Dysfunction Is Everywhere
Are you dismayed at times by the amount of dysfunction you run into when dealing with other people? Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that there is far too much pain and anxiety mixed in with occasional spurts of joy and peace that many of us encounter? In some groups, someone frequently seems to be taking offense at someone else’s word or deed. From there it can grow quickly into an “us versus them” issue as people gossip about who said what, when. The next thing you know, it’s all out conflict. It’s troubling to consider how much of this unhappiness we run into during our short lives on earth. With God’s grace, it doesn’t have to be this way, though.
We Are Not Perfect
We live in an imperfect world, full of hurting, imperfect people. Our daily interactions with family and friends, as well as with mere acquaintances, remind us of this fact. We see it at work, and we see it in social situations. You can even find dysfunction in a parish, of all places! But isn’t the parish, as a group of Christ’s followers, supposed to be different? Shouldn’t it be? To be clear, we should have some shared beliefs as Catholics that the outside world may or may not embrace. That, of course, assumes that the members of the parish actually know their faith, but that’s a topic for another discussion. In any event, being a parishioner, even a “good” member of a parish, doesn’t make one perfect. It doesn’t remove the underlying insecurities, hurts and sorrowful memories beneath the persona that we display for public consumption.
Are We Unintentionally Unkind?
As a result of our being wounded souls, we don’t always follow the Gospel in our daily interactions. We are not always kind to others. When we encounter someone in need of a smile or a kind word, we often are too harried to take the time to connect with them. Yet, Scripture tells us how important it is to take time and to be kind to others in need:
Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones. – Proverbs 16:24
To do this, we need to be in the moment. We need to be in the presence of God. This lets us be open to the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice. The Holy Spirit can prompt us to look—really look—at that person and be there for them. We need to step back for just a moment or two to be present to them. If, as I am, you are somewhat impatient, this can be particularly difficult at times. Praying for the grace to help overcome this habit can be very beneficial.
Are We Intentionally Unkind?
Of course, there are times when we are unkind as a matter of choice in our reaction to someone. Maybe they’ve said something at which we’ve taken offense. Perhaps we simply are having a bad day and they ended up in the wrong place at the “right” time. Common sense tells us this is never good. Scripture tells us this as well:
Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. – James 1:19-20
[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ – Ephesians 4:32
Sometimes the first choice for our response when we are feeling pressured or attacked is absolutely the worst choice. It often leads to an after-the-fact assessment that, “Well it felt good when I said it.” In other words, we caused dysfunction. The good Lord gave us an intellect and a will to equip us for this, but we don’t always use the tools He’s provided us. The good news is that He provides us with the grace we need if we’re open to it. Here again, praying for the grace to be more kind will be a help to us.
Are We Judgmental?
We often judge people by the first impressions they make on us. Some of these impressions are based on superficial factors. Do they seem friendly right off the bat, or are they a little more reserved? They’re not like me. There’s something about him or her I don’t like. I can’t put my finger on it, but my gut is almost always right. How does Our Lord suggest that we address this?
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? – Matthew 7: 1-5
It is altogether too easy to fall into a habit of judging others. It can be so subtle that we don’t even realize we’re doing it until we look back on it. We might look at someone in church before Mass rustling around in the pew and wonder why they aren’t more recollected, more reverent, more quiet. That’s a subtle form of judgment, isn’t it? Do we know why they’re doing what they’re doing? Maybe they have a chronic physical condition that is causing them so much discomfort, and it’s amazing that they can even show up for Mass. But we don’t know that, so we misjudge.
Are We Assuming Intent?
This bad habit is a subset of being judgmental. When we judge others, we are basing our judgment on assumptions we make about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. But unless we can read their mind, heart and soul, how do we know what their intentions are? After continually failing miserably at reading minds, I’ve decided to try to discontinue it. It’s much more productive to try to understand them and what they’re trying to do, rather than guessing. (And you’re thinking to yourself, “It took this guy how many decades to figure this out?”)
There are a couple of practical things we can do, with God’s grace, to overcome this barrier to successful discipleship. First, let’s give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they have positive intentions behind their actions. Second, why not ask them what their intent is? “Please share with me what you’re looking at accomplishing here.” As well, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves at times what mom and dad used to say about “assuming.”
Are We Looking with the Eyes of God?
It’s unfortunate, but we most often judge ourselves by what we do, say and intend. We judge others by what they do and say, and by what we assume they intend. We see one another as humans see, but God sees us as we really are. He sees all our intentions, all the past hurts we’ve suffered, all our aspirations. God knows our past lives, and He knows what each of us is struggling with presently. He knows what we face in the future. Our Heavenly Father knows us perfectly. None of us can know anywhere near that much about each other. We only know what we can see in one another. And what we see is a function of what each of us tries to portray to one another, not necessarily who we really are.
God sees us for who we are. He sees our strengths and our weaknesses. In His eyes, each of us is His beloved child for whom He has a particular, infinite and unimaginable love. He loves each person in a very special way, including those whom we find to be irritating and difficult to get along with. As a confessor suggested to me, looking at them through the eyes of God, recognizing that God loves them very much, can help provide the right focus.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately it is about asking for the grace for our own deeper conversion. We can benefit by praying for the grace that will allow us to show God’s merciful love to others. This applies especially to those whom we find hard to love. With God, all things are possible.
A caveat is in order here. We should not be surprised when He gives us more opportunities to grow through the application of the graces we request. If we want to grow in patience, for example, He’ll give us the opportunities to be more patient. But to borrow a phrase from St. Paul, “[His] grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Can it be painful to grow this way? Sure, but anything worthwhile takes a little effort, doesn’t it?