Cruel words as agents of change

Jan 4, 2016 by

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Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me. — Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice

I find it discouraging when rude people (myself included) are right about something. Where is the justice in that?



In a recent conversation about planning worship services at church, someone told me, “You need to spend less time on your email and more time on your knees.”

I’ll confess I found this rude. He had just insinuated that worship for me was a list of details and not an attempt to connect with God.

Though I felt justified in shrugging off his comment as mean-spirited, his rebuke lingered like an irritant to my spirit.

I told my sister this later, expecting her to be equally incredulous. Instead she said, “I guess we could all spend more time on our knees.”

Well, if you put it like that . . .

I still send plenty of emails, but I also spend time literally on my knees, which is new for me. Posturing myself submissively in God’s presence has brought a stronger hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness and, as Jesus promised, I find myself filled in a more complete way.

This same individual also called hymn sings “an uplifting sentimental sing-a-long.” (He does have a way with words.)

This offended me. I know that I approach the throne of God when my voice is joined with others. When we have hymn sings, many of us shed tears because we are so moved by a text or melody.

Even so, I started re-evaluating my attitude. There are times when I sing hymns because they remind me of my childhood and how “we used to do it.” I have many hymns memorized, and they are comfortable and safe. Sometimes I’m not thinking about God at all.

This can happen with any music style or worship activity; hymns don’t necessarily deserve to be specifically called out. Yet, the judgmental label brought a blessing. I am now more aware of my focus when I sing.
Jesus certainly understood the power of speaking the truth sharply.

Jesus insulted the Pharisees, calling them snakes and a brood of vipers. Perhaps what comes after is even more surprising: “How can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Ouch.

Indeed, the disciples reported back to Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

I imagine Jesus did know. Could it be that tapping into their indignation was intended? That Jesus used anger because he knew it to be a powerful motivator for action?

Jesus didn’t spare his disciples either. When he calmed the storm, he told the disciples, who I think were very justifiably afraid, that they had little faith and seemed to chastise them for being afraid. How was that helpful?

There is certainly a difference between speaking the truth in love, as Jesus did, and being cruel. Criticism can destroy the spirit and crush the beauty of God within us. An aggressive posture often shuts down a conversation pretty quickly.

But in my own life I’ve noticed, oddly enough, that sometimes compliments result in complacency, but offensive comments generate positive change.

I’m not resolving to look for ways to hurt people in some twisted act of generosity. Instead, I want to hold up the words that hurt my feelings before the Spirit and ask if there is a gospel message buried within.

Or, as Jesus put it, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

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