The Gift of Mistreatment

I hadn’t even finished college when I had the conversation that would be the first in a string of ones like it stretching through my adulthood.

I didn’t realize it then: this conversation was a rite of passage.

We sat across from one another over a scheduled breakfast that I’d walked into with a lump in my throat. I was on guard, the person across from me accusing. I masked my defensive fisticuffs in casual explanations and practiced smiles, hoping the nervous warbling in my throat wasn’t heard above the clanking of servers delivering plates at this greasy spoon. My breakfast companion was quick-witted and spoke callously but pointedly. This person had a mouth full of words, not ears to hear me. I’d lost the discussion-turned-argument before I walked in the door.

And my young-heart had been mis-handled.

Chains MJ

Years later revealed the judgment was incorrect, but in that moment I hadn’t lived the years that would make this understanding a part of my history. I only had the ache of being misunderstood, mis-labeled.

I left the conversation that morning but it didn’t leave me for a long time. I never saw this person after college, but our exchange was on repeat in my young-in-God mind. Sometimes when I replayed it, I believed this person’s assessments about me and the decisions I’d made about my future; I joined in their accusations of me. And other times I became the courageous defender in my mind, saying all the things I didn’t have the wits or response-time to say in the moment.

It was either one or the other, back then: receive another’s indictment as full-truth or staunchly defend my person.

I didn’t know then that a heart didn’t have to be badgered, knocked around, and permanently wounded at the hands of another’s assessments, but that the strife which mis-judgment and mistreatment brought to one’s insides could be the fastest way to grow a human heart up in God.

Fence Post MJ

This breakfast was my warm-up.

Two decades and several job changes and five children later, the waves of misunderstanding and misjudgment that have come when human lives crash against one another have turned into the greatest working-out of my inner dialogue with God and His Word.

How do You see me God? isn’t a question we really need to ask when the world treats us as we feel we deserve.

Who am I, from Your perspective? isn’t a game-changing conversation when the relational mirrors around us make us feel good.

How do You see me God? isn’t a question we really need to ask when the world treats us as we feel we deserve.

“Turn the other cheek to him also” is merely a sing-songy children’s tune that hangs out in our minds when we don’t get alone and ask God for His eyes for the one who is opposing the parts of us that we hold close and for His eyes for the parts of us that feel misunderstood.

Those five little verses — possibly the hardest ones to follow for even the most fervent — were given by the Servant Leader who knew (with His blood that pooled at the bottom of the cross) that those sweet, hidden conversations with the Father were the fire that would give us the moxie to live them out.

Lantern

I want to fight back. Defend. Bring my justice. I want people in my circle to bend a sympathetic ear to my having been wronged.

But when I’m faced with another whose eye on my life isn’t the whole of me, I get to ask God who I am. When I’m under the human finger of mistreatment, out of place and horribly mis-timed, I get to carve a space in my closet where only One voice matters. When another’s calloused hands run rough-shod over what’s tender in me, I get to scoot up next to the One whose hands formed me.

Those who mistreat us become the ones we can’t help but love when we realize what their opposition does to our human hearts.

The opposition of another helps me dredge the way through my mucky insides right up into seeing His eyes.

Screen with hole

(And sometimes when I’m under His kind eyes which make repentance sweet, I see that my opponent isn’t all that wrong. And I’m not all that right. The real battle isn’t for a winner, but for new places of my heart to be won towards His gentle perspective on me.)

+++

Several years ago on my birthday we took the whole family out to dinner. With a young crew and a bank account freshly depleted from adoptions, a dinner out was no small thing. I felt my age, this particular year, but wore all the expectation of an eight year-old on her birthday. This meal — this time for which I was showered and dolled and the children had been prepped about how this night was not about them — was gonna be good. I wasn’t wearing an apron.

We arrived, early for the dinner rush, and were seated in a nearly-empty restaurant — me, in the birthday glow that was charged with the vapor-like perfection of my children who’d been coached. They shuffled the wait staff, momentarily. The new waitress assigned to our table was unhappy at “hello.” She rolled her eyes at our requests, muttered under her breath and placed our drinks on the table as if they were stamps on a stamp pad.

When the calloused hands of another’s handling runs rough-shod over what’s tender in me, I get to scoot up next to the One whose hands formed me.

She didn’t know I’d chosen this restaurant on my day to be celebrated. She didn’t know I’d already dished up 8 meals that day (not including mine), and showered each of my children before getting there. We’d even clipped all sets of nails. Toe nails.

She had her own story roiling around behind that drink tray that must have happened all before our 5pm arrival.

In between drink refills, we whispered to our usually-oblivious children who’d widened their eyes to our waitress’s undeniable irritation: this is where we practice God’s love. It was game-time for little hearts and just a small prick of a reminder for big ones who’d weathered more than just a disgruntled waitress.

They smiled big and called her ma’am and used a rarely-matched level of manners.

Nate left her that night with double his standard tip and told the children about it. They had a little story to latch onto, early, for when their slightly-older lives are tempted to lock jaws and raise fists and defend. It was easy for them — and for us — to see it all so clearly this night. This waitress had no emotional hook in our hearts.

But what about when the hook is there?

PitcherMJ

The ones who oppose us when we really need championing are the ones who send us into the hidden conversations with God that change us. He champions us like no human can.

Those who oppose me have given me new fodder for conversation with the God who sees the minutes of my life that no one else sees.

Those who have misjudged me are turning me into a daughter — yup, a daughter who comes to her Daddy in a whole new kind of needy way when she’s been mistreated.

I can bless those who curse me because of how He whispers to me when I’m mistreated.

They gave me a gift, with their mistreatment.

Why wouldn’t I give them my other cheek, my favorite coat, my tired extra mile?

Road Mountains Cherish

TurnTheOtherCheek

For Your Continued Pursuit: (I invite you to dig. in. here.) Matthew 5:11 | Matthew 5:38-48 | Isaiah 53:5 | Luke 6:27-36

First five photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Sixth photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

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