Friday, September 26, 2008

The Price Is Right

When does the price become too high to do the right thing?

I have had a number of personal challenges in recent months, including the death of my father. Now before y'all send your condolences, he wasn't a particularly good father. He chose to move out-of-state to avoid paying child support. As I grew and developed and became a parent myself, I came to realize the tremendous negative impact of his actions on my life. Quite literally, everyone around me told me to "just let it go - forgive and move on" and other similar sentiments. The Bible, however, clearly instructs us to confront others when we have a grievance against them and work it out. So I did. We exchanged some angry words and, while I felt better for having done the right thing, I realized that he would probably never speak to me again.

I was wrong.

About a year later, he called me and apologized and asked for my forgiveness. I cannot adequately express how much this means to me now that he is dead. The price of doing the right thing in that instance seemed high, but I would do it again 100 times over to have the peace of mind provided by knowing that we had an honest relationship at the end because of it. My siblings do not.

Recently, I have paid a rather high price to do the right thing in another situation. Again, the advice I received (and am still receiving) from well meaning folks is to "let it go and move on", "It's not worth it", and other similar sentiments.

To repeat the question - When does the price become too high to do the right thing?

In my view, if it's my call, never. The right thing to do is the right thing to do, regardless of cost or sacrifice. Indeed, if we will not choose to sacrifice a little when the cause is relatively easy, then why should we be trusted to do the right thing when something more difficult arises?
People are very quick to judge those who have been granted a say in the larger issues of the day, but how many of us are standing up to do the right thing in the small issues in our lives?

If you realize that the waitress or store clerk just gave you too much change, the right thing to do is to return it, either in person or by mail no matter what the amount. If you mistakenly let out your neighbor's livestock, you round them up. If you take something that belongs to someone else by mistake, you return it. If you blame someone for something they didn't do, you apologize. If your friend does any of these things, you do all you can to encourage him/her to do the right thing for themselves. These are simple things, basic things.
The price is never too high to do the right thing.

"When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." ~Ezekiel 33:8-9


Anonymous said...

I feel i was very badly treated by someone - which had severe personal negative consequences.

I am going to ask them if - on reflection - they treated me badly. And if they obtusely refuse to acknowledge anything i may ... well let's leave it there.

But mom, is vengeance justified? I cannot forgive the trangression against myself and others.

Call Me Mom said...

First of all, welcome to the blog.
Secondly, I know the temptation is to make people
hurt just as much as they hurt you. I urge you to refrain.

"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." ~Romans 12:19

That said, the meat of the post was that you have a duty towards your fellow man to correct them when they are in error to save them from God's wrath.

When should you burden yourself with correcting others? If you can't forgive them, that's a signal that someone is in need of correction.

If a child accidentally dropped a glass and it broke, you would have no problem forgiving that child even though you lost the glass by it. In contrast, if the child threw the glass on the floor in order to break it,(out of anguish or for their own amusement), that requires correction.

In my first example, my father was clearly in error. It was his responsibility to care for his children and he chose not to do so. That requires correction. I had to wait until I was in my 30's to correct my father, because the situation was so very painful that I could not bring my emotional perspective into line with my intellectual perspective in a way that would allow me to engage in a productive correction. To yell and rant at him would have done no good for him or me. Usually, I know when I have come to the proper perspective to be able to correct someone when I am calm enough and secure enough in my logic that I can do so without taking anything they may say in response personally, instead recognizing any nastiness that may result as their reaction to hearing something they don't want to hear, rather than a further personal attack on me. (One must also recognize one's own role in the situation - situations like the one with my father, where I bore no blame for making it, are rare.)

I have had the most success in finding that perspective when I set myself to discover the best course of action based on God's love for the person who has hurt me. I know that sounds all nicey-nice, but it's not. It is a difficult thing to give up one's own wishes and put God's will first. Any corrections must be based on God's will, because, since I am hurt, my own emotions are suspect and will tend to lead me towards trying to make them acknowledge that they have hurt me, rather than correcting the behavior that got us to a place where we are hurting each other.

There is a considerable amount of self examination involved in this process, because they may have been administering a correction that I needed. Was their treatment of me justified? How did I contribute to the situation? Is there something I need to change about myself before I can correct someone else?

"Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye. "~Luke 6:42

Do I wish I could hurt those folks whose actions resulted in my pain-yes, I'm no saint. But that tells me that I'm not approaching the situation from the proper perspective yet. I have an intellectual perspective of the mistakes on all sides that led me to where I am now, but since my emotional perspective is still in the wanting-to-hurt-them-back phase of resolution, I know I'm not where I should be. When I can address my situation with those people in a way that may lead to them becoming stronger, better people, because I want them to be stronger, better people, then I can go forward. Until then, I just have to keep working on myself and praying that God will allow me to bring my emotional perspective into line with my intellectual perspective in a way that will allow me to do the most good.

So, in answer to your question-no, vengeance is not justified because it does not honor God. Self examination and the sacrifice of your own feelings of hurt and/or humiliation to become someone who can provide appropriate correction that demonstrates the love of God for us is the essence of forgiveness.

Anonymous said...

mom, thanks for the response. But if the person just simply refuses to acknowledge anything? And, cheerfully and self-righteously continues the same behavior with other people. One face was presented to the powerful and another to those in their power.

I will admit that it was my pride and dignity the was injured - and the Bible has much to say about pride.

Call Me Mom said...


Injuries to pride and dignity are still injuries. When you examine yourself, were those injuries necessary to correct you?
If so, then change your ways and thank God for them.
You seem to be wanting to force this person to acknowledge that they have done you harm. That won't work for you.

You mention that this person is causing the same sort of injury to many people. That's a viable path for working towards the necessary attitude for a proper correction. If he's hurting a lot of people with his behavior, it can't possibly be a good thing for him in the community.

It may help you to remember that humble people may rise to positions of power and so this person is cutting his own throat to behave as he does. You obviously love him enough to be truly concerned that he should change his ways. Now do you love him enough to be concerned that he change his ways because that is what God would have in his life rather than what would make you feel justified?

Can you calmly, lovingly and kindly tell this person that they have hurt you in a way that will cause them to understand how they are hurting themselves and others with their behavior? If they refuse to acknowledge any error on their part, can you remain calm and walk away from them, secure in the knowledge that you have done what is necessary to "save your soul" by having warned them?

If the answer is yes, then do so and be ready to forgive if they apologize. If not, then you need to work on yourself some more.

I have found that when I can "speak the truth in love", it generally gets results. When you are able to present this person truthfully and calmly with the error of his ways, you will not feel a need to rub his nose in it if he doesn't immediately acknowledge the truth of what you say. It takes an extraordinary person to admit right off the bat that they were wrong. (You will note that it took my dad a little over a year, and I now believe he had been diagnosed with the cancer that killed him before he called me to apologize.) You will be able to walk away, saying to yourself, "I did what I could, now it's up to God." Will you still be a bit irritated now and then? -probably, after all we're only human, at those times, pray for the person. Am I making any sense to you?

"When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." ~Ezekiel 33:8-9