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Recreational Repenting of Others


I was walking along Canal Street in New Orleans with Bob, a friend, colleague, and a good Catholic man. He described his continuing challenge to be the man he wants to be. Often he falls short in one area or another. He told me that God occasionally taps him on the forehead with a twig—inviting him to overcome a fault. If he doesn’t respond, God starts tapping him with a stick. When that doesn’t stir him to repentance, God uses a railroad tie. Then he described a specific kind of challenge that often gets to him. “When people are overbearing, it gets me every time.”

I’m not sure if God uses railroad ties as one of His teaching methods. I’m not sure He even uses sticks. But I think that Bob was right about the central idea. When there is a flaw in our characters, God patiently provides opportunities for us to trade in the faults for a little more divine nature. The irritation we feel is an invitation to change the way we think and feel. Unfortunately, human nature commonly prefers our faults to His mighty change.

This provides an expansive opportunity for Satan. The prince of darkness tries to convince us that our faults are actually virtues. He laughs when we sin and feel noble about it.

You make me so mad!

Being angry is a prime example. We regularly get indignant when someone does something rude and thoughtless. Each of us has different triggers. But almost all of us have some predictable trigger that ignites our irritation. If we dwell on it, our irritation grows into anger and wrath. Someone is being wicked and we see our wrath as the instinctive (and righteous) response to badness. We put on the prophetic mantle and call them to repentance.

We only rarely sense that we add our own sin to the offender’s sin when we respond to badness with judgment and anger. Then the offender gets upset and defensive. He and I work furiously to justify ourselves and nobody repents. Satan laughs. We have been sucked into the vortex of judgment by our stubborn self-righteousness.

The call to repentance

Let me express the idea more baldly. When I am irritated, it is my fault. The irritation I feel is an invitation for me to repent.

Let me give examples. I try hard to be a positive guy. Sure, I have all the natural man scripts running like Muzak in the background of my mind. But I try to choose to see the good and dwell on it.

I have had amazing friends, teachers, and bosses who are wonderfully positive. Phil Ellis is one of those. His encouragement years ago still blesses my life. But I have also had bosses who are negative, critical, and seem to never see any good in my work.

My instinctive response to such bosses is to be defensive. I look for faults in the boss. I brood. Then my brooding spills into discussions with others. Pretty soon I have created a battleground on which truth and goodness are the inevitable casualties. I have responded to negativity with negativity. I am guilty of the very sin that offended me.

If confronted with my misdeeds, I might protest: “What was I to do in the face of such corrosive negativity?” Eternity whispers the reply: “You might have been a Christian.”

Ouch. That hurts.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matt. 5:44).

In every experience of irritation, Jesus invites me to become more like Him. I can see the offender with compassion and I can act with charity. To be specific, I can see a boss who is stressed and overwhelmed. I can see jibes as an attempt to connect and communicate. And, if I call on the Fount of goodness, I can respond redemptively.

A parenting example

We have a grandson whose boundless energy regularly gets him crosswise with the world. The doctor says he has ADHD. His teacher says he is careless. His parents are overwhelmed with the unique challenges provided by him and his three siblings. One day, playing ball with me and his sister, he knocked her down in his drive for the ball. I am tempted to be angry with a boy who seems to always be hurting people around him. The natural man is inclined to lecture and punish him. But, if I apply compassion and charity—as God is inviting me to do, I respond differently.

Compassion calls me to realize how often this goodhearted little boy gets in trouble. I realize that he doesn’t get much kindness and appreciation to soothe his soul. Such compassionate thoughts soften me. With compassion in my heart, my mind is energized to think redemptively.

I put my arm around the boy. “Oops. You knocked your sister down. Let’s sit and think for a moment.” The boy sits while his sister and I continue to play. He knows that his job is to take a few deep breaths and prepare to do some repenting. After he has a few minutes to self-soothe, I sit by him. “Can you tell me what went wrong?” He starts to tell me what his sister did wrong. But I figure that each of us should repent only ourselves. “Take a couple more minutes and see if you can figure out where you went wrong.”

