I usually try to read a devotional specifically for the season during Lent. I want one that will help me think about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in fresh new ways. This year I selected Martin L. Smith’s A Season for the Spirit, probably the best Lenten read I’ve come across. He uses the popular psychological reference to the many “selves” within, instead of “different sides to one’s personality,” which is the terminology I prefer. But setting that aside it is insightful and thought provoking.
One of the chapters deals with the topic of difficult people. My mind raced to one particular person I know who continually grates on the nerves. I’d prayed about this individual before, but mostly I’d avoided him/her as much as possible to detour potential conflicts. After reading the chapter in Smith’s book, I decided to fast through a single meal and devote the hour to prayer for this person.
Three interesting things happened. One, during my focused time of prayer, I became aware of how harsh and critical my own attitude had been toward the individual. It was an internal ugliness I had not noticed before, being so wrapped up in the person’s strange antics. I realized that while our actions were different, I myself was displaying the very same attitudes I disliked in this person. By the end of the day, Jesus’ teaching about prayer rang like a bell in my head: “…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Over the ensuing few days, I ran into a number of people who knew this person better than I did. With no prompting on my part, they shared with me the offending individual’s background, which shed some light on why this person might be the way he/she is. It helped me see that often there are underlying reasons why people act out.
Some might say bumping into the offending person’s friends was coincidental, having nothing to do with my time of prayer and fasting. I do not believe in coincidences. “All good and perfect gifts come down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17). Certainly, my prayer time led to some specific changes in the way I began to approach him/her from then on, with more compassion, and hopefully appreciation for the unique gifts he/she brings to life. It also raised the alarm in myself, to keep my own attitudes in check.