Yesterday was a mess in so many ways and I won’t detail them all here. But the day’s messes left me wondering: What are we owed? When we choose a church community, when we live in a neighborhood, when we live as a family—what are we owed?
At one point in this day that seemed chock full of mess, I had two kids in the car who were angry with each other. One because she is the middle child and she did, quite frankly, get the short end of the stick when it came to birthdays this year. The other was the oldest child, whose birthday it was, but who has never quite figured out how to be inobtrusive on other people’s birthdays. They were bickering back and forth because one was upset because she got hosed on her birthday, and the other because the other one was making her feel guilty about enjoying her current birthday.
As we walked into the house, the two unhappy children and me, I pulled the middle one aside and said: “You are right. You didn’t get much in the way of gifts and you had to spend your birthday in the car and today I wouldn’t even buy you a pair of shoes. You are right.” Then I looked at her over my glasses (which they all hate, hate, hate), and continued on, holding them hostage by not unlocking the door to the house until I made my point: “Remember just now when that car pulled out in front of me?”
“And you started cussing?” she said, in her droll middle-child fashion.
“And I started cussing, yes. I could have just kept going and run into that car. They were wrong and I could have just kept going and it would have been all their fault. I was right and would have been well within my rights to plow into the back of that car. But I didn’t. I cussed and called them every unkind name I could think of, you bet. You can be right,” I said, “and still get yourself into a mess. Or, you can pull your foot off the accelerator and avoid it. You can choose: do you want to be right, or do you want to be in an accident?”
It would be nice if I set a better example; I could have pulled my foot off the accelerator without the running commentary (“well, I’ll slow down because apparently you couldn’t see me coming with your head up your (let’s just say ‘nether region’ here)”. But the point is worth making in this messy world we live in: sometimes being right just isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to pull back on the accelerator enough to get a little wider perspective. It doesn’t mean you can’t be angry. It just means you can’t crash into people because you’re angry.
This was the least of the messes I encountered (and created) yesterday when someone’s need to be right trumped over the need to be heard. I was both the trumper and the trumpee in that game yesterday and I know I have a phone call I need to make later to mend the jagged tear I created when I had to be right. And, in the other situation, I need to gauge how important it is for me to even be in the game with that person anymore—or if I am holding on too tightly to my own need to be righteously hurt and angry. I am reminded by wiser souls that it is the job of the church to be in community, even with (and especially with?) those who try us by making unnecessary mess. It is the work we do together.
One day last summer, with that same middle child who has this need to be right so much of the time, I made her hold a jagged rock in her fist. “This is the grudge you are holding,” I told her. “Hold it fast and hard. Tighter.” She grabbed it tighter. “Who are you hurting by holding that grudge so tight?”
It is the same and different. And I see that I’m gripping that rock tightly now. I want to be right. I want to be the one who was injured here, more than I want to make things better, cleaner, easier. I may be ready to loosen my grip on it; then, again, I may not.
What are we owed? I keep asking. And the answer keeps coming up “Nothing, really. And yet, everything, too.” We owe it to ourselves to be kind, to pull off the accelerator and to ease our grip on the stone. We owe it to others to be kind and to find ways to help them pull off the accelerator and ease their grip. We owe it to each other to minimize the mess and not slam into each other just because we are right. Because, sometimes, being right just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.