From time to time I have noted the unfortunate personal tendency I have to be far less friendly to messages being delivered to me that come with certain labels even where I am quick to claim such labels and identities for myself . I do not think that I am alone in having the tendency to feel a strong sense of distaste at best for those who tell me what I would be quick to tell myself without feeling irritated about it at all. It requires a rare degree of finesse, I have found, for a speaker to tell me certain things, such as the expression that the biblical word for “meekness” refers to a restrained strength that is not prickly and defensive, without me ending up at least a little bit prickly or defensive as a result of said message . Again, I do not think this is something that is a quality I have myself alone. In fact, I think it is likely that such an asymmetrical response between identities that we are quick to claim for ourselves rather than have forced upon us by others is a very common contemporary response, and it suggests that there is something more than identity that is at the source of these difficulties.
Given the life that I have lived, it is little surprise that I have felt myself to be a pilgrim and stranger on the earth for a long time, a tendency that is only helped by the biblical discussion of such matters in Hebrews 11 and the way that I have found adopting a biblical worldview tends to alienate oneself from others, no matter what human society one happens to find oneself in, even as it often gives one a reputation for honesty and sincerity that at least serves to counteract the negative aspects of social repercussions for living a countercultural lifestyle. As I have noted before when it comes to the subject of social acceptance, no one feels worse for having rejected the larger culture around them. It is only when we are rejected by those around us that we feel aggrieved by it. Again, here too there is an asymmetry that suggests that our own choice is a fundamental aspect of whether we are able to accept some aspect of reality. If we have chosen a life that leads to greater isolation and rejection, that is something we can bear to the extent that we have, for whatever reason, rejected the authority or desirability of other ways of life. However, to the extent that we are rejected when we would want to be accepted, we consider that an intolerable act of violence.
Why does it matter who the messenger is? Why is a message that we tell ourselves and others find ready acceptance by us when the identical message delivered at us from an external source only provokes us to resentment and hostility and defensiveness. To be sure, we cannot expect that we will be able to live our lives free of rebuke from others. To some extent, we all have weaknesses and shortcomings, areas of our lives that tend to irritate and annoy others around us, and we will receive rebukes from others to the extent that our behavior does not meet the norms of the people we are around. Not all of the time will these rebukes be something we will need to take to heart (except to the extent of recognizing that the persistence in antisocial behavior will tend to lead to rejection and difficulty, even if it is not a matter of right and wrong). But there will be many cases where we will need to hear and to heed rebuke from others in order to live a more godly and more successful life, especially when we have habits that sabotage our hopes and aspirations.
How are we to accept the validity of such rebuke long enough and well enough to reflect upon it or even act upon it? What are the ways in which a message of caution or a call to repentance or correction might enter into our thick skulls? We might be observant enough as well as reflective enough that we might occasionally be able to come to some sort of insight about our maladroit ways of behavior. If so, that is definitely for the best. But will we be as responsive to the rebuke of parents, bosses, church authorities, friends and acquaintances, or even random but observant strangers? Even when we know, intellectually, that we need to accept rebuke and correction at least to the extent that we think it over and see what useful insight we may draw from it, it can often be hard to feel that rebuke as acceptable without striking back in some fashion. I feel a strong personal tendency to lash out about such matters, even knowing as I do that there are definitely some areas in my life where I could stand to do a lot better, and I do not think that others are any less lacking in that urge to strike back at those who would rebuke us. Indeed, I think that the prickliness I feel about rebuke is something that is especially strong in the contemporary society and age in which we live.
What are we to do about it? How do we counteract our tendency? How do we breathe deeply when we feel triggered by an unfriendly rebuke, to the extent that we are able to respond graciously and then, more importantly, to reflect on the extent that the rebuke needs to be taken to heart? How do we do all of this without being consumed by anger that is directed either inside or outside? It is easy to know that we can benefit greatly from being possible to advise and correct by others, but how do we move this theoretical knowledge into practical application? How do we gain an appreciation for a message apart from our own personal opinions about the messenger? These may not be easy questions to answer, but our lives are likely to be far different, and far better, to the extent that we are able to answer them successfully.
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