As my nine-year old son grows up, I’ve noticed not only a streak of independence developing in him but also a mild streak of defiance. I’m told this will only get worse as he enters his teens. As such, we will tell him to do something at a certain time, and he will try to maintain his enjoyable activities as long as possible before he has to do what is needed of him. His desires for what he wants to do are stronger than what he has to do: typical youth. I can’t really complain: he’s a great kid. In fact, he’s more compassionate and thoughtful than most others his age. It’s just that sometimes, at that age, they want to have all the power with none of the responsibilities.
For example, the other day he was told that he could have 15 minutes of play time on his computer tablet playing games, watching videos, whatever he wanted to do to unwind. Of course, 15 minutes came and went, and just like anyone that age, he didn’t alert us to the fact that he had gone over his time limit. Giving him a few minutes of grace time, I went into his room to let him know that his time was up. I was greeted with an argument about how much time he actually had.
“Okay, 15 minutes are up. It’s time to put your tablet away.”
“You and mom said 30 minutes.”
“I’m pretty sure it was 15.”
“No, it was 30. I’m sure of it.”
At this point, I walked out of the room, as I didn’t want to get into a back and forth argument that was clearly not introducing any new evidence to the discussion. As I walked down the hall, I heard a young, squeaky, but frustration-filled voice yell, “Fine! You win!” That exclamation was then followed by several slamming of materials around the room with a few stomps of the feet. It was clear that he was upset, and my first inclination was to respond by addressing his escalating behavior and faulty logic. My inner voice wanted to engage him about how this wasn’t a contest, that I was right in telling him how long he had, that he was wrong to get mad, along with a host of other indignities I had suffered at the hand of this small human being. Yet, I decided to choose a different approach, one of non-confrontation, as a power struggle wasn’t the answer.
We are challenged for power daily in a multitude of situations. The grocery store customer in front of us who has 22 items in a 10-item line, the car that slowly pushed into our lane when we were doing the speed limit, the co-worker that leaves the office microwave dirty when we just cleaned it – all of the situations have the same setup in common: we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, and someone else is challenging the system at our expense. We are in the right, and they are not, and they are daring us to try to do something about it. Although the situations are common, it is our reaction to those situations that often define our character and who we are. We desire to correct them and show them how they are wrong and we are right; we want to feel the cathartic pleasure of knocking them down a peg and feeling better about ourselves because we were the ones who were sticking to the rules and staying on the right path. Righteous indignation, indeed.
However, being right doesn’t always mean that we should speak up and correct. Often times instead of bringing logic and righteousness to an argument, we end up just bringing a bigger mallet. Suddenly, the rude driver becomes the angry, dangerous driver, arguments break out in the supermarket, and office relationships become sabotaged. Righteousness doesn’t always bring peace and often times just makes a situation worse. When someone confronts with power, a confrontation in return isn’t rooted in love, just in our own ego.
Christ also knew this fact, and followed that advice when he was brought in front of the Sanhedrin to be charged with crimes. Instead of proving everyone wrong, Christ chose another way: “Finally two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’’ Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent” (Matthew 26.60-2). Christ chose to not get into a power struggle with these men, as He knew that nothing good would come out of it. He saw the bigger picture, that a fight here would detract from the larger issue at hand: man’s salvation. He may have had the desire to prove them wrong and present His glory right then and there, but He knew that choosing love over righteousness was better.
So instead of fighting with my son, I came back in a minute later, eating a big bag of Cheetos, and I offered him some. He stopped, pondered the offer, and dug in. Peace was achieved not through confrontation but with an offer of snacks. It was not a fight to be had. What would I possibly gain by proving him wrong and verbally engaging him in a power struggle where tempers would flare and love would most definitely not prevail? The bigger picture is the love I would like to cultivate and maintain with him, not a daily struggle of who’s right and who’s wrong. And when someone conversely tries to engage him in a power struggle, I want his first response to be rooted in a desire for love and forgiveness, not dominance and personal victory.
For us, the desire for harmony needs to overcome the desire to prove ourselves right. We need offerings of peace when others test our resolve. It is important to see the larger picture at hand, one where Christ’s example is seen through our response and His love is continued through our words and actions. This week, when tested by others’ wrongs, when you want to offer conflict, make an offer of peace. Christ is not seen when we seek to dominate with righteousness, but instead when others bring a sword to a fight, and we bring an offer of love (or Cheetos). Amen.