To Respond Well, Use the Scale

To Respond Well, Use the Scale

Unless you’re a hermit, life will require you to interact with people. These interactions will involve friction. Your husband will leave his socks on the living room floor (for the tenth time in the week). Your wife will disapprovingly mumble something under her breath (for the tenth time in the day) about something you did. Your sibling will move your stuff without permission (again). Your friend will post something suggestive about you online (to your surprise). Your coworker will throw you under the bus in anger.
These are not hypotheticals; these are realities. If you interact with people, you will experience friction. Part of that is because we’re sinful and selfish; part of it is because we’re different.[1] For the purposes of this article, that doesn’t matter. What concerns us here is how we respond to this friction, and this should concern us because some of us don’t respond well, which is damaging our relationships, our mental health, and even our spiritual health.
So how do we learn to respond well? To sort this out, imagine a scale from 1 to 10 (see the picture on the left). Imagine 1 being something mildly annoying like your brother burping next to you or your seven-year-old leaving blobs of toothpaste in the bathroom sink. We’ll designate 10 as murder. You may have slightly different designators for these numbers. That’s okay. The point is that 1 needs to be something you can overlook and 10 something alarmingly drastic. With the poles fixed, you’re ready to use the scale.
Your sibling moves your stuff without permission. Ask yourself: Where does this rank on my scale? Probably a 1 or a 2. As such, what should you do? This proverb is helpful to store in your heart:
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
Something mildly annoying is only mildly annoying. Wisdom counsels overlooking it. Reacting disproportionately will escalate the situation and likely lead nowhere good or helpful. If you can speak respectfully to your sibling, you can ask them to ask permission in the future. What you can’t do, however, is react at a 5 or 6 level. 
Your husband leaves his socks on the floor again. Ask yourself, Where does this rank? Before you answer, there is one more thing to consider: 5 is halfway to murder. Are socks (repeatedly) left on the floor halfway to murder? This is a critical question. You must answer it honestly. Finding stinky socks on the floor may be frustrating. It may also feel unloving, especially when you’ve asked your husband numerous times not to do it, but no reasonable person would rank socks on the floor as halfway to murder. An emotional person would; a reasonable person would not. And as we’ve written about before in the pages of this newsletter (and heard in sermons), we are called not to let emotions drive,[2] but to let truth drive.
Does that mean your husband has license to leave his socks on the floor? No. What it means is that your response needs to be proportionate to the deed. If socks on the floor is a two and you respond at an 8, you’re out of line. You’re wrong. You may rightly identify a frustrating behavior and wrongly respond to it. 
And this happens A LOT in relationships. In fact, this is what’s at the root of so many broken relationships. It’s not that 8s, 9s, and 10s don’t happen. Sadly, sometimes people do 8s, 9s, and even 10s (things like adultery, abuse, and even murder), but these are comparatively rare. It is far more often the case that someone does a 2 or a 3 or a 4 and the other reacts at a 7 or an 8. And this exacerbates what would otherwise be a mild source of friction.
In fact, what often happens in conflict is that a person reacts disproportionately to an offense, essentially dropping dynamite onto the initial spark that then explodes into an epic argument leaving the shrapnel and shards of hurt feelings and broken hearts all over the room. This is why our scale is so important. We’ll talk below about what we do when something truly is an 8, 9, or 10, but let’s first focus on the need to keep our responses in line with reality. We must rightly assess reality (again, we can’t let emotions drive). This is about vigorously speaking truth into our hearts. And this will mean actually telling our hearts, This is a 2 or 3. Treat it as such. Respond in line with reality. 
Consider another example. What if your wife is mumbling something sharp or disrespectful under her breath about you? Her action is wrong.[3] Scripture is clear on this. She is disrespecting her head (i.e. her Christ-imaging husband) and dishonoring Christ. Having said that, is it halfway to murder? No. As such, where should your response be? If it’s at a five or above, you’re wrong. Further, as a husband, you must memorize the Lord’s command to you on how you should love your wife: as a woman of splendor without spot or blemish (see Ephesians 5:22-33). There is no exception clause in this text where God says, “…unless she’s disrespecting you.” To show this kind of self-sacrificial love you must speak truth into your heart: Even if she disrespects me, I am to treat her with tenderness and love because that’s the way Jesus treats His bride, the church