Giving up on being right for Lent, and taking on being compassionate.
First – apologies for the doublebill last week. I did not intend to go in depth into the 12 steps, but I did, and it became the longest sermon I have ever given. This week would be different.
The original title of this sermon was Giving up being right, and taking on being loving. I changed it this morning because I think love too often is understood as romantic love, and I wanted to be clearer what kind of love I am talking about.
Before what I am going to say gets taken out of context, like on many occasions, I want to say – giving up on being right doesn’t mean that giving up on doing right. I am not telling you to stop doing things that are right and start doing things that are wrong.
First, let me read the ending of the parable of the lost child.
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
Have you ever felt that sense of indignation when someone else did something wrong, and they got away with it unpunished, and even got rewarded for it?
There are a few sermons that stuck in my head all these years. One of them was Jorg’s sermon on being right. He said that he kept a card in his pocket which said “maybe the other person is right.”
I have grown quite a bit then, and read a lot more books, interacted with a lot more people and come to a few realisations.
Why do we want to be right? Because being right means that I don’t have to listen to you and you have to listen to me. Have you been in an argument and heard someone say “No, YOU listen to me.” Being right shuts down the communication process. It becomes a means of controlling the other person. The other person has to do what you say.
Deeper than that, being right means we don’t have to change. We can remain in our comfort zones, continue living the way we live, and maintain the behaviours we are used to. But being Christian is about change – about identifying the parts of ourselves that is not life giving, theparts we die to so we may live more fully.
When we want to win, we want to be right, we want to control – what happens very often is that the other person would resist. One is trying to be right and the other is trying not to be wrong. As long as their intentions were to control and not be controlled, they are locked into this struggle and they cannot relate – they cannot step into each other’s shoes, and empathise.
The first step of compassion – to feel with someone else, to understand their situation, to step into their shoes – is to give up being right.
Sometimes we are so focused on winning, on being right, that we give up on being loving, and we stop caring about the other person. It is all about ourselves. When the older brother became angry at why his younger brother, even after taking and squandering his inheritance, get a huge celebration, he wasn’t angry because it wasn’t just, he was angry because it wasn’t fair to him. He didn’t understand the joy of a parent whose wayward child has returned.
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
If we choose to listen with compassion, and a desire to really hear what the other person is feeling, we would begin to understand the other person’s experience and how the other person felt. As we all begin to understand each other better, then we would find better ways of being in right relationship with each other.
This also applies to our interactions beyond the institutional level. I have attended meetings with those who think that gay is not ok. I have exchanged countless emails on whether gay is ok or not in the Bible. I always found that when both parties continue to insist that they are right, then there will not be any resolution – there will only be polarisation. I think that’s a waste of my time and energy. I have started a different approach – instead of insisting that I am right, I want to know what they are feeling, and what their experiences are. I want to know what drives them to be so passionate. And there are many occasions, I found that we had more in common.
Dr Margaret Paul, author and relationship expert writes:
“Being in the intent to learn is not just about solving problems. Resolution may be the outcome or it may not, but the new learning will inevitably lead to positive change.
Often, people are reluctant to listen to each other for fear of losing themselves. They fear that if they listen to the other person, they will appear to be weak and will get taken advantage of. But the intent to learn is not just about listening to the other — it is also about listening to yourself and learning to stand in your own truth without having to impose it on another. If you are caring about both yourself and the other person, then you will not end up losing yourself in the conflict.
Just this morning, I read a post I felt I needed to “correct.” And I had to fight that – because if I started another debate instead of listening, I would be a hypocrite – I would not be practicing what I am preaching.
The intent to learn is about being in compassion for both yourself and your partner. When caring and compassion are more important than winning and being right, you will find a way for both of you to win.
Next time you are having a conflict, ask yourself, “Am I trying to control or am I willing to learn?” Even if your partner continues to try to control when you move into compassionate learning, you will discover new inner power, strength and wisdom that is far more satisfying than winning or losing. You will be able to move beyond the bickering as you learn to listen while standing solidly in your truth.”
My friends, we are not called to be “right” – we are called to be loving. Let us not lose our way like the Pharisees, who thought that by being right they did not have to change, they can remain in their comfort zones, and maintain the status quo. Jesus commanded us not to be right, but to be loving. And being loving means we are open to change, and growth, and transformation.
I think what God desires is for all of us to be reconciled – those who think gay is okay, those who think gay isn’t ok. I think God desires for the older brother to be loving, and come in to join the celebration instead of being right.