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My vow of making this a YOLU year is being sorely tested.

No, not by job, family or health. Those are in the I-am-grateful-for category. But there’s one frustrating fact I overlooked when I chose 2012 as the Year of Living Uncomplainingly. It’s an election year, for heaven’s sake.

Actually I’m not sure heaven wants anything to do with the morass of negativity out there. The Florida primaries were just over a week ago, and news reports indicated that over 90% of the ads airing in Florida the week before the primary were negative.

“As soon as you know that a campaign is going to hit Florida,” wrote Dave Barry in the Miami Herald, “you should go to Home Depot and buy sheets of plywood three-quarters of an inch thick. You should take these home, cut them to size, and then, using a hammer and nails, fasten them firmly to every TV screen in your home.”

So how do you stay positive in a negative world, one where even the people vying to be our leaders sling mud at each other?

Decades ago in an early ministry situation, Mike and I had to work with an individual who had an exceedingly sharp tongue. I swear the woman could  shred paper with it, but people were her project instead. Cutting down the minister and his wife was child’s play. Out of respect – she was our elder, after all, and one in a position of authority – we did everything we could to earn her approval. We tried consulting her, placating, appeasing…all without avail. Our efforts to please her failed every time.

We called her Our Lady of Perpetual Disapproval (privately, of course). And we could not make Our Lady happy no matter what we did.

Around that time I read an essay by an author who grew up with an emotionally distant, uncaring father. Even as an adult she was carrying the wounds of the child who could not get her dad to respond affectionately no matter how much she tried. She finally sought professional counseling, and her “Aha!” moment came when the counselor asked her to hug the pole-lamp in his office. Puzzled, she complied.

“Well, did it hug you back?” he asked.

“Of course not!” she replied impatiently.

“Did you expect it to?” he probed.

“You see, that’s the problem,” the counselor went on to explain. “Your father is emotionally incapable of responding affectionately to you, yet you keep thinking there is something you can do to change him – to get him to love you. When you are finally able to think of him as being a bit like this lamp here, then you’ll realize that the only thing you can change is your expectations.”

When I read that story, I thought of Our Lady of Perpetual Disapproval. As a young, inexperienced pastoral couple we thought we could somehow win her approval if we just tried hard enough. But all our efforts to please her failed. Nothing we did deflected her negativity towards us or others.

And then one day, maybe it was even an election year like this one, I was talking to my heavenly counselor about the situation.

“Child,” He said, “It’s time you learn that you need to redefine victory. You think you can win this woman over, but you’re exhausting yourself in the process. And by focusing on her faults you’re failing to see the good in others.

“The next time she criticizes you, accept her words as a challenge – an experiment to see if you can resist absorbing her barbs or hurling them back. Check her words at the door to your heart; don’t let them enter.

“And if you can respond to her the way my son would, then you’ll know what real victory is all about.”

And guess what? When I started to treat Our Lady in a more Christ- like way, she eventually came around. Right?

Wrong. It never happened. She and her husband finally took themselves off in a huff and, sadly, crossed swords with another pastor and his wife.

It’s been decades since I’ve seen Our Lady. I’ve heard she has suffered great losses. I grieve for her. But her treatment of us no longer rankles. Maybe I finally grew up enough to realize that only a very unhappy woman would put so much effort into making others unhappy too.

To  most of us winning implies triumphing over an opponent, getting our own way, vindication. We want our critics to apologize or at least recognize how deeply they have wounded us. Most of the time this never happens.

In God’s economy, “winning” has more to do with our spiritual development than our opponent’s defeat. He is more interested in who comes out of a battle than what the outcome might be. True victory comes from being able to truly love our adversaries as God does regardless of their behavior.

So despite the title, this post about redefining victory in 2012 really has nothing to do with politics at all.

Or does it?