I wrote the end of this before the beginning. I knew what the message was, but how to demonstrate it plagued me. Yesterday, I saw a beat up old car, with bad paint and bumper stickers concealing bumper stickers. They were offensive and made me question why anyone would subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny. That’s when it hit me! This is something I can use. While I know, better than most, the why and where to fore of most human behaviors, I do not have any way of knowing any man’s deepest motives. Proverbs 21:2 sums it up nicely. Basically it says that some people may feel they are in the right, but it is God that can see into their hearts.
When someone has a major fault they tend to conceal it with another behavior, their own kind of bumper sticker, if you will. How funny, offensive, or bizarre it is, is inconsequential. It is up to each of us as individuals to steal ourselves against the messages or the offense and view the person as a whole, as we would the car. Their sentiment, in big block letters and silly pictures, conceals damage and neglect. If it was a poor cold child, we’d rush to gather him to our arms and shield them from the elements. Isn’t that our call to sanctity? Why then turn away or react with sin when faced with a less sympathetic person than a neglected child? Aren’t we all God’s children?
I can think of few people that bother me more than self righteous hypocrites that nod their heads with zeal on Sunday and conduct themselves as though their attendance is a cloak of invincibility the rest of the week. Their bumper stickers are subtle but cutting condemnations. They hide damage of loneliness and bitter fear. The worst part is they have no idea. They point out the sins of others gleefully and don’t see the sin of their own actions, even when pointed out. The impunity they operate with is astounding. And for years, little could upset me as readily and as deeply as the unprovoked injury they caused me or my friends.
I had spent a long time letting go of anger with family and people who’d injured me physically. Forgiveness was never something I denied another, even if they never asked for it. After all, one can forgive and not be obliged to ever see that person again. What could it hurt if I’m okay after? Forgiving ongoing insult and injury was a different animal though. I called it righteous anger.
About half the New Testament counsels us to let go of anger, give ourselves up to God, turn the other cheek, avoid idle & profane talk, do not involve yourself in the conflict of others, speak not of those who have not injured you, love your enemy, I really could go on. It seems simple enough, I certainly thought so. I figured that if I avoided confrontation, blocked trouble makers online, and stuck to a core group of friends, I was doing well and stopping the occasions for sin. Imagine my surprise when I found a little gem about the graveness of succumbing to the temptation of pointless anger and idle conflict.
I was reading an in depth slash doctrinal examination of conscience. I got to number five, Thou Shall Not Kill. I typically chuckle, say “not yet” and move to the next. However the questions on this one pegged me. “Allowed anger to turn into resentful brooding.” Check! “Shown aversion or contempt toward others.” Check, check. “Ridiculed or insulted others” Check… Turns out, allowing my anger to seep out in humorous ways, at the expense of others, even in jest, I was violating the fifth commandment! These actions are poison to our soul. Self harm, even the slow kind is a violation of the commandment. I was shocked but dubious.
Weeks later, I was reading more of these examinations as they were prescribed through the Magisterium of the Church. That’s when the big kick in the teeth came. It said that my placing my anger inside and maintaining these rivalries for bitterness’ sake, I was failing to trust in God’s plan. I was forsaking Him! I was breaking the first commandment, just by allowing my fear and uncertainty of the motives of others win out. Had I been told this, I never would have believed it, but there before me was the biggest gouge in my soul’s shiny paint.
I chose to make changes and almost immediately, I was rewarded with a big attagirl from God. I quit using my sense of humor to hide contempt and, while I had always prayed for those that injured me with their words and conniving, I changed my tact. I stopped praying that they change and instead thanked God for the chance to grow, and ask that He grants them that opportunity when they needed it most.
Don’t assume this is all piety. There’s plenty of self interest, but this feeling I have has led me to new wisdom that I share freely. I still avoid the conflict, but now I do it joyfully and for the sake of their souls and my own. I no more wish to be the occasion for their sin than I wish them to be mine. I now feel the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit in my day to day life and I no longer begrudge the bumper stickers of the hypocrites, because they are just as much part of God’s plan as I am. Some day, I might share my Turtle Wax and help them the way they helped me.
In the meantime, I counsel others that endure what I have, to take a step back, read all the stickers then remember that this ratty car of a person is still a child of God. Isn’t that what we say during the Our Father? “…forgive my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me… lead me not into temptation…” That prayer has deeper meaning now. Or maybe I understand it more, and it was always deep.