People’s Irritating Faults Can Give Clues to My Own

By Keith Miller | July 28, 2010

Dear Keith,

Recently I felt that God was urging me to write a letter to another Christian telling her that she was arrogant and unloving and was very vain about her physical appearance.  In what I considered to be obedience I wrote the letter.  My friend not only did not receive the letter well; she blasted me in return, telling me that my letter was more judgmental and arrogant than she had ever been.  And she proceeded to criticize me about several areas I’m very sensitive about in my own life.

I now realize that the letter was judgmental, but how can I know in advance whether something like this is God’s will?  I want to help the people around me to see the light and change.

Paul Tournier points out in one of his books, The Violence Within, that the main trouble with violent or aggressive acts (for which your letter would qualify) is that they trigger defensiveness and greater violent or aggressive acts.  If you had reacted to your friend’s reaction, you could have escalated your feelings until one of you resorted to physical violence or ran away from the relationship.

Confronting someone directly with his or her faults is a notoriously ineffective way to produce change in other people.  The only luck I’ve had in talking to people about the problems and failures involved in trying to live for God has been by talking about my own problems and failures and pointing beyond the problems to the hope I’m finding in Christ as I try to work through the difficulties of life.

You ask how you might know in advance whether something like your urge to write the letter really was God’s will.  I’m not sure, but I find that when God seems to be speaking to me about a certain behavior in someone else, my first step had better be to examine my own life with regard to that behavior.  When something someone else is doing really upsets me, it is often because I have a similar problem hidden from myself in my own life.

Jesus said that before we try to take the speck of sawdust out of a brother or sister’s eye we’d better first get the plank out of our own.  Then we won’t feel much like bugging our brother or sister about his or her “specks”.

I don’t know how you see Jesus, but several places he said the bottom line is always to love your brothers and sisters “the way I have loved you.” (Jn. 13:35)  And Jesus decided that the best way to straighten us all out was to die for us—to love us enough to kiss goodbye that which was most important to him, his life and ministry, in order to let us know that God and he really love us.  And from God’s perspective, “this is how much he loved the world.  He gave his son, his one and only son, for us.  (Jn. 3:16-18)

So although I have often been uncomfortable with some of the faults of my friends and relatives, I have discovered that almost always there is something I do of which I’m not aware that contains some aspect of the faults I see in other people.  For example, the first thing your friend did was to point to your having the same problem of which you accused her.  It has been very hard for me to realize that I could have a serious problem like those I see in others and basically not be aware of having them.  But I do.

Dear Lord, it is so hard sometimes for me to tolerate a friend’s or family member’s irritating behavior.  I just want to blurt out, “Can’t you see how irritating you are?”  And I confess that sometimes I do try to get it across, though not in those exact words.  But other times your presence prevails and I am able to bite my tongue, though I notice I avoid that person more and more.  Thank you for providing a way for me to unlock my own denied “fault vault,” and to face my own irritating behavior that has other people biting their tongues.  Help me with your grace to find the humility to own these faults and bring them to you for healing, so that I may become less irritating and more understanding, patient and loving toward others.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Paul said, “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.”  (1 Cor. 14:1.)

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, and criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.  Matthew 7:1-5 (The Message)

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on People’s Irritating Faults Can Give Clues to My Own
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