I was scrolling through my phone the other morning and came upon this gem. It’s a letter from my one nephew to the other when they were approximately 7 and 5 years old.
My time has been great with you. Can you be more nicer please.
That would make me happier. Thank you. Your baseball skills
are really good. You are the best. I love you.
I laughed all over again, not just at the wording, but at the content. What a brilliant strategy, to sandwich a rebuke between two compliments! This kid will go far!
But then I sobered as I thought about how much I relate to his suggestion that he would be happier if his little brother was nicer. 2020 messed me up a lot, and social media played a big part in that. I’m not pointing a finger at a particular political party or denomination or race. I’ve been equally disturbed across the board at the absolute venom and vitriol so blatantly and harshly spouted between those of opposing positions. I lost respect for a lot of people I once admired. And became completely undone when well-known spiritual leaders I’ve loved and learned from bashed one another publicly, hurting their own testimony and that of the church of Christ in general.
And my heart cried out, as my nephew, Jacob, did: “Can you be more nicer please?”
I can understand why those who don’t know Jesus would not value the element of kindness. But for those of us who do know Him, there is no excuse. We know better, or at least, we should. Why exactly have so many godly people fallen prey to this?
For sure, we have an enemy who is trolling us, “seeking whom he may devour,” according to 1 Peter 5:8. There’s been a lot of devouring here of late, and he’s used a lot of us to do it. People also have free will and get to make their own decisions about things, have their own opinions. God did not make us robots, although at times I’ve sure wished He had. Years ago, when my sister and I were lamenting about some relational challenges we faced, one of us said to the other, “Why can’t everyone just be like us?” We were kidding when we said it … kind of. But it’s become a catchphrase I sometimes use to relieve stress when I find myself struggling with people who think and act and believe differently than I do. The thing is, that’s never going to change. Everyone will NEVER be just like us, no matter how hard we try to force them into our mold.
Unfortunately, if we are looking for perfection, we aren’t going to find it here. We are between two gardens, and so what in the world are we supposed to do with other people, short of living alone on an island like Tom Hanks in Castaway? Is there any hope at all of greater peace, greater joy, and greater harmony on this side of heaven?
I’m convinced there is. I’d like to suggest a few things that are helpful to me when I’m battling with the angst of relational conflict. I’m not even talking just about situations that apply to me. I’m talking about what I hear and read and see all around me. Like it or not, it all impacts me, if I give it room to germinate. Ponder these thoughts for a minute:
It’s possible to have an opinion … and still be nice.
It’s possible to disagree with someone … and still be nice.
It’s possible to be incredibly upset or disturbed with someone … and still be nice.
It’s possible to stand firm on your spiritual convictions … and still be nice.
If we are in Christ, we are given the spiritual fruit of His nature. That includes ALL of these attributes:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Do you understand that you can be “more nicer” simply because the Spirit of God lives in you and can empower you to be like Him in challenging situations? You can be kind to people who honestly don’t deserve it. You can be patient with those who are still trying to figure out what they believe. You can love those who are completely unlovable because you see their potential in Christ. You can feel true joy even when the world around you seems to be falling apart. And you can demonstrate self-control to guard your words carefully, or, get this, not even say them at all.
That all sounds great, Renee, you might be thinking. But what about other people? What about those who don’t exhibit the fruit of the Spirit or don’t care how they come across, or those who don’t even know the God who is the source of such beautiful fruit?
There are several things I tell myself over and over again when I am unsettled about people or relationships. It’s not a lesson learned once. It’s something I have to reapply like sunscreen every time I find myself facing the heat of conflict. Here are three things that help me on a very practical level.
1. I find something we can agree on.
I don’t think I have ever agreed with anyone on everything. But I can almost always agree with someone on something. Shift your focus from your differences to your similarities. They hurt, too. They are scared, too. They feel passionate, too. They want what’s best for their family and their church and their country, too. We may not agree on how that all plays out, but we can often agree on an emotional level as we realize we carry the same heart concerns.
2. I assume that they are probably right about some things and I am probably wrong about other things.
Some of you probably choked when you read that. It’s time for a whole lot of us to beef up our humility. You are not right about everything. They are not wrong about everything. I know that’s hard to swallow, but it’s just the truth. Be willing to admit areas where you could be wrong, where your perspective needs tweaked. See if there is anything you could learn from them. Don’t assume you have it all mapped out perfectly. You don’t.
3. I am only responsible for me.
At the end of the day, I cannot control anybody else. I can’t control how people drive, how they chew their food, or what they post on the internet. I can’t control their opinions or how they express them. Above all, I will not answer for them before God. I am responsible for how I represent the Lord, and I will stand before Him someday all by myself to account for my actions. Sometimes it is necessary to let go of someone else so you can grab hold for yourself.
People, including you and me, will never be perfect on this side of heaven, but we could all work at being “more nicer.” If our job is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), then we’d better get started. There is no better time. The world is crying out for people who know how to live and love like Christ. No need to sit around waiting for the other person to make a move; you can go first.