This is not a call to loosen our belts, to push away from the table or to count calories this Thanksgiving. This is not an endorsement of products marked with claims of half the fat, low fat, skim or light. So, lick your fingers and have another helping. Give thanks.
With the holidays comes extra helpings. We plan to spend more, give more than usual and go out of the way to do more for each other. But with holidays and vacation days, we will also spend more time with each other.
And while we have invited special friends, new couples and extended family, conflict will take a seat at the table as well. Though we understand that there are subjects that should be avoided if we don’t want to clear the table prematurely, someone will break the unspoken rule and the breath that we have been holding will become a collective gasp. Hands that were holding silverware will grab hands under the table or our forehead. We will mumble under our breath or whisper a prayer that will probably begin, “Lord, please ….”
We will brace ourselves for awkward silence and then the inevitable shouting match. “Let’s get ready to rumble!” But we are never ready.
Most of us hope that no one will say anything about his new girlfriend, their abusive relationship, his inappropriate touches, my failing grades, his battle with cancer, Alzheimer’s, alcohol, the election. Whatever our reason, we want to play nice and pretend that all is right with the world. So let’s not get ready to rumble.
But the words have been said. Fingers pointed will not be put away calmly. Blame assigned cannot be taken back. “This is all your fault!”
Now, the call for the bigger person. We will hold a meeting in the bathroom. We will whisper for him or her to take it in, to let it go, to excuse words and behavior that hurt. We will ask her or him to be the bigger person.
But eating abuse does not make us the bigger person and pretending that the wound is not there does not make the pain go away.
Instead, it feeds into cycles that have kept our relationships and our sense of self going in circles for generations. We cannot allow someone to let it all out, to let loose with the expectation that the recipient just take it. “Don’t give it back to them. Don’t say where it really belongs. Don’t say how we got here.”
Because we are so afraid of facing what is obviously hurtful that we would rather talk, walk, work, eat around it.
But this is not an extension of grace. This is a pass, a “get out of abuse free of any charges or changes to your behavior” card. This is a way to avoid conflict and confrontation, to maintain a sense of comfort. But not rocking this boat does not ensure safe passage to those we journey with.
Though sick of seeing this play out again and again, we would rather not hold them accountable. We just want to make it go away and so we ask the offended to drop the charges. We cannot afford to pay the cost of justice here. “Not today. This is not the right time.” Or we dismiss the words and actions altogether. “She really didn’t mean it.”
“Will you just take one for the team?”
But what sport are we playing when we excuse abuse? When we invite it to the table unchallenged? When we play by their rules and give points to those who maintain our sense of normalcy? And penalize them when they don’t take it?
And what about when we allow persons to serve in ministry while knowing that they are not emotionally competent, spiritually mature, a ticking time bomb, reset for business, committee and staff meetings? When we know that they will abuse, that they will do more harm than good, when they will hinder the view of the Bigger Person? What of Christ is being demonstrated here?
We are tiptoeing around a time bomb. We know that she can explode at any minute and nothing of our behavior is going to change it. He’s a bomb. There will be an explosion and we know it.
But if the wounded says nothing, we describe them as the bigger person? No, they are less of a person, pieces of them stuck to the floor and leave on the bottom of our shoes. When we invite persons to the table and to our leadership teams, knowing that they don’t play well with others, we are asking those seated to diminish, to shrink, to prepare written apologies for their existence. We are enabling abuse, aiding and abetting abuse.
This is not what it means to be a Christian because this is not Christ-like. While Jesus laid down his life for us, he is not inviting us to be door mats. We are to follow in the footsteps of Christ, which is not to be confused with allowing someone to walk all over you.
This is not what it means to serve and this is not submission. This is abuse and no member of the body of Christ is called to eat it. This is not the bigger person; she and he are the battered person.
Letting abuse continue unchecked makes room for the devil (Ephesians 4.27). This abuse trickles down and impacts the spirit of homes, churches, organizations, communities, countries and continents. So, when you see their name on the guest list, their hand raised or resume submitted, don’t just ask yourself why, but others at the table.
“Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18.7)