Two Things to Consider When Your Character is Questioned

I’ve had my character questioned exactly four times in my life and those four times were extremely traumatic for me.  I’ve always prided myself on being the right kind of rule follower.  Rules are rules and you follow them (unless they don’t make sense or are for other less capable folk.).  I hardly gave my parents cause to discipline me.  I gave them plenty of grey hair, but I genuinely tried to please them and obey them.  They had reasonable rules.  It was society at large and teachers who had absurd rules that were completely arbitrary.  Those are rules just asking to be broken, but my parents’ rules were ones that were to be respected, honored and followed.  As a kid, I really did want to please and want to obey.  I liked being looked upon as a “good kid.”  I liked the freedom I had because of my compliance.

The first time my character was questioned was in 6th grade.  My teacher had been off and we had a substitute.  I needed a pencil, and we were allowed to take pencils from our teacher’s desk.  I asked the sub permission and went into her middle drawer.  I saw in there lifesaver mints.  I remarked, “Ooo!  Candy!” but never took any.  Apparently, the “naughty kid” in the class heard me and later stole some candy.  When my teacher returned the next day both the “naughty kid” and I were taken in the hall.  I was smiling, because I was generally the “good kid,” so I didn’t really fear anything.  My teacher said,

“I wouldn’t be smiling if I were you.”  I was shocked.  She asked us why we thought we wer in the hall.  I was not used to being called into the hall and looked flabberghasted as to why I was “lumped in” with the “naughty kid.”  I got a sinking feeling, like “This is not going to be good. He’s never not in trouble and somehow you’re now tainted!”  I started to panic.  She explained that just because she has candy in her top drawer doesn’t give us license to steal it.  No matter how much I told her I didn’t steal her candy, she wouldn’t believe me.  She said the substitute told her that I did.  I had to stay in from recess for several days becasue of something I didn’t do.

While each time my character was questioned, it didn’t matter if the other person apologized, or if the other person realized their mistake, the fact that it happened was devastating.  The fact that someone could even think that I would steal, or deliberately do something devious was so painful to me.  I could hardly recover.

Last week, my pastor preached on pride and anxiety.  He told us that if you cannot recover when your world collapses and the bottom falls out, you need to evaluate where you’ve placed your trust.  In whom have you relied on and found your worth?  If you’re sent reeling and are having a difficult time focusing on much else, you need to seriously evaluate where you’re placing your identity.

Wouldn’t you know, right after he preached on that, three days later I was hit with the fourth time someone has questioned my character and this was a big one.  Essentially I was called dishonest, greedy, selfish and disillusioned.  It hurt.  It was like someone sucker punched me and the air left my lungs. But after I evaluated this person’s accusation, I realized that it was hurting me too much.  I was too affected by it.

It’s one thing to take someone’s criticism and acknowledge guilt or failure and seek to make it better.  It’s also one thing to feel that guilt that leads to immediate repentance.  That kind of guilt is from the Holy Spirit.  His guilt always leads to repentance.  The guilt Satan piles on never leads to repentance.  It leads to debilitating sorrow, guilt, shame, despondency, blame…etc.

It was ok for me to feel sorrow at inconveniencing someone else or making life difficult for someone else even if it was unintentional.  It was not ok for me to wallow and cry and feel like a complete failure not only in my professional life, but in every aspect of my life.

Then it hit me.

I had set my own character and work ethic up as idols in my heart.

The reason why these accusations hurt so much was that I had placed my trust, my worth and my identity in my own work ethic and output as well as my own character!  That is sheer lunacy.  To place my character on any pedestal knowing that I am fallen makes zero sense, and yet God lovingly revealed that to me.

While that revelation led to guilt and shame and sorry over my sin, it also immediately led to repentance.  It was a sweet time of confession.  Suddenly the words of the other person and the hurt they caused didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was the saving grace of my Savior and the warmth and love that covered me once I sought forgiveness.

I learned two really important things that day that I hope I never forget:

  1. When I confess, there is freedom.  When I am broken over my sin, there is healing.  The separation that my sin causes is shored up when I come to God with a contrite heart.  He can heal the wounds.  He can cause the splinters of someone’s words, or the shards of shame over our own faults to be smoothed out and planed over by His unfailing love and unfaltering grace.  This happens through confession alone.  We can’t skimp on this.  We can’t skim over it.  It’s messy and hard and REALLY uncomfortable, but we have to walk through it.  And once we take even that first step the rest is easy.  It’s just that first act of obedience that’s tough.  Putting bitterness, resentment, hurt, and anger aside, choosing God over myself is tough, but man, is it so worth it. Click To Tweet
  2.  I need to be careful with my words.  I have no idea what any given person is going through at any given time.  My words can’t be flippant.  I can’t just say things for the sake of “being honest,” because I don’t know how those words will be received.  The person who accused me of being dishonest, greedy and selfish last week didn’t know that those words would affect me physically or mentally as much as they did.  That person was so free in their expression that they gave no thought, pause or care as to how those could affect someone.  They simply said what they said self-righteously and sanctimoniously, and boy, have I been there.  I need to be very, very careful about how my words are received.  Is what I’m saying REALLY necessary to help that person or am I just being self-righteous at best, cruel at worst?  Will what I say matter in ten years?  Sadly, I have not taken care to note the reception of my words.  I’ve not had enough compassion toward the other person on the other end.  I’ve just felt better at saying what I said.  I shudder to think about how my words have deeply affected people physically and mentally.  I’m telling you, it took me three days to recover even physically from what was said to me.  It was awful.

You never know what your words could possibly trigger in someone else, so take extra care in what you say.  You never know the full extent of the ripple effect of your words.

I’ve been flippant. I’ve been careless.  I’ve been vain.  I’ve been proud.

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