Monday, January 18, 2010

Don't Take the Bait

All of us have buttons. When people push our buttons, we go off a lot more easily than we would under normal circumstances. Even if we aren't typically grumpy people, we can become really irritable when we're provoked. Of course, we all have different things that provoke us. What bothers one person might not bother someone else. So we can't automatically expect others to know what things bother us and what things don't. As Christians, we have to take responsibility for regulating our reactions, even if people are pushing our buttons. We have to choose not to take the bait.

After spending a weekend being baited over and over again by my husband, I can attest that it is no easy task to avoid snapping at someone who is annoying me. It takes a lot of effort (and sometimes yelling in the privacy of my own vehicle) to keep from snapping at someone who's pushing my buttons. I can sometimes keep myself from lashing out at the person who's offended me, but I usually can't manage to completely keep my calm. I may not say something sharp, but I still end up treating the other person a bit coldly or retreating to a private place where I can vent. It's so hard to let those annoyances just roll off my back without turning into a nastier version of myself.

Still, I think that this might be what Jesus' teaching about turning the other cheek was all about. I don't think that Jesus was suggesting that we all act like passive wimps who let people walk all over us. Instead, Jesus was asking us to deal with belligerence or offensive behavior without responding in kind. Jesus himself provided an excellent example of this—people insulted him, plotted against him, even arrested him without cause and gave him a sham trial, and Jesus never played dirty against any of them. If I want to live like Jesus, then I can't throw a verbal zinger at my husband every time he behaves a little rudely to me. (I've been repeating this to myself over and over again this weekend. It helps a little.) Jesus wasn't even belligerent to the people who crucified him, so why is it so difficult for me to hold my tongue when someone speaks slightingly to me? I feel like I should be justified in striking back, but that's not what following Jesus means. I'm supposed to be loving, not fair, and that means holding my tongue even when I think someone deserves to be told off.

I do recognize the benefits of refusing the take the bait. If I retaliate, then the conflict escalates—by behaving calmly, I don't provide any additional fuel for the bad behavior. In fact, behaving well and treating others with basic respect can even encourage them to do the same. Not to mention, if I can keep myself from erupting in anger every time someone steps over the line, I can probably save myself a lot of stress and maybe even an ulcer. I don't have to allow others' bad behavior to pull me away from my peaceful, loving Christian center. Jesus didn't take the bait because he knew there was no profit in doing so. Even though it's difficult for me, I continue struggling to be calmer when others provoke me because I know it's not only the Christian thing to do—it's also the smart thing to do.

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