As we negotiate the transition to a new season of weather, activities, and commitments in the context of a continuing pandemic, we face multiple, often overlapping challenges. And although we can’t change our challenges, the way we respond to these challenges has a tremendous potential to change us. Indeed, the way we respond to our challenges will determine the way we experience our days.
I am an enthusiastic advocate for a redemption mindset, one that depends upon Paul’s reassurance in Romans 8 that our Lord will work all things in our lives for our good. I will add a Biblical postscript to this verse and remind us that the Lord’s redemptive purposes work not only for our good but for His glory.
There are limitless ways the Lord can do His redemptive thing as we walk through our days. I would like to focus on one of them that applies to all of us: the way we interact with others. Social distancing and COVID restrictions do not eliminate many of our interactions, but they do generally make them more challenging. And this is exactly where Christ wants to do His work in us and through us. As we allow Christ to do His sanctifying work in us through His Holy Spirit, we partake in the nature of Christ and become His ministers in a needy world.
In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul has this to say: Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6). And in his letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to remind his congregation to be ready for every good deed (Titus 3:1).
So how do we do this in the emotional and stressed interactions that are becoming more and more common? There is the certainty of the abiding Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them the words to speak in the midst of persecution, and while we may not be in exactly that position, we have every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is continually at work in us. Beyond that, as we take responsibility to be ready for every good deed and to speak with grace, I think the concept of “pocket phrases” can be extremely helpful.
Solomon, in Proverbs 15:1 exhorts us with this truth: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. A pocket phrase is a thoughtfully-prepared, gentle response that we can pull out of our pocket, so to speak, when we are taken by surprise or in the emotional heat of a moment. This does not mean that we follow a script or a flow chart. Nor does it mean that we suspend boundaries and enable destructive behavior. But if we have a small collection of gracious phrases at our immediate disposal, we will be able to meet the demand of the moment while allowing our mind to manage the emotion and give the Holy Spirit a chance.
Here are a few pocket phrases that I have used and recommend to others:
· I’m sorry; I did not mean to offend you.
· I am sorry you feel that way.
· Please let me think about it.
· Is there a way for us to work this out?
· I am afraid you may have misunderstood me.
· Do you mind if…?
· Is there something I can do to help?
Multiple Gospel accounts remind us that not everyone responded well to Jesus’s words, and it would be unrealistic to think that our experience will be different. We need not belabor unconstructive conversations. Sometimes, we need to simply wish the other person well and walk away, allowing the Judge to rule according to His character. When we do have a negative encounter despite our best attempts to manifest Christ, we can take consolation that we are experiencing what our Master did and be encouraged by the truth that the way someone treats us (or the way someone speaks to us) says everything about him/her and nothing about us. Our identity and value remain firmly grounded in Christ. Regardless of the outcome of our efforts, we can praise the Lord that He is doing His work in us and giving us the incredible privilege of communicating His truth and grace.