Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. His emotions weren’t out of control. He simply wept. He felt. He expressed those feelings.
And so did the people around him after he wept. They certainly had a variety of responses:
- The Jews said, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36)
- Some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
- Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.” (John 11:39, following Jesus commanding the stone of the tomb be removed)
We respond differently to situations, as well as to the way others respond to those same situations. We declare people are too sensitive or justified. We’re surprised by how well or poorly we think they’re handling something. We have our own emotions to sift through, and our emotions affect our response to others’ emotions.
Be careful. Emotions are great companions but terrible leaders. They enhance life, but they don’t run life. Don’t give them the power and control they don’t deserve, either in your own life or your assessment of others.
It’s that time of year when many families come together and laugh and smile and make memories and post all their best moments on social media to share with the world and be affirmed with comments about how adorable and wonderful and amazing their family is!
And behind those snapshot moments are struggles, conflicts, unhealed hurts, and wishes that things would be better, not just in the family but in life.
Admitting we have struggles, conflicts, and hurts doesn’t mean we’re miserable. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the holidays with family. It simply means we admit that everything isn’t perfect, that there’s opportunity to grow. It means we don’t wallow in how things could be so much better “if only.” We’re willing to be patient, honest, gracious, and humble. We don’t wait until someone else changes before we’re willing to go the next step. We choose to change despite what someone else chooses. After all, we all have a different perspective of the truth of a situation. And most likely, we’re all a little right and a little wrong.
So this holiday season, even today, take a deep breath and resolve to be humble enough to consider someone else’s perspective. Extend some grace. Show compassion. Be authentic with discernment. Take a small step in the right direction. Refuse to expect everything to change and be healed at once. Allow others to grow, and take responsibility for your own growth.
Let go of what needs to go, and hang onto what’s truly important.
Only God can be fully forgiving, compassionate, and cleansing. Only He is blameless. He desires our integrity. He restores us. When we trust His authority and claim His character and promises, then we are able to receive His fullness.
The first step is an honest plea:
Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion. Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge. Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within. Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Turn Your face away from my sins and blot out all my guilt. God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You. (Psalm 51:1-13)
He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. (Psalm 9:12b)
It seems like God forgets the cries of the afflicted sometimes, or maybe that He just ignores them. But that’s our own perspective. When we don’t like His response time, we decide to project what we believe His decision and process must be.
We’re often wrong.
We can trust and believe Him, no matter what. Even when we don’t understand, when we don’t like a situation, when we feel overlooked. God is still God. He is still powerful enough, compassionate enough, just enough, and patient enough.
“Enough” is more our issue than His.
“So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19)
We get reassurance from the promise that God “will not leave the guilty unpunished,” and we apply it to the “them” in our lives, often a “them” we categorize and distance ourselves from. It’s easier to make accusations from a distance. When we get close, we realize just how human people are. We see that we have much in common with “them.” Really, there is little difference between us and them. We are guilty, too.
We sometimes focus so much on the promise to punish the guilty that we forget the context of this promise, which also includes the reminder of God’s character of being slow to anger and rich in faithful love. Yes, God is just as much those things to “them” as He is just. He is just as much those things to “us” as He is just.
Also in these verses is a humble plea for God to pardon “their” wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness for “them.” It’s not a blaming, condemning plea. It’s not an assault on “them.” It’s a plea to God. There is no finger-pointing, declaring that YOU need God’s forgiveness. It’s having such compassion, gentleness, and mercy on people that we go to God on their behalf first and foremost, continually and confidently. We tear down the wall between us and them so that we stand and speak on their behalf.
Right now, what is it like to be on the other side of me?
It’s a question we should ask ourselves often. And not just when we’re at our best. In our grumpy times, our overacting moments, our misjudgments: what is it like to be on the other side and receive what we are spewing?
Perhaps it would calm us down, humble us, cause us to slow down enough to explain what’s going on in our minds and hearts and better our interactions with others. Perhaps it would help us be patient and forgiving with others as we can relate to them in some way. Perhaps it would help us be more honest with ourselves and not compare someone’s glimpse of us to our best image of ourselves.
Perhaps we’d do a lot less rationalizing and a lot more listening, waiting, reflecting, and responding with generous compassion.
Gas prices started falling, and I was happy about it. So were most people around me. We’d have to spend less to travel and go about our daily business. We’d all have more expendable income, whether for ourselves or the community. The lower gas prices would have ripple effects that could only be good.
I then saw a couple of my friends from the coastline who posted about the ill effects of those gas prices. Their friends and families were losing their jobs. There were ripple effects throughout the community, but they weren’t good.
My perspective changed. I could pay an extra couple dimes per gallon in order to help another. I could quit assuming my good deal was a good deal for everyone.
I hope not to purposefully take a selfish perspective. Sometimes, I simply need someone to share another perspective to pull back the curtain on my selfishness.
We all do.
Let’s consider others’ perspectives. We may not agree with everyone, but we can learn, grow, and replace our self-centeredness with humility and compassion.