Fruit at the retail level
February 24th, 2020 / By: Gary Ledbetter | Editor / comments
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
As I write this, my news website is in the fourth day of being down. I’ve come to the point where I’d like to know the name and contact information of someone at whom I can righteously and productively yell. Maybe you know the urge: your flight was cancelled and the only people you can talk to had no part in the decision and can’t currently solve your problem, or some genius decided to close lanes on three parallel routes on your way home so that you have no way that doesn’t take much longer. The possibilities are endless and familiar. I don’t want to make grumpy faces at the people sent to meet the inconvenienced public, but I very much want to make them at somebody up the food chain. But of course that’s rarely possible. Decision makers are in positions to hire people to take the heat for them.
But everyday frustrations are not the point; my desire to “get satisfaction” in mundane situations is the problem I can address. It is a hard part of my sanctification. That is why my wife says I’m not always a pleasant traveler—airports are efficient factories of frustration for impatient people. I admit it: my instinct for justice in most cases is fleshly. Living or traveling in a large metro area is a tailor-made trap for those of us who are sometimes easily vexed. Here are some mantras I use:
It’s not this person’s fault. In airport travel it’s almost always true that the people you talk to did not cancel the flight, set the rates or make the applicable federal regulations. It’s not fair to make them miserable just because you are. This also applies in many other settings. Have you ever griped at or about the pastor because the auditorium was chilly or the restroom was out of tissue?
It is this person’s fault, be generous with him. Biblical “goodness” carries the idea of generosity (forgiveness, kind assumptions, etc.). Maybe this is the greatest lack within our churches or our fellowship of churches—assuming that a person can be earnestly and benevolently mistaken. Those of us who also make mistakes certainly do expect this kind of mercy. And those of us who are actually guilty of bad intent desire forgiveness from others. We must give it to others.
Don’t attribute to malice what is better explained by ignorance. This is a favorite of mine. It moves me from “What is wrong with you!” to “Okay, how can we fix this?” It makes that airline gate attendant a partner in a solution rather than an enemy. It’s easier to assume the worst but rarely helpful.
The person before you can help you or hurt you. Now this is the pragmatic mantra. Even those at the sharp end of a business have some discretion to give you a break. Maybe they can extend themselves just a bit to help you out. Why would they do that if you charge at them waving your arms and shouting? Remember, they could also lose your file or ignore you for a crucial few minutes. When you call a business, the person who answers the phone also has a good deal of power. Treating that person shabbily is not in your best interest. If her boss is a good boss, your behavior will have systemic consequences as you seek a solution. Someone close to me tends to approach every clerk as a conspirator against him. Strange how rarely that works.
The clerk, the pastor, the deacon, the motorist, is a person for whom Christ died. I use this one daily, more often than daily. Imagine tailgating the slow people in front of you and honking when they don’t dash away after the light turns green, then following them into the church parking lot on Sunday morning. We do not have the ability to amend a person’s bad habits as we pass through a store or complain about him in Sunday School, but we can wreck our relationship with him. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of Philippians 2:5.
A lot of us are talking these days about unity, temperate dialogue and self-control. That’s good and I add my voice, and my confession, to this conversation. Maybe we need to think more broadly than just minding our tongues (even digital ones). We occasionally have a chance to make someone’s situation better by how we respond. More easily, we can make someone’s situation worse by being jerks. Either way, how we treat people bears fruit beyond our imagining.
Acting like a jerk is in the Bible as well, by the way. Paul calls those the works of the flesh, things which do not typify those who have been transformed by the Savior.