In the beginning of 2015, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to be more gracious to others. When I told my friends about this resolution, some of them laughed. Actually, most of them did. That resolution seemed light and easy on paper. However, in the gritty grime of real life, being gracious proved beyond challenging.
I spent most of that year in tense friction with a co-worker. We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we had to work together. That resulted in some more-than-awkward situations. This co-worker seemed to me quite ignorant and rude. I didn’t like the things he did, I didn’t respect him, I couldn’t stand him. To me, this co-worker was definitely one of those hard-to-work-with (or more like hard-to-interact-with) people. I was so focused on how annoying he was. I reverted to passive aggressive methods. The zenith of this conflict was a period in time where we weren’t talking to each other. We did whatever was right in our eyes - which meant we did whatever we wanted without communicating with each other. This co-worker was the thorn in my flesh.
One of my professors in college imparted words of truth that stayed with me long after I’ve forgotten the class.
I am messy.
I was too focused on what I thought my coworker did wrong and less on showing love to him. I was too focused on being validated for being right that I forgot all about being gracious. This co-worker of mine seemed very messy, but I forgot that I too am messy. I had my baggage from previous work conditions. I had my pride I was struggling with. I wasn’t even close to being loving. I had focused so much on his brokenness, that I somehow made myself believe I wasn’t broken to begin with. For much of 2015, this co-worker said and did things that were hurtful to me, but I did the same to him. I hit back - harder. This isn’t something I’m particularly proud of.
When I look at the Bible, it fascinates me how much of the Word of God focuses on the way we interact with others. The law of Moses in the Old Testament focused on giving the people rules for how they could live peacefully with their neighbors. Most of The Ten Commandments have something to do with the way people are to live their lives in relations with other people. In the New Testament, Jesus focused on challenging his followers to love others as they love themselves. Jesus summarizes the Law of Moses in two relational commandments: loving God and loving others.
Again, these commandments sound somewhat easy. In fact, they sound rather unchallenging. How hard could it be? Well, as I have mentioned above, extremely difficult. And messy.
According to the dictionary, to flourish means to “grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.” While words like “grow” and “develop” and “vigorous” are eye-catching, the phrase that seems to hold the definition together is the last one: as the result of a particularly favorable environment. A couple of months ago, we discussed the idea of being rooted. Please bear with me as I go back for a moment to the concept of being rooted. As children of God, pursuing a life that flourishes in the way we love others, we ought to have God’s Word rooted deeply in us. For us to grow in a vigorous way, we need the favorable environment where the Word of God can grow vigorously.
The story that comes to my mind when I think about “favorable environments” is the parable of the sower from Matthew 13. According to Jesus’ parable, seeds fell on the side of the road, on rocky soil, among thorns and on good soil. The others did not yield anything, but the ones that fell on good soil yielded thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. I think it’s safe to say that the seeds that landed on good soil flourished. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
The Word of God, if heard, understood and lived out, has the power to transform our lives. It shows us things within us that we need to let go of. The Word of God has the power to transform us to be more and more like Jesus every day, giving us the strength and the grace to love others the way Jesus challenged us to.
Spending time in God’s Word challenged me in how I interacted with my co-worker. Rather than showing me everything that’s wrong about my co-worker, God’s Word shows me what is wrong about me - in my attitude, in my words, in my actions. His Word gave me the strength to choose to be silent and to not sweat the small stuff. It’s rather interesting how well we actually work together now. Both of us have gained better knowledge of each other, where we come from, and our differing personalities. We’ve gotten better at communicating. We’ve learned to mutually submit to each other. Honestly, that was all God’s work in me. I found that this process wasn’t really about God changing my co-worker so I can work better with him, it was about God changing me so I can show God’s love to him.
Going back to that image of broken glass. God’s Word softens our jagged edges and shapes us. There seems to be a certain sacredness in the way we, once-broken pieces of glass, can stand alongside other once-broken pieces of glass and let the Light shine through.
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