Want to make someone feel anxious and self-conscious? Scowl and point a finger at them. That ought to do it.
Even if they haven’t done anything.
Of course, pointing fingers isn’t the most loving thing to do. And it’s hard to respond in love when we feel the finger is pointed as us.
That’s why if we want our relationships to be more loving, we have to stop playing the blame game.
What can we do? It would take volumes to spell it all out. But here, briefly, are four practical implications of Paul’s teaching that love isn’t irritable and doesn’t keep account of grudges (1 Cor 13:5):
- We must cultivate compassion for our own brokenness;
- We must cultivate compassion for each other’s brokenness;
- We must apologize for the hurt we have caused;
- We must forgive the hurt others have caused us.
Are there limits, exceptions, and qualifications to all of this? Of course. But let’s not start with those. We first need a vision of how we might enact a gospel of love in the everyday reality of our relationships.
Let’s start with the two sides of compassion; we’ll deal with apology and forgiveness in the next two posts.
Christians follow a Savior whose very ministry was authenticated by acts of mercy and compassion. Being a disciple of that Savior means cultivating that same compassion for others.
What may be less obvious is that if we truly understand the nature of the grace we have received, we must have compassion for ourselves as well. We must not only grieve our own sin and brokenness, but receive the love of Jesus into it.
I’m not talking about looking in the mirror and giving yourself a big hug every morning (I’d rather hug my wife, thank you). I’m talking about taking the same stance toward ourselves that Jesus already took in his ministry of healing and on the cross, the stance he takes even now as our heavenly intercessor.
Please understand what I’m saying here. I’m not saying that we should be lax about sin. But to be harshly moralistic with ourselves isn’t somehow more “spiritual.” It’s siding with the Pharisees against Jesus. Refusing compassion to ourselves makes us vulnerable to falling into a religion of works, an endless and dreary life of trying to justify ourselves before a God who can never be pleased.
Furthermore, researchers like psychologist Kristin Neff have discovered that those who have more compassion for their own brokenness tend to have more compassion for the brokenness of others. Imagine, then, someone who wants to be more truly compassionate toward others, but is harsh with themselves (is that you?). It may not be impossible, but it’s an uphill climb. We may be able to put on the appearance of compassion, but true compassion isn’t found through living a double life.
Irritability and resentment fuel the blame game, but the cultivation of compassion for ourselves and others helps move us in the other direction. As I’ve suggested before, don’t expect to be able to suddenly manufacture compassion in the midst of conflict; compassionate habits of thought have to be cultivated when you’re calm.
If we are able to do this, the next two things on the list will be easier: apology and forgiveness. We’ll begin with apology in the next post.