His sister and I play a couple more minutes and I sit with him again. I put my arm around him. “Can you tell me where you went wrong?” He is softer now. “I pushed my sister in order to get the ball.” “Yeah,” I reply. It hurt her, didn’t it?” He nods. “What do you think you could do differently?” He sighs. “I could play gentler.” “I think that would make you a better ball player and a better brother.” I squeeze him. “Are you ready to try again?”

If we play very long, there is a good chance that his energy will again bump into some else’s well-being. We will have another chat. It takes a long time to learn to manage all these human impulses–especially when we have so much energy. But we who love these little people must be prepared to provide healing love and patient teaching for a lifetime.

A marital example

In parenting, irritation comes and goes. Marriage is the perfect arena for steady irritation. In fact, if we practice our irritation faithfully, we can learn to think of our partner as “a teeming flaw colony,” as Dave Barry described the attitude.

At the beginning of most relationships, things were different. We dwelt on the good and minimized the bad. Over time some of the shine wore off. We became less willing to focus on the good. We let the irritations bother us more. Eventually irritation can become the theme of the relationship. We’ve all seen it, couples who have been together forever but argue about everything. They live what the song title describes: “I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s Almost Like Having You Here.”

Let me give you an example of a newlywed couple we love dearly. The husband is an easy-going and funny guy from a small town. The wife comes from the city, works in the fashion industry, and is wound tighter than her husband. You can see the battle coming, can’t you! He is heedless of appearance and says things she considers goofy. She appreciates his kindness but gets irritated by some of his actions.

Being in the early years of marriage, they are laying a foundation for what is to come. She can pester him about his shortcomings. He will become more distant and sullen. Or maybe he will deliberately annoy her. The years will pass and the bad feelings will accumulate. They will be one of those couples that can’t stand to be together and can’t stand to be apart.

Or there is another choice. Each partner can see his or her own irritation as an invitation to repent. Irritation is not so much about what my partner is doing wrong but how I am thinking wrong. I can repent. I can choose to see the good. I can see the differences as a blessing. I can allow my partner to be different from me. I can choose to learn from my partner and to feel blessed by my partner.

Fixing people is really God’s prerogative. Only as we become more godly should we presume to change another person. And here’s the great irony: As we become more godly, we enjoy people more and more just as they are. I don’t care if they change.

Let’s all repent.

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17 Comments

  • Reply Diana Gourley April 30, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you. This was a timely message and a second witness to the inspiration I received about how to deal with hurt feelings recently. I chose to see the person with compassion, but it took a few days for my heart to soften, so I could develop patience and thus learn to love unconditionally. Through the Lord’s grace and enabling power, I hope to do even better next time. Onward and upward!

  • Reply Cindy May 2, 2009 at 6:20 am

    I do not often comment, but I wanted to take a minute and tell you how much I appreciate your thoughts & writings. They have really been a blessing to me in my life over the last year. Thank You.

  • Reply Jim May 3, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Dr. Wally, thank you for sharing this.

    Your comment reminds me of a favorite quote from Ester Rasband’s book “Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem”: “The commandment is to love one another ‘as I have loved you.’ …The love must come out of our hearts, not out of our reaction….When we love without the necessity for others to be lovable, we will see their virtues, not look for them….”

    It is easier to judge and to be critical than to truly love without condition, and I believe that too often we choose the path of least resistance.

    I find that when I give my spouse the benefit of the doubt and when I assume her good intentions, I am much more happy and my choice becomes a blessing for both of us. This does not usually come naturally though but hopefully I can improve at this.

  • Reply Pam May 7, 2009 at 9:28 am

    I’ve struggled for years with a fear of people with strong, angry personalities, my mother being one of them. To protect myself I’ve gathered sympathizers among those who have had similar experiences, and focused on the many faults and flaws exhibited by those who hurt me with their words. Feeling that I was a victim, I’ve justified my reaction as being natural and understandable, a reasonable defense against the negative energy being hurled at me.

    Repentance has been a slow and often agonizing process. First was the rude awakening to the fact that I was as much or more in need of repentance than the person who had hurt me. Second, mustering the desire to forgive them and focus on developing a more loving and compassionate attitude. The temptation to punish them by withdrawing my love continues to come. I feel safer with that barrier between us.

