I know someone who I might best define as intense.
At times, this is a strength. They are relentless in their work ethic, high in their standards, demanding in their expectations of themselves (but often leavened in their expectations for others). They work hard and push hard and leave it all on the table.
At times, however, this makes them one of the most difficult people I have ever had the pleasure to like. They can be challenging, moody, combative. They bring a “go to war” mindset to most interactions and expect other people to approach problems in the same way. Everything is always the most urgent, the most necessary, the most important, the most everything.
In the best of times, I roll my eyes. In the worst of times, that attitude leaves me anxious, exhausted, and frustrated. In fact, this particular person has the ability to vex me enormously. And yet recently the Holy Spirit brought to my mind a thought:
What if that attitude and approach they have stems from a place of fear?
I don’t think of this person as fearful or anxious—perhaps because fear and anxiety manifests in me as feelings: tears, fretting, concern, vulnerability. But the more I thought of it, the more this person’s defensiveness and anger and intensity seemed that it might come from the very same places my fearfulness does.
I don’t know, of course, if I’m right or wrong. But I do know that allowing myself to think of someone I view as an antagonist with empathy, from a place of understanding, made a significant difference to our interactions. It didn’t excuse the individual’s behavior, but my response to it was transformed. I took less of their behaviors personally, thought more about how I might be able to help them.
This has put me in mind of a devotional in my Pray As You Go app that read thusly:
“Often, we come to terms with someone doing us injury by finding reasons to explain their bad behavior: ‘he’s under stress, she had a bad childhood, they’re going through a difficult time right now.’ But this isn’t forgiveness, it’s finding excuses. Forgiveness is the gift and grace that we need to find when we are faced with the inexcusable.”
We gain this ability to forgive only by nourishing ourselves with God and His word; doing so brings us into His perspective and closer to His heart. He shifts our perspective, changes our view, equips us with the compassion and the empathy we need in order to approach people from a place of grace.
So my question to you today is this: what individual in your life seems to need or want empathy, compassion, and care the least? And what might it mean to you if you asked God to help you approach them in this way?
May we always be looking at others with a Spirit-filled gaze.