The world often teaches us to repay evil with evil, or an eye for an eye. But God tells us to “pay them back with a blessing…and to not repay evil with evil [or] retaliate with insults when people insult you“ (1Peter 3:9).
I try to teach my boys how to talk to and treat people respectfully in all situations. Do I model it well? Not always. I sometimes fall short of being a good role model. This is when I pray for God’s redemptive power.
Over the summer I took my boys to the community swimming pool at their father’s apartment complex. After seeing other kids playing with their water guns in the pool, the boys wanted us to go get theirs too. My oldest, Ian, asked to stay behind while my youngest and I head back to the apartment. Though the walk to their Dad’s place wasn’t far, I still asked Ian to get out of the pool until we return. Nearly 11 years old, I felt comfortable with him staying at the gated pool, with other people around.
We returned, and as I watched my boys walk to the pool with their water guns, I heard a woman shouting. Turning toward the direction of the voice, I saw a woman on the other side of the pool moving in my direction, fast.
“This is against the rules! That’s a violation! If you can’t follow the rules, then your pool pass privilege can be removed!” She was yelling at me. All at once I felt publicly humiliated and mistreated in front of the strangers at the pool, and my kids.
Astonished, I said “sorry.” I must have put her in some difficult situation. “I don’t want to hear your ‘sorry’!” fumed the woman. I began to gather she was a parent volunteer for the community pool. She was angry and explained I broke a pool rule by leaving my child unattended, and for that she could take away our pool privileges.
Was this for real?
Once she got back to her station, she discovered a second possible violation, and yelled all the way across the pool, “Did you even sign in today!?”
Honestly. At this point Jesus wasn’t running through the self-talk in my mind. I was somewhere closer to plotting my revenge. As I made my way across to the sign-in area, I thought about all the words my injured pride wanted to say. But then I bit my tongue. Thank you Holy Spirit for self-control in this moment.
While signing in, she continued: “That’s two violations! I can take away your pool privilege!” I listened. Looking beyond “how” she was delivering her message, I could reason that there were community pool rules I didn’t know about. In the end, I want my sons to be able to keep coming here with their father or me.
Having witnessed the entire incident, Ian said to me – “I don’t like the way she talked to you. It was not nice.” My boys became uncomfortable and asked if we could leave. I told the boys that they didn’t have to be afraid. Sometimes people behave in ways that we don’t like. I hope my choice to not repay evil with evil, will somehow stay with them.
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Though the pool incident was embarrassing and hurtful – for the boys and me, I was convicted. Honestly, at times, I am no different from that pool lady. In the heat of the moment, I have publicly humiliated my children or yelled at them in ways that belittled, disrespected, and dishonored them.
In the name of enforcing rules of proper behavior, obedience, responsibilities, picking up after themselves, sharing nicely with each other…, I’ve lost my cool and said things I later regretted. At times, I have repeatedly reminded my children of their offense.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
At times, I’ve dismissed my children’s “I’m sorry” because I needed time to process my emotions and the conflict and was not ready to accept the apology.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)
I am also learning to humbly and graciously accept an apology even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes is takes a while to get some distance from the emotion in our conflicts or misunderstandings. More and more I realize that, apart from the help of the Holy Spirit, I am not capable of responding in a way that truly reflects the character of Jesus.
Thank you God for showing me each day how to be more like you! I am so grateful that you are not finished with me yet.
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Phil. 1:6