    Thank you for your article. I felt like the Lord directed me to it today, when I was most open to your message. Your inspired words have helped me take a couple more baby steps toward having a more open heart, especially towards those who may try to hurt it and close it up again.

    • Reply admin May 22, 2009 at 11:10 am

      Beautiful statements, Pam. The natural way to protect ourselves is to withdraw or to build defences. I think that God recommends a different course. When we are filled with love and compassion for the “offender,” that person does not hurt us. Their pain expressed in angry actions can activate our compassion.

      I should admit that I am not good at doing this. I have seen it done, admired it, and am trying to learn it.

      May the Lord bless you.
      Wally

  • Reply Doris May 7, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Thank you so much for your message. A few weeks ago I was talking to my daughters about weaknesses and ask them to recognize theirs. My 15 year old one said she did not have any. A couple of days later she approached me to let me know she did have a weakness and it was “people.” She has a short temper with “how people are sometimes.” I wanted to help her overcome this weakness and just last night we had a nice mother/daughter talk in how she can be more compasionate towards others. I am so delighted to share this article with her. It provides greater insight.

    My other daughter, who is 17 years old, is totally opposite. I find that she is too compasionate towards others. Maybe “too compasionate” might not be right word to use, but she tends to be too vulnerable and is often hurt because friends take advantage of her. Even her patriarchal blessings warns her from friends and foes. Can you give me some insight how I can best help her not to be too trustworthy?

    Thank you!!

    • Reply admin May 22, 2009 at 11:10 am

      Doris,

      The Lord’s counsel is for us to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. So your older daughter might pray for the gift of discernment. You might help her discover what to look for in character. (For example, people who speak well of others are often people of high character.) Discernment may take time to develop, but the Spirit will keep her safe as she seeks and heeds His counsel.

      Blessings to you and your daughters.

      Wally

  • Reply Kelly May 7, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    The intent as well as much of your article is good, and I agree with the things you describe…yet I disagree with some of your commentary and conclusions.

    Yes, responding to people in anger is wrong, and a sin on our part…yet making a righteous judgment when, as you put it “Someone is being wicked…” is correct and supported by scripture as well as modern prophetic counsel. If someone is truly being wicked (i.e: a pedophile; someone who abuses spouse or children; someone addicted to drugs or porn; etc.) we have a moral obligation to make a judgment to do what we must to stop the behavior, protect those being harmed, and if necessary, remove ourselves from that person’s influence. Accepting that person and to “…enjoy people more and more just as they are” is not only silly, but not Christlike at all.

    Becoming more Christlike does not connote acceptance of another’s sinful habits and destructive behavior. Christ is not so tolerant and to assert so is patently false. He loves unconditionally, yet vehemently condemns sin and it’s destructive effects on innocent victims. He does not just enjoy people just as they are, he constantly urges us upward, onward, and to cleanse ourselves from wickedness. This is taught in scripture and from our church leaders. He does not expect us to be better than we can be, but he doesn’t condone wickedness because of his kindness and mercy.

    Additionally, not caring if people change for the better is a sad condition – not a Christian attribute. If we don’t care if people change, why then do we focus on teaching the gospel to all the people of the earth?

    We cannot make people change, nor can we change people’s personalities or badger them into being who we think they should be. Likewise, we should not confuse Christlike love with some kind of acceptance of actual wicked behaviors or destructive actions. There is a careful balance, which does include our making judgment calls, and sometimes rebuking an individual…in love, not in anger.

    Seeking for the good in people is a very good and Christlike attribute – and should be cultivated by us all. In the vernacular of the Savior, this (being kind and supporting the good in people), should be done – not to leave the other undone (making righteous judgments).

    • Reply Barbara May 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

      I have heard many of my evangelical friends use the expression “speaking out in love”. They use the expression to justify the need to rebuke others on the sins in their lives. The implication is that calling people out on their mistakes and sins is required of us as long as we do it with a spirit of love.

      It is very, very easy for us to claim we are judging and rebuking in the spirit of love. But the question is, if we are trying to impact someone’s thought process and behavior is judgment and rebuke effective? Does the person we are “calling out” experience our comments as love? Is that person then motivated and likely to change?

