I recently had a dream in which I had found a lost wallet and was making arrangements to return it. In a surprising twist, the owner was unappreciative and implied that I had ulterior motives. I woke up livid.In the following weeks, I encountered several real-life situations which somewhat mirrored my bizarre dream. I had performed kindnesses, and my efforts were met with disdain and accusations. Simply put, I felt hurt and angry.
When variations on the same theme – in this case, ingratitude – keep cropping up unbidden, I begin to figure God has His potter hands on me, chiseling away some edge or crack He means to smooth. Only I don’t much relish the refining process.
To understand how deeply I feel these sorts of sucker punches, you have to realize that I thrive on praise. Always have. I find it gratifying to meet a need and then get kudos for it. I’ve heard the assertion that every action, no matter how altruistic, springs from selfish motives. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but I definitely get a payoff from being a goody-two-shoes. The buzz I feel from being helpful is real and powerful.The flip side is, when my efforts are rebuffed, I may crash and burn.
With this understanding in mind, I’m pondering the ideas of gratitude and peacemaking. Let’s take them one at a time.
It occurs to me that humans very often behave this same way towards God. He has given to us “exceeding abundantly” (Ephesians 3:20) “all things that pertain to life and Godliness” (2 Peter 1:3); “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Yet so often our response to His blessings must wound His heart, as my experiences did mine. Christ lamented the fact that, of the ten lepers He cleansed in Samaria and Galilee, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19). The others went merrily about their business, apparently taking for granted the life-changing miracle they had just received. I lived much of my life with just such a mentality, never counting my blessings, but railing against God when things went wrong. I fear this attitude is, alas, the norm in our entitlement-oriented society.
What to do about it? I have no original ideas. The only solution I’ve found sounds trite, but it really is a simple fix. Just say thank You. For anything and everything. Philippians 4:6, Colossians 1:12 and 3:17, and 1 Thessalonians 5:18 all instruct us to do that. Peace will follow, we are assured (Philippians 4:7). When we choose to have a thankful attitude, it feeds on itself.
When the inevitable happens, and our good deeds are ignored or rejected, we again have choices to make. We can either sit in judgment and crawl into a self-pitying hole, or we can try to be Christ-like. In one case, I prayed about the situation and ended up writing the person a note explaining how the unfounded allegations made me feel, while at the same time expressing thanks for some incidents in which she had been helpful to me. I suggested it would be a shame to lose each other’s good will over a relatively small matter. I did not apologize because I truly had done nothing wrong. I steered clear of taking unfounded blame, but did try to be a peacemaker. We have seen each other several times since the incident, and things remain unresolved. I have to confess my behavior has not been consistently Christ-like.
At the suggestion of my prayer partner, I'm attempting to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), i.e., keeping my side of the street clean. In nuts and bolts, this means acknowledging the offender when we meet and looking for small ways to be of service without losing my own self-respect. When I balked at the idea of smiling and saying "good morning" to this ungrateful person, my prayer partner mildly answered, "Smile at God. He'll appreciate your greeting." In other words, I mustn't lose sight of whose good will I'm seeking when attempting to repair damaged relationships. Because I developed a "peace at any price" mindset early on in life, I must remember that I'm not trying to make this person like me. My goal is Romans 12:17-19, doing whatever is in my power to live at peace, for the sake of my King. Even if the person who hurt me doesn't know I'm still doing them good turns, the process of deliberate well-doing in the face of injustice helps me let go of the bitterness and heal.
In a more recent situation, I confronted my boss about some unfair treatment. I reminded her (heatedly) of the many ways I had been an asset to our operation. My prayer partner again offered some solid advice on this set of affairs. She reminded me that my self-esteem doesn't depend on this employer's opinion of me; I serve a higher authority. If I'm pleasing my heavenly supervisor, it matters little whether my earthly overseer recognizes my worth. Again, it's up to me whether to carry a grudge or quit over the inequities I'm facing. I have a strong feeling the Lord wants me to stick it out and learn how to deal with these types of setbacks, rather than looking for greener pastures (all of which seem to come with some type of manure anyway).
As an experiment (and because Jesus suggested it in Matthew 5:43-45), I'm practicing loving my enemies and doing good to those who have hurt me. For one thing, because these people aren't out-and-out enemies. I reserve that extreme title for folks who wield guns or report lies about me to the government. No, these people come in somewhere on the continuum between Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler. But even if I had to go up against a huge Goliath, God's advice would still apply. It worked for Corrie ten Boom against her Nazi captors; who am I to argue with that kind of success? Also, I have a feeling it's in my best interest (there go those selfish motives again) not to walk around with an Antarctica-sized chip on my shoulder.
The bottom line is, people disappoint us. We may try to be thoughtful, but sometimes our kindness goes unnoticed or de-valued. We will be less upset if we remember who we are actually serving. Hebrews 6:10 says it best: “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”
Check out: Newsboys' "Let it Go"
For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Keeping My Side of the Street Clean Part 2
Morsels for Meditation...: Keeping My Side of the Street Clean Part 3