I have recently found myself immersed in learning a hard lesson, much too slowly.
It seems to have started with a lecture I heard at Wheatstone, in which John Mark Reynolds urged, as a side note to his topic, to “let your enemies just be your enemies.” In less controversial (I think) terms, he was saying that we should not strive to manipulate (an underhanded form of domination, the only form to which I am prone) people into liking us when our tastes, actions, beliefs, or very self would naturally incline them not to. This, to me, was a brand new idea.
Perhaps this is what the Proverbs are telling us in, “Charm is deceitful.”
I have taken it upon myself to make most people in the course of my life like me. I am a close enough observer of human behavior to know how to act around different groups of people, to know how to be with them in a way that will ensure their approval of me. This is certainly a useful skill, but I am realizing it is not always (ever?) good.
I am a long-term relationship person—the youngest of my significant friendships are about 5 years old, the oldest are still happy, active, and intimate after 21 years. Longevity is often a mark of a healthy relationship for me, and, given that I’m introverted and stubbornly unwilling to meet many new people, it’s also a necessity.
My tendency towards long relationships meant that I was a bit late in learning what it felt like to lose a friend. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I first intentionally broke relationship with friends, mutually, and full of strain and enmity. All of the sudden, I knew I had people in my life who really didn’t like me, and, from the reports I was getting back, they were influencing more.
My overwhelming impulse was to try and repair all damage, to make them like me—whether they liked it or not. For other reasons, I was not able to act on this impulse, which saved me from the sin of manipulation, and saved them from my attempts at controlling how they felt about me. It is only now, faced with a more complicated and nuanced relational problem, that I am realizing what it means to let people have the freedom to dislike me as much as they please. It kind of sucks.
And yet I am reminded that God has endowed us with an incredible amount of freedom when it comes to our relationship with him. He is very much himself (who else could he possibly be?), the originator and enforcer of difficult truths and high standards. And yet, with all the power in the universe at his command, he does not force us to be like himself, or even to like him. We are as free as can be to disagree with him (however foolish that makes us), to reject him, to hate him. If God desires this freedom for people who could, by all proper rights, be under his control, I should desire it for people who should by no means be under my command. This is not an excuse to be unkind or ungracious, but to be me, honest about what I believe and what I have done, and to allow them to be them, free of my manipulations or domination—however nicely it might have been employed.
My suspicion is that this will build honesty and integrity into my life on a level that has been missing. It might also make me distinctly less popular. But hey, if Jesus could handle the rejection of the entire world, I think I can try to be a little more real, a little less charming, a little more godly.