God often serendipitously exposes my faulty wiring while I’m busy finding faults in others. Yesterday was no exception. I thought I’d surprise my wife by showing up at the office and taking her out for ice cream. She works at one of the largest hospitals in the country, and cell phone signals have a tendency to fade in and out under the heaps of concrete and medical devices. I arrived on the sixth floor ten minutes before her intended clock out. I called her cell phone. Nothing. I paged her (yes, the medical field still uses the preferred technology of drug dealers circa 1997). Nothing. I waited…nothing. Exchanging pleasantries with those walking out of the office, I began to stir. Where was my wife? Had she left early and was already sitting in our living room? Was she purposely ignoring my calls? I paged a few more times. Nothing. An hour passed me by as I searched my contacts for someone to text so I would appear as busy as everyone else in the lobby. Finally, my phone rang. I coiled to pounce. But it wasn’t the sweet voice of my wife on the other end but that of a man. “Hello, Jimmy? This is nurse so-and-so. Amber’s still scrubbed in and working overtime on a really tough procedure. What is it you need?” I shriveled into the bench. “Just tell her I’m waiting in the office.”
Why am I hesitant to give the benefit of the doubt to the love of my life? She’s busy working overtime, saving someone’s life, and I’m thinking she’s loafing about and absent-mindedly avoiding her phone? Who’s in the wrong here?
Has a variation of this scene played out in your marriage as many times as us? What about in your church? When Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he showed them the most excellent way they were to behave. And he told them about a patient love, a kind love. A love that keeps no records of wrongs. I imagine 1 Corinthians 13 is read at the majority of weddings in America, but its original audience was a gathering of Christians -not a couple. Those people who sit across the auditorium from you, down the pew from you. Those who get into lengthy political debates in the foyer. Those who dump their children off at the nursery and then head out for coffee. Those who reek of smoke. Those who updated their status from the pub Friday night. Those who question your fundamental beliefs in the classroom. Yes, all those people and everyone in between. Paul says love them.
And part of loving people is giving those same people the benefit of the doubt. That means, when they say something that could be perceived as sarcastic or a dig at your personality, regard it as sarcasm. When they do something in ministry that affects your toes, don’t think they’re deliberately trying to step on them. And when they combat your comment in class, it’s more about something they’re trying to work through than shoot down your thoughts.
A church that doesn’t extend grace to herself isn’t able to extend grace to the world.