My wife and I have quite a bit in common. We both enjoy good food. We don’t care much for cold weather and would rather every day be a beach day. We like to kick back and watch one of our favorite TV shows or a movie. We are both introverts. We love people, but we need time to ourselves to recharge. We tend to be task-oriented. We are often pretty content with accomplishing our to-do lists.
In addition to our commonalities, we also have our differences. If I like it, I can eat the same food over and over for a while before I get tired of it. She, however, prefers to change things up frequently. I follow cooking instructions obsessively, but she just throws in “a pinch of this and a pinch of that”. Often on a Sunday afternoon, she is going 100 mph when I want to settle down.
While some of the differences above have occasionally led to a little aggravation or possibly even some arguments, most of them can be easily tolerated or overlooked. Sometimes we may truly appreciate the differences. There’s an old saying that “opposites attract”, and I have found it to be true in many experiences in my own life and in watching others.
What happens when some of the differences that we once enjoyed about each other begin to grate on our nerves? Some differences can become more of a challenge. What if I make a decision and neglect to include her in the process because I am more quickly decisive while she is more cautious and hesitant in making big decisions? She could feel left out and unappreciated. She might even feel a little insecure, seeing that she had no say-so in a decision that affected her. What if I am super-affectionate and my wife is more reserved? I might feel rejected at times if she doesn’t respond the way I want her to. She might feel smothered if she is not given the space that she needs.
Those are examples of differences that are more likely to lead to frustration or hurt. Then the lesser important differences get exaggerated as we allow them to be a bigger deal than they really are. A relationship can go off track if these things are not addressed. To often, we hold the misbelief that one of us is right and the other is wrong. The truth is, more times than not, both are wrong in their perspective of what’s happening and what “should” happen. Although worded a bit simplistically, the truth is often in the middle.
If we avoid humility and choose to view differences as a bad thing, our relationships will suffer. We will suffer. People around us will be negatively impacted. Embracing our differences is a crucial part of life and relationships that, if circumvented, has dire consequences.
When differences are viewed as unacceptable, wrong, or evil, they become something we must fight against. We must aim to force others to change, and changing just a little isn’t enough. We feel we must eradicate the differences altogether. We make other people our enemies. Hate fills our hearts. We become so critical that all we can see is what we deem as wrong with others. The truth is not something we crave or consider finding. We assume we are right and have the truth on our side, so we are close-minded and not open to finding it.
To find truth and engage each other in loving ways, we must be willing to humble ourselves rather than be a “right-fighter”. Humility makes way for grace, love, and truth. Humility is not just something we discipline ourselves to do. It is based on trust. It’s a step of faith that’s more like a leap for many of us. Humility is me saying, “Please tell me how I am affecting you. I understand that I am not perfect, and your input is valuable. I realize your different view of things may be the very thing I need right now, although I have been believing my way is the only way. I want to see this from your perspective. I want to understand.”
These battles are not won in big arenas.
I think, many times, we jump to trying to change the world when it comes to things like this. We decide we must form a new committee at church, petition a politician/lawmaker, or make a new awareness campaign.
We don’t always have to focus on changing the world around us. We need to become more aware of our own faults first and allow our views to be challenged and possibly changed.
If we want to see real change in how we engage each other when differences arise, we need to take a closer look at ourselves (Matthew 7:3-5). To most effectively do this, we need to start at home and the closely surrounding area. We need to start with our children when they are not doing exactly what mommy and daddy want them to do. Perhaps we jump to harsh discipline in the absence of listening. We need to start with our spouses when they are doing that thing that really gets on our nerves. Instead of harboring the negative feelings, we need to take up responsibility and talk things out. We need to start with our friends when we’ve been choosing to keep them at a distance for one reason or another. We need to be honest with ourselves and quit blaming others for our choice to reject them. We need to start with our neighbor that we’re still mad at because he hasn’t returned that thing he borrowed…or that one that holds different religious or political beliefs than us.
What’s the payoff?
One benefit of practicing humility is opposites can attract. Humility breeds unity. We can enjoy ourselves and others even when differences are present. Since differences are almost always present, it’s a big deal when we don’t view them as a bad thing. Our relationships strengthen and are more rewarding. We experience freedom when we don’t have to prove ourselves right. We are more at ease when we do not have to hide ourselves and our differences or ask others to do the same. We attract others as they begin to feel safe around us as we invite them and their differences into our lives. Our children learn to truly trust us as parents. We learn to act on trust with God and others. We deepen our understanding of others and the world we live in. We engage the connection that God intended for us all. He is the one who builds His Church (Matthew 16:18). As believers, we are the body of Christ (His Church). We can partake in that miraculous relational interaction with Him and others if we trust Him with our differences. We can choose to recognize those differences as a special way for us to come together and discover truth and love with each other. They don’t have to tear us apart.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
(1 Corinthians 12:14-26, ESV)