Voices in the storm
God is truly in control of the tiniest details of our lives & the best part is that He continually equips us to face every season of our journey. I say this from experience because I have often found in my life that the message series at church is a good indicator of what I'm about to learn in a very practical way in my own life!
A few weeks ago I had an unfortunate incident, for lack of a better word! I was called something really offensive (insert shocked face here). The thing is I was blissfully unaware as it was happening because it was said in another language which I clearly did not understand. Someone else who had witnessed this later told me what had happened by translating what was said. I remember driving home that day just numb. I never in my wildest dreams expected to feel so shaken by this comment. Deep down I knew that this ugly word didn't define me yet I still went through tides of different emotions - one minute angry, the next sad then just shocked. That day I struggled to organise my feelings & I kept going over in my mind why this had happened. I had done nothing to incite the comment so why!
Over the next few days every person I spoke to about it just fueled my anger. They listened and then vented with me about the state of our society and all the woes of this world and how easily people hurt others without giving it a second thought. Eventually I felt compelled to lay a complaint. I had been in two minds about this but against my better judgement I chose to fight this battle, that for the most part till now had been going on in my head. My rationalisation - how could I let him go around telling this hurtful thing to others. After laying the complaint I felt the total opposite of what I thought I would feel - no vindication, no relief, not even a sense of justice! Now I was riddled with dread over the possible loss of his job, retaliation on his part out of anger perhaps, intimidation of the person who told me - my imagination was running wild. A few days later I recall relaying the incident to my nail technician. Don't ask me why but for some strange reason my nail appointments often involve very intense life changing conversation. In this instance she was the first person to make me fully stop and think about what I was doing. She asked me first off, after listening to me rant, "Did you confront the guy directly?" Insert Matthew 18:15 - confront your brother directly in private if he has sinned against you. Of course I didn't, I said with disgust. "But why not?" she remarked. "Maybe he doesn't understand how hurtful that was, maybe he doesn't even know fully what it means. And if you want him not to do it again to someone else, laying a complaint won't achieve it maybe talking directly to him & helping him understand the hurt that stereotype brings would be more effective." This had never crossed my mind. Honestly I was too afraid to confront him and maybe that wasn't even the problem. The redness in my face and the frustration I spewed out as I talked about the incident meant that in my heart I was still angry, I was unforgiving, I did not want to show love or reconciliation. My action was a manifestation of just that. I immediately realised that I had handled this all wrong.
When people describe a rough time as a storm, it's a very apt term for that situation. It's not quiet and peaceful, far from it. It's rowdy & chaotic because there are loud voices drowning out what you know, there are things flying at you from all directions, like your emotions - anger enticing you to get revenge, pride stopping you from thinking of anyone but yourself, self-pity reminding you how sorrowful your life is because of what you are going through. This whole incident got me thinking - who are we listening to when we're in the storms of life. We recently experienced a Tornado over Tembisa and as I was reading up about these weather phenomenons I discovered that a tornado and a hurricane is very different because of how they form, how long they last, etc. I don't want to bore you with weather trivia but I learnt something quite intriguing about hurricanes so stay with me for just a minute. In a nut shell a hurricane is a huge storm with violent winds that can rip up entire cities. The centre of the storm or what is known as the "eye" is the calmest area - the weather is fair and the winds are light. Surrounding the eye is the "eyewall" where the strongest winds and worst weather resides and it is what decimates anything in its path. Interesting & pretty amazing how the destructive eyewall is so close to the eye yet the eye is unaffected and calm. It is much like the Christian walk - God doesn't promise there won't be hard times but He does offer his peace in the midst of it. You see if you have Him you can be in the centre of a storm yet at peace and unaffected by all the chaos and mayhem going on around you. The voices in your storm need to be limited to God fearing people or even better God alone through His word or direction from the Holy Spirit. I didn't find the right counsel when I was in the midst of the storm - instead I listened to the wrong voices. Had I been prompted to inspect my heart maybe my approach would have been different. I have also judged people before based on unfounded stereotypes - not verbally but in my heart yes! How does that make me any different? Maybe God was prompting me in this storm to look at the thoughts I have in my own heart towards others and towards myself.
You see the very Sunday before this incident, Ps Peter preached a message on God our creator. Had I recalled that message in that moment then I would have realised that I'm created by the most high God and I would have accepted two things. I'm more than that word or the stereotype or the perception because the Creator of the entire heavens and the earth created ME, in His own image. Because He created me I belong to him and He knows my worth & value. I don't need the opinions of others to tell me who I am, my identity and purpose is found in my owner, in my creator, in my God. I only need to read His word to know who and what I am and for that matter every other person that God has so lovingly created. Secondly when you recognize God as your creator you have a holy fear of Him that causes you to live your life the way He designed you to live it ...I am sure among other things that means a life lived in love & peace no matter how right you think you are - love and peace must prevail. The manner in which I had handled this did not have forgiveness & reconciliation as the focus but was rather a feeble attempt to say I am truly more than that word. This is why I did not have peace in the midst of the storm.
I realised that if I wanted this person who had hurt me to change his thinking and if I myself wanted to change my thinking then laying a complaint wasn't going to fix it - it could in fact illicit the very opposite of the desired outcome. The situation called for love & maybe that would be the catalyst for change. He needed to see a practical demonstration of forgiveness & reconciliation to hopefully change his incorrect mindset of me as a person. The first chance I got, I retracted the complaint and asked if his employer could arrange for him to attend some form of counselling to help him understand the impact of what he said & to hopefully understand why he should not say that to someone else. I asked that we be given an opportunity to meet to discuss what happened. My friend and I even suggested sharing a meal with him to chat about the incident and why it hurt me so much. In that way we can demonstrate in a practical way that even though we may have differences we are still brother and sister in the kingdom of God & that we are called to love each other just as Christ loves us.
Love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8) - such a powerful verse! When I look back at this incident I wonder if maybe I should have let the offense go or perhaps confronted my brother in grace....one thing is for sure, I should have loved him past his offence/mistake/sin. One day I will need someone I encounter to love me past mine!