“Oh, what people!” - That’s what my Mom would say after encountering someone difficult.
Many of us have similarly exasperated phrases, the shortest of which is simply shake your head and say “People.”
And no wonder we say such things. Just think of all the people problems everyone has. The hilarious, and sometimes all-too-real, tragic drama of sitcoms and telenovelas wouldn't exist without humans being human and having issues with each other.
To be human is to lead a flawed, imperfect, often burdensome existence. But being human means we also deeply desire to overcome our flaws as we seek meaning and joy.
On Sunday, Pastor Jeff reminded us that we are all equal both in having flaws and in being beloved creations of God. Everyone has unhealthy aspects in their lives but everyone can choose how they handle their unhealthy natures- especially in how they treat each other.
We are difficult creatures to understand and to get along with. We are also difficult with each other. Speaking for myself, I get grumpy when stressed. I also don't always have patience with myself or others.
Another difficult thing about humanity is our struggle to realize our own patterns of flawed behavior and to rise above them. I might know what triggers my grumpiness- stress, a lack of regular and sufficient sleep cycles, a lack of exercise, devotional time, or time with my loved ones. But then again I might not recognize these triggers until someone points them out. For example, sometimes I don't like to be asked a bunch of questions all at once. The reason is that even though the other person might just be curious, at some level I misread those questions as being prying or hostile (silly, yes I know.) But this is something that I don’t always notice unless I’m called out on it.
In addition, knowing these patterns exist isn't the same as being conscious of when they are playing out in real time, or of being able to break the cycle in that moment. It's easy to be grumpy sometimes if I'm not thinking about it and I'm not focused on loving others and myself as God loved us. It takes hard work, mindfulness, brutal honesty, and courage to say “oh yeah! I do that don't I? I'm sorry, let me take a moment and stop that.”
The fact is that we're very real people who will encounter very real people. We all have our own lives, backgrounds, problems, and quirks of personality. When we interact with each other we have to choose how to treat ourselves and each other.
We have to learn to avoid certain traps and that's hard. I mentioned my irritability. There are also other traps such as those discussed in the sermon; comparison and jealousy, being a self-conscious people-pleaser, playing the tyrant or martyr, setting up impossibly high standards, and falling to set healthy personal boundaries. These are just a few of the prisons we can build for ourselves and our relationships.
Pastor Jeff pointed out that people only change because of Christ or consequences. How much better for us to change out of a desire to love God and one another rather than because of suffering from past mistakes? And how wonderful is it when we manage to love and help others?
The fact that we can choose love for ourselves and each other should give us great hope and courage! Rejoice! Embrace the struggle and know that every single day when you wake up you have agency and you can use it - no matter what happened yesterday.
For those who are Christians, we see what Jesus has done for us and see his example of how to love. We are meant to voluntarily, and gladly, follow his lead both because we want to share that love we have been given and because Jesus told us to do so.
“5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature [a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature [b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” -Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
We can also find examples of servanthood and love to follow; St. Paul, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Václav Havel, Pope John Paul II, Daryl Davis, everyday neighbors who assist each other during a disaster, and so on.
This requires humility and putting on the mind of Christ. It means we need to be honest and introspective without unhelpful shame or disparagement. It means letting go of grudges while erecting proper personal boundaries. Remember: if someone is toxic, they will be of no help to you or themselves. You can forgive without forgetting. And you can also choose healthy distance from the most difficult people while also praying for them and wishing them well.
You see, to love others we must first free ourselves from being stuck in our people problems. With God’s help we can break our mental and relational prisons so that we can treat ourselves and others justly. As Pastor Jeff said, “we need to be free from people so we can be free for people.”
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.