While walking at Valley Park last week, I noticed this sign written in chalk on the post of a picnic table: Closer Meeting. Of course, I saw this as a sacred invitation to see what else had been written there! And the very first words I read brightened my spirit. “Have a great day! You matter!”
I smiled as I walked around to the other side of the table, grateful for the one who had taken the time to bless my day. What a sweet act of kindness!
And then I found these words…
“You suck.” After the initial surprise, I laughed aloud.
We can easily recognize that both statements say more about the one who wrote them than about me or any others. I was a random passer-by who happened to read their words, and not necessarily the object of their affirmation or scorn. Yet I admit that I readily accepted the first statement for myself, but quickly became defensive with the second one. I am quite sensitive about what others think of me. Criticism – even unintended criticism – can hurt!
There have been times when people have affirmed and appreciated me, and other times, well, not so much. Years ago, a pastor-friend wisely suggested that I first receive criticism as information, then take time to discern whether or not it applies. Do the words say more about that person and our relationship than about my character? Or do the words, however hurtful, offer any nuggets of truth that are helpful for my growth and maturation?
In the living of these days, there will be moments when we offend, anger, annoy, or frustrate someone – at times without realizing we have! As much as we may strive to live as loving, gentle, gracious peacemakers, there will be times when people think badly of us. And there will be times when we are not at our best, when we actually intend to respond with hurtful or vengeful words. There will be times when our words or actions might upset someone, and other times, our silence or restraint will do the same! We will not please everyone all the time.
What a gift to know that we are always, always, beloved by God. Whether we are striving at our best or succumbing to our worst, God’s gracious and merciful love keeps sustaining us, helping us, and yes, even correcting us. God’s love always remains.
What people say about us does not make us who we are. What matters most is what God says of us, and God calls each one of us beloved. When we learn to live in this awareness – that we are God’s beloved – we can become more patient and understanding with others, for we recognize that they are God’s beloved, too.
Even our harshest critics.
(Photos by Karen, Valley Park, WV)