I’ve recently entered a new life stage – the stage of realizing how valuable my parents’ advice is. It wasn’t an easy road to get here, but I made it eventually.
For my dad, this transition means he gets sought out every few months with a big life issue. (Unfortunately for him, I haven’t yet exited the life stage of dramatizing every bump in the road.) I call him in a state of subdued anxiety, or if it’s really bad just invite myself over, and we have a long talk over dinner.
He’s started developing a new set of dad-isms fit specifically for these occasions. One of the first was, “Is this a time when you want my opinion, or are you just looking for me to listen?” Before long, though, he had landed on a zinger that I now know is always coming. I work myself into a frenzy about a frustration or grievance I have, laying out very clearly an explanation of how someone else has wronged me or isn’t living up to my expectations. He listens calmly, then pauses, rests his chin in his hand, and says, “Mm-hmm. So, what does that say about you?”
To suggest that my frustration or disappointment with someone else could point to an issue with my heart? What a concept.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Of course, he’s usually right. Underlying my disappointed expectation may be a whole slew of self-centered attitudes: a critical spirit, a sense of entitlement, a refusal to offer grace, an obsession with outward appearances — the list goes on. In these moments of exasperation, my deepest motivation is certainly not a sense of humility, which seeks to honor another person and the Lord more fully.
At first I thought my dad’s line was just a pop psychology nugget that happened to relate to my situation. But the more I’ve thought about it (and the more times the question has been thrown at me), the more I realized that Jesus asked this of people all the time. When the Pharisees or the disciples brought him a criticism or a crafty question, he used their own accusation to expose a deeper issue they were ignoring.
When the Pharisees questioned him for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus asked why they were more concerned that he follow their rules about working than that he do good and restore brokenness.
When the disciples compared their roles in the kingdom and asked if one of them would be privileged to live to see Jesus’ return, he asked why it was even important to them, when their focus should be on following him however he called.
When Martha asked Jesus to point out Mary’s laziness in ignoring rules of hospitality, he turned Martha’s gaze to her own anxiety, which was causing her to miss out on fellowship with him.
And then there’s his “take out the log in your own eye” analogy that really drives the point home. Jesus doesn’t let us get away with pointing out other people’s failings without a hearty self-examination first. He consistently reminds us that there is more work in our own lives to be done — and that he is at work restoring us, calling us, and fellowshipping with us.
The Answer to Our Frustrated Hearts
So in moments when you are consumed by someone else’s inadequacy, it might be a good opportunity to ask, What does this say about me?
- Could my feeling of frustration say I have tendency to assume the worst of others?
- Could this obsession with my neighbor’s flaws say I have a critical spirit?
- Could my disappointment with my friend say I am withholding grace?
Jesus asked the hard questions. Searching our own hearts for sin is certainly not the most enjoyable exercise. But he didn’t only ask the hard questions — he also provided himself as an answer to all the conviction we face. Because of the gospel, we can open ourselves up for examination, conviction, and transformation — so we might become less focused on satisfying ourselves and more focused on following him.