By STEVE DABROWSKI
IT SEEMS TO ME
Sometimes, my only virtue is that I keep trying to be better despite thousands of failures. This became clear to me recently as I read from 1 Peter following one of those many failures:
“All of you should be like-minded, sympathetic, loving toward one another, kindly disposed, and humble. Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult. Return a blessing instead. This you have been called to do, that you may receive a blessing as your inheritance” (1 Peter 3:8-9).
You are likely reading this one week before Christmas, and I wonder how many interactions you’d describe as being with people who were “sympathetic, loving, kindly disposed, and humble.” We live in a world where such behaviors are so rare that they surprise us when we encounter them. And just so I don’t appear holier-than-thou, my weaknesses find me all too ready to “return evil for evil or insult for insult.”
This morning, a talk-radio show I enjoy addressed the lack of “respect” we show one another, and many callers were happy to share ugly experiences. What struck me was how infrequent it was for a caller to say, “You know, I was a real jerk yesterday, and I regret it.” In other words, most people were happy to point out others’ failings, but few took responsibility for their own actions.
Recently, I stopped to grab a coffee. As I pulled into the lot, a minivan pulled out, cutting me off. I was so angry that I decided not to slow down, barely avoiding a collision as I swung into the lot. And that’s where grace began.
There’s a curb as you pull into that lot, and because I was ready to “return evil for evil or insult for insult,” I drove over that curb, my car bouncing like a bronco. Embarrassed and angry, I glared at the minivan as I parked.
As I walked to the door to get my coffee, I glared again. The driver was occupied with something in the back seat, and I was certain they were avoiding my angry stare.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I walked out of the store hoping for a confrontation. As I passed the van, the window was open, and I prepared for conflict … when I heard something that cut me to the heart: “I am so sorry! I didn’t even see the stop sign. I’m sorry.” I melted, and I think I literally hung my head as I replied, “Thank you, but you’re fine: I was being a jerk. I’m sorry.” I walked to my car pierced with grace and repentance.
See, as much as I appreciate the other driver’s apology, it shouldn’t have mattered: As a Christian, I am not supposed to need an acknowledgment of wrongdoing to motivate me, nor am I supposed to risk an accident or car damage in order to seek revenge. The other driver’s actions do not justify my bad behavior, and everything I did prior to my apology was wrong. As Peter notes, refusing to return evil for evil is what I have been, “called to do.” Returning good for evil is our “calling,” and yet I must confess situations like this feed my rage. I am a broken man whose only redeeming quality is that I want to be better — I want to be the man the Lord has called me to be.
I don’t have a solution here, so don’t expect one. Maybe I’m just confessing. But it seems to me that I would be much happier and peaceful if I spent less time complaining about how broken everyone else is, and, instead, began to take full responsibility for the evil I commit. I suppose there is no better time for such soul searching than Advent. And I pray that Christmas finds me a little better than I am today, a little less willing to return evil and insult, and a lot more aware that courtesy and respect are my responsibility. Imagine our community if we all strived to be, “sympathetic, loving toward one another, kindly disposed, and humble.” It would not be easy, but it is our calling. Please, God, give me the grace to live this way.