that you have. This is frequently done from the pulpit or teacher’s lectern, so as to be cleverly disguised. Except that retaliation is very seldom disguised as much as we think it is. Of course, by taking the low road you will virtually guarantee that the person who attacked you will simply elevate their level of antagonism and will return your fire, but once the battle is joined there is little that can be done to alter that response. Also, it is a fairly certain reality that by joining in the conflict you will shorten your tenure wherever you are. If you a minister/preacher, you will be asked to move on or you will decide that the grass will be greener and the people more loving somewhere else, and you will just move your family and your baggage. Eventually, though, the next person you counsel will hurt you and you will respond by firing back, and the cycle will repeat itself once again. Remember that experience thing that I mentioned in the first paragraph?
Another low road is to retaliate against the person who hurt you by striking out at a safe person, someone you believe will not attempt to hurt you in return. So we yell at our husband or our wife, lash out at our children, or kick the cat. The insidious part of this response is that it is all done unconsciously. We do not intend to do so, we certainly do not want to do so, but we have these pent-up emotions and we have to get rid of them somehow. Bingo – we shoot at the nearest target, and those we love the most bear the brunt of our wounded pride. This behavior has its own punishments, however, and so the downward spiral of pain and retaliation simply takes another course and all too often the end result is either divorce or alienation from our children. This is certainly not a happy place to be.
Now, let’s consider the alternative. Take the high road. This road can be described in by referring to several different passages of Scripture, but the basic thought is the same. Do unto others as you would like them to do to you. Love your neighbor as yourself. Turn the other cheek. Walk the second mile. As far as it is dependent upon you, live at peace with others. Bear one another’s burdens. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus the Christ. If “firing back” is the best way to describe the low road, the high road can best be described by “unload your weapon and put it down.”
I will be the first to admit that taking the high road is not a natural response. I am pretty good at firing back. Maybe not at the person who hurt me – I am too clever to do that. I shoot at people who are utterly clueless as to what has hurt me. Remember my luck with nails and hammers? Well, other people’s thumbs are in danger any time I pick up a hammer. And given the fact that I am frequently asked to preach or teach, my opportunities to lash out at innocent bystanders are numerous. I have learned that I have to be very careful when I have been wounded not to carry that wound into the pulpit, or to carry it home. Sometimes I can succeed, all too often I fail.
But Jesus did not come and die to bless or justify sinful human pride. He came to expose the nature of that sinful pride and to remove it. He also provides the heart that is to replace that sinful human heart. It is a heart of self-sacrifice, of loving others with the love of His Father. It is the heart that David prayed for in Psalm 51. It is the heart that searches for, and then walks, the high road. The more pride we have, the lower the road that we are forced to take. The more that we allow God to destroy our pride, the higher we can go.
Walking the high road means we do not retaliate, either against the one who hurt us, or the safe people who surround us. We do not “return fire,” we unload our weapon and work to help those in pain safely unload theirs. We absorb the barbs, the jabs and the slanders and we return love and forgiveness. We may need to challenge and correct where it is necessary (never allow sin to go unchallenged) but we do so in humility, knowing full well that we all bear a heavy burden of sinful human nature. We keep our eyes focused on Jesus, knowing that he is our great example of being humiliated beyond description, yet remaining silent and even praying for those who hurt him the most.
I cannot say that I am where I want to be in this regard. I’m just too short-tempered. But I’ve got enough bandages on my thumbs to know that I need to work on this issue, and I pray that I am better at handling attacks than I was a few years ago. I pray that I am better next year than I am today.
Maybe I can even get to the point that people do not run for their lives when I pick up a hammer.
Posted on August 17, 2012, in Discipline, Feelings, Spiritual Formation and tagged discipleship, Feelings, Jesus, mistakes, Psalm 51, Self evaluation, Spirituality, Take the High Road. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.