Getting near someone with whom you’re not at peace triggers discomfort and tension within us. What do you do? Avoid them? Of course. Fake it? For sure. Tell yourself you’re being stupid? Often. But there is a better solution. In this posting, I look at how to get comfortable with people who make us uncomfortable by telling you the story of me and my neighbour’s garage.
It is a nice feeling when you are comfortable with your friend, brother, sister or boss. You can be yourself. You laugh together easily. You don’t feel threatened or on-guard. Don’t you wish every relationship could be like that? While paradise might not be possible, it is certainly possible to feel more at ease with a particular someone who makes your feel tense.
Success begins with understanding why you’re uncomfortable in the first place. The root cause is judgments. Someone did something to offend the other. Either you feel judged for what you did or they feel judged by you for what they did. Now they act rather formal or distant around you, never giving you a warm fuzzy.
You suspect they’d love to zing you. You fear you might like to give them a piece of your mind too! This is a vicious cycle that is a spiritual truth. Jesus spelled it out in Matthew 7:1-3 – “Do not judge or you will be judged…and the measure you use will be measured to you.”
Judgments are contagious and poisonous. They steal your peace instantly. I have a neighbour who built a massive garage blocking the view from our living room window. I had no say in the regulatory process and they had no mercy in response to my request to not build it 25 feet high (2 stories + a steep roof). It’s done and there is nothing I can do about it. I have to accept it and today, four years later, I’m about 90% of the way there. But I am not comfortable with them. We simply avoid each other. Except for when I’m mowing the lawn. There is a small field between us that normally makes avoiding rather easy.
Sometimes, I have imaginary conversations where they see the light. Other times, I imagine my idea of justice intercedes and they get what’s due to them by some outside force. Friends have jokingly offered to assist with that…no thanks! At the very least, I imagine delivering a zinger of a one-liner which I am well aware would only inflame things. Sometimes, I am even righteously religious in my mind which I believe is the worst form of Christianity. You know, where I want to play God when he says, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” (Romans 12:9)
In reality, I want to have a conflict but I am avoiding it. As a result,when I get close to them, even driving by, unhappy thoughts are triggered. My peace wanes. I don’t like it.
Two years after this event, in order to be consistent with my own life lessons and Biblical teachings, I offered to sell them a piece of land adjoining our properties which I knew they wanted. I offered it at a low price in the hope that “offering them a tunic when they took my cloak,” would heal me and perhaps even touch their hardened hearts. I had nothing to gain personally besides that.
The process got bogged down in $8000 worth of development fees that neither of us was willing to pay upfront so the offer died on the table. They put me through a variety of time-consuming hula-hoops and then let the bank’s deadline pass without the courtesy of a reply. This didn’t add to my love and joy for them.
Isn’t this what happens? We try and then we fail. Each time we fail, our own heart hardens a little more. The other person’s nature seems unchangeable and irritating. To persist seems like self-inflicted torture. Why bother?
Yet, Jesus says this is the person I am supposed to love as he loved me (John 15:12). I say, ‘Why can’t I just love them from a distance?’ …that is, avoid them!
Can we say that Jesus only meant to love other believers? Possibly. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 15:34-35).
How do we then reconcile his call that we are to feed the poor, visit the imprisoned and clothe the naked if he only meant we should love fellow believers? Is that what he meant when he said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40) Are brothers and sisters only other believers?
I am not a theologian and I won’t pretend to be. Let me say that my real life experience is consistent with what Christian social worker Dorothy Day once said: “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Even one judgment against only one person anywhere on the planet separates me from God and steals my peace.
Since I thirst for God’s peace above all else, I have no choice. I must find a way to love my neighbour, literally and figuratively. I must forgive them their trespass as if it never happened. I must wipe it clean just as Jesus’ atoned for and forgave my trespasses. Indeed, he warns us repeatedly that we will be forgiven in the same measure as we forgive others.
Thus, all peace, love and joy come down to our ability to forgive unreservedly. When we are in this holy state, we can face that person who makes us uncomfortable because we are no longer ill at ease. They are our brother and our sister, even if they don’t feel the same about us.
This deep inner peace happens when we take the hit for the wrongdoing of another. It is vulnerable and it hurts for a little while. But there is no other way out. It’s what Jesus did for you and me. He shows us the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
In his peace,