(Photo by Lindsay O’Neil)
By Michelle Ochen
Reality will hit like an unexpected storm. For those graduating, somewhere in the coming months you will feel that you went to sleep a high school student, and awoke as an adult. Larger responsibilities will suddenly be coming your way: the alarm clock must be set a few hours earlier, bills arrive in the mail, priorities have to be organized, and mom and dad will not make decisions for you anymore. The second part of the storm will come when you realize that people are both a joy and a pain. They will stand in the sun laughing with you one day, then hurt and disappoint you the next. As we mature in life, we realize that we are constantly faced with a choice: “Whom will you side with?” We have a choice to react or respond when other people irritate us, wrong us, or let us down.
Reacting is easy. According to Newton’s Third Law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When the teakettle burns you, you jump back; when someone scares you, you scream; when someone wrongs you, you seek revenge. That is the natural reaction, but it is not the godly standard Christians are held to. It is only natural that when we are wronged we will feel hurt, but it is what we choose to do with our initial feelings that matters. When hurt, I do not have to back away, isolate, or seek revenge. I have other options; I have the option to respond.
Responding means answering or replying to something. It is a reaction with self-control. It is a chosen reaction, instead of an initial reaction. Our initial reactions will always be an outworking of our fleshly nature, but our responses can follow a different path. Our ultimate example of a man who was wronged, betrayed, hurt, disappointed, rejected, and accused is Jesus Christ. Any challenge we face with another human, he also faced. How did he respond? Isaiah 53:7 (ESVP says, “He opened not His mouth.” On the evening he would be betrayed by those who had walked closely with him in life, he responded by washing their feet. After he accomplished the work of the cross, we see his responding heart as he chooses to pursue restoration with these men.
We have been given the example of a life set on responding rather than reacting; it is the very message of the cross. When the soldiers mocked Jesus they asked him why he didn’t send his warriors to fight for him and remove him from the cross. Instead of reacting, Jesus left them in God’s hands to be judged according to their deeds, and committed his spirit to God. Jesus choose to side with God, and chose to respond to God instead of reacting to men’s actions. You and I have received forgiveness and everlasting life because of Jesus’ response. The cross displays Jesus’ decision to respond instead of react. Do you feel it to be any different for yourself? Our example went before us and showed us the way in which we should walk. He told us to take up the cross and follow him. This means we too are left to choose if we will react or respond when life and people hurt us. This choice will come far more often the longer we live. It will be found in the workplace, friendships, marriage, and family life; how will you respond?
When we choose to respond, choosing to walk in the path of the cross, not reacting, we are siding with God. You are choosing to leave the outcome of the offender in God’s hands. Refusing to forgive will only harm you; bitterness is as a weed in the heart, and hurt will remain. Forgiveness brings freedom when we side with God. Bitterness finds unexpected joy in the intimacy of God’s love for the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18), and hurt finds healing in the Great Physician’s hands. Siding with God brings blessings out of life’s buffetings.
The next time you face difficulty with another human, in whatever form it comes, pause before you react and choose to stand on the proper side. One side leaves you alone to fight; the other gives you the resources of Heaven and a God of comfort for every form of difficulty you encounter. Go forth into the adult world and let your life be stained by blessings instead of hurt.