      There is a quote by Jean Vanier. It comments about how our attitude, not just our actions, matter when offering assistance. But parts of the quote are instructive when considering how we best impact others we perceive to be making mistakes.

      “To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude, ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”

      There are extreme situations such as abuse in which we must take appropriate action to protect others or ourselves.

      But in the vast majority of cases in which we believe someone isn’t behaving as they should, if we attempt to change them with judgements and rebukes and shame, then we risk crushing them. We risk the result of them giving up altogether, thinking they can’t do it or all is already lost. We risk them viewing church and/or our relationship with them as hostile–to be avoided.

      If we say something that the other person experiences as crushing, that is not received as love regardless of our claimed intent. Love is experienced as a building up process. Love is guiding someone towards a recognition of the best he or she can be and encouragement that he or she can become that. Love is a revealing of the light within.

      • Reply Jim May 20, 2009 at 11:38 am

        Barbara, I appreciate your comment- it is exactly what I needed. I think we often misunderstand what love really is, and your comment goes a long way to making that more clear.

        I wish I had your comment a few days ago because I would have loved to use it in a talk that I gave on Mothers Day. After hearing about how some mothers dread Mothers Day because of feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, I tried hard to not paint a perfect picture of mothers. I wish I had spoken more of the impact that mothers have through the love that they give, and your comment would have been perfect. Not all women sew, cook, have an immaculate home, etc., but all men and women can love those around them.

    • Reply admin May 22, 2009 at 11:08 am

      Kelly,

      You raise many good points. Some of our differences are semantic. For example, the scriptural word judgment describes a behavior that is condemned in most occurrences I am aware of in scripture. In contrast, discernment is endorsed by the brethren. In discernment, we use pure knowledge to bless others. Discernment may be comparable to righteous judgment–the kind inspired by the Spirit. It is quite unique–because it is filled with godly light.

      I have never recommended that we endorse sin. I always recommend that we cultivate healthy relationships. However, God occasionally sends a difficult person into our experience in order to stretch us.

      Blessings,
      Wally

    • Reply Cheri June 6, 2009 at 7:14 pm

      I agree with your thoughts on this.
      I’m thinking that Bro. Wally is thinking the same thing as you, as some things aren’t so black and white. Also, we know in Doctrine and Covenants that men who have too much power have a tendancy to govern unrighteously.

      Even the General Authorites have to counsel with the very wicked and call them on the carpet and judge righteously and lovingly. They still have to judge a wicked person to the courts, excommunicate a member of the church, etc. And since they have the wisdom and power of their position they can judge the person at their level of sin.

      We can do it by, as you say, our court system, or our forgiveness, but not forgetfulness.

      Six years ago my son committed suicide at 15 1/2. The last person to see him in a position of authority had humiliated and embarrassed him in front of his peers. They were not nice peers, they were some of his bullies.

      This devastated him so completely that he came home and said he would rather die then return to this school, which he only attended for on auto tech class.
      It wasn’t his regular high school which was designed to be kind to kids with his type of disabilities, which part of it was ADHD. Anyway, he wrote this in his suicide note.

      Now when all was said and done. We did not feel much love for this person in authority. My husband wrote him a long letter and it seemed that he was compelled to write back from the school district. We thought of sueing the school for their lack of concern and responsibility. As the last confrontation from this person to my son was not the first, but 4 months of it.

      We are not in the habit of sueing people, the cost of it would be for nothing, my son is still dead. And I’m sure that this will haunt this man for the rest of his life. Christ did pay the price for incidents like this, and for us why drag this man down.

      We all have weaknesses and sometimes don’t really know what an impact a statement or act affects someone. So Bro Wally, I think is trying to open our eyes to this. I know that I will never associate with this person and the pain does ease up.

      I also don’t know the Lord’s plan either. He has protected this son for 15 1/2 years from an earlier death, that something in his brain was not functioning right that caused him to take many risks due to having lots of energy, and the inability to think faster on the consequences of his actions. He was a loving person and helped out many people in his day to day life.

      I also believe that Christ knows what is in our hearts and judges righteously
      as I believe that my son was saved from an earlier death to the age he matured too. We also didn’t understand that ADHD kids can suffer from depression, but is hard to tell when they are self-medicating by riding his bike everywhere, he was lean and strong as well as kind and can get his feelings hurt easily due to the unkindness of others.

      I believe that the Lord could have stopped him if He wanted to. But he allowed this to happen for reasons we will find in the life hereafter.

      My eldest son went through the temple for him and I just feel that he is a missionary to our ancestors & to those like him that haven’t received the gospel.

      We miss him very much, and look forward to seeing him again in a perfect body.

  • Reply katie May 7, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Hi Dr. Goddard,
    Okay, so I have some thoughts about working in an intense and verbally abusive work environment. I dealt with a really horrible work situation where it was very abusive (verbally). I wanted to leave, but didn’t – because I was taught to never give up and to look for the good in people. It turned out to be a really horrible experience for me, though. I became depressed and anxious for a long time afterwards.
    I did look to see why the people I worked with would do and say such horrible things to those around them. I prayed constantly to help me and to protect me from their verbal abuse. It improved some, but it never got much better. In fact we all ended up getting laid off when the company went through a change in command.

    So when I read things like this — to stay and look for the good in others I think it’s a tough call. Personally, I think that you should pray if you should stay on or not. Then go from there. But I wish I would have prayed for that first – in addition to praying for compassion for my coworkers and crazy boss.

    The lesson I learned from that experience is that sometimes it’s better to leave than to stay and compromise yourself and your self worth.

    Does that make sense? I am still trying to make sense of that crazy situation. I wish I would have left right after I first started and saw that it was going to be a horrible place to work. But I was young and scared and didn’t really know that it was an option to leave.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
    Thank you.

    • Reply admin May 22, 2009 at 11:07 am

      Katie,

      I think you’re right. When a work setting is consistently destructive, you’re not required to stay. Many times it makes sense to move to a less toxic workplace. The article is intended to suggest that sometimes we letter ourselves be polarized when we could be peacemakers. Leaving is not necessarily polarizing.

      Blessings to you,
      Wally

  • Reply Marilyn May 7, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    This was such an excellent article! It happened to come to me exactly when I needed it most. I had just had an exhausting experience, filled with frustrations and loaded with heavy perspiration in a muggy environment. I do not handle myself well in humidity but, live in the land known for its humidity. The experience had left me with not only the very irritating feeling of being hot and soggy but, also with much pain in my feet and heels. This condition does promote my best side.

    While in this miserable condition, a brother-in-law, that is a bit more cognitively challenged than myself, pitched a bit of a fit and aimed it at me. Instead of being the true Christian I strive to be, I was short terse and snappy. I don’t believe I have ever read a recording of our Lord reacting in such a way. How could I call myself a Christian with that behavior? Not to mention that the echo in my mind’s chambers was; “whoso shall offend one of these little ones” – though he is 45 years of age, he is like a child and I should have “put my arm around the boy” and said; “Oops. You knocked your sister-in-law down.”

    I read Recreational Repenting of Others right after this had occurred. I had to laugh – not with Satan who was laughing about reeling us both in on that less than loving exchange but, with the recognition of the absolute correctness of your words of absolute truth.

    I don’t know the reaction of your other readers, outside the 3 preceding me but, I loved how you presented this very clear mirror. I liken this to one of those mirrors I really love because I look so much better in its reflection, with the twist that your mirror makes me see how I can be so much better.

    Thank you!

  • Reply Renee Nolan May 8, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Thank you so much for the thought provoking article. Two applications I found, that may be worth consideration by many of your readers are; when dealing with aging parents and in church service. I spend time with my Mother daily. I am also the Relief Society President. Needless to say I have been challenged in both arenas lately. Thanks for the gentle call to look at myself. It is an approach I have known and used for years but need reminding of at strategic times.

  • Reply Kim May 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Very nicely put Dr.Wally! I have always loved your parenting and marriage examples and bringing the topic back to something so many people can relate to. For this same reason, while raising three young children, I enjoy reading from time to time your “Soft Spoken Parent” book. I often have to be reminded to be compassionate with these little spirits that are intrusted into my care. Your thoughts shared help me to better understand how Christ would handle any situation…and that is all I need to know when trying to figure out HOW to parent my little ones. Thanks for your though provoking articles. I love to read them!

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