When I look back over our years of ministry sometimes I feel like I’m leading a band of Misfit Toys. I have endured the annoying people that others shun, and I am repaid with their undying loyalty and faithfulness. OK, that’s just a nice way of saying that they cling to me.
As much as I would love to shed my “shadow” sometimes, I DO have great compassion for the Misfits, so I continue to tolerate them with as much kindness as I can muster. I whole-heartedly believe that everyone has a place and a purpose, no matter how annoying they may be to me personally. As a church, we often attract the social outcasts and the awkward people that are rejected by society. They come, drawn by an attraction to the acceptance and tolerance of Jesus. Sometimes they are disappointed in what they find in US though. I know the Church has often been accused of intolerance in the extreme, but that is just the opposite of what we SHOULD be. We fall short. If ANYONE should be tolerant, it should be God’s people.
Look at the motley crew that followed Jesus around 24/7 during the 3 years of his ministry on earth. He did not surround himself with big name, super star preachers. He did not seek out the connections that would lead to juicy name dropping later. He did not cultivate connections in high places. No, he had the sick, the unclean, the tax collectors, the adulterers, the demon possessed, the uneducated, the weak, and the indiscreet following him around. They were attracted to him.
So if you will be like Jesus, take note of the company you are keeping. Are the Misfit Toys attracted to your kindness and acceptance? Does your compassion for the awkward people lead you to great tolerance? Are you known for your patience with people? If you would be like Jesus, you will find yourself in the company of the outcasts. Are you ready for that kind of notoriety?
“It is not the heathy that need a doctor- it is the sick,” said Jesus.
It isn’t very often in life that we get to choose the people who will be participating in our lives. Usually, like family, we get the lot that life tosses to us and we just try to make the most of it. In marriage, we DO get to choose someone, but then they come with a bunch of other people attached to them, the in-laws. In work we might get to choose who we work FOR, but rarely do we choose who we work WITH in the office, the others hired by the boss. And so it is in life.
Sometimes we find ourselves stuck with certain people that we either choose to tolerate or to ignore, but we can’t escape the connection. I like to think of these people as “sandpaper people”. These are the people who always rub you the wrong way. But if you let God shape your life, He will often use these sandpaper people to smooth out the rough edges in YOUR life. Much as we would like them to just GO AWAY, we find that if we put on a brave face and endure the rubbing, after time we are better people for the effort.
It’s not always easy, but sometimes when I’m particularly frustrated with a sand paper person in my life I say to myself, “I CHOOSE to like you.” Meaning, this person isn’t someone who I would necessarily WANT in my life, their participation in my life is not something that I have invited, but rather something I endure. It is more merciful than Woody Allen’s approach to annoying people, which involved a large sock filled with horse manure (use your imagination).
If we go through life burning bridges with everyone who annoys us, soon we will find ourselves quite isolated and lonely. It is worth the effort to try to follow Paul’s advice to “live at peace with everyone, as much as it is in your power to do so.” After time, you will find yourself more patient, more tolerant, more at peace, and more generally loved by your acquaintances for being a person who BRINGS peace to stressful settings. It is effort well spent.
It’s true that political correctness is the new religion. But have you noticed that we’ve invented a few clever linguistic acrobatics to say what we mean and still twist around the risk of directly offending someone? For example, here in Costa Rica you can begin any insult with the phrase “con todo respeto” (basically meaning “with all due respect”). With this carte blanche you can speak your mind freely and no one can accuse you of intending to insult someone… even if you really did intend to insult them.
In the South of the United States they use the phrase, “bless his heart” to soften the blow. One might hear sentences like, “He’s just an idiot, bless his heart.” Yet no one can accuse the speaker of mal intent, unless you really have something against Paula Dean. Bless her heart.
In other circles, one can add the phrase “just saying” and then just say anything you want. Other politically correct, carte blanche phrases include “in my humble opinion” or “Support the Troops” or “God Bless America” or whatever political catchphrase is the mode of the day. Unless you are of the moral elite who “refuse to cut your conscience to fit the latest fashion,” these phrases are super handy to whip out anytime you need a shield. Because, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion” is the modern day equivalent of “Thou shalt not murder” we have exchanged the principle of Let Freedom Reign for the motto Don’t Tread on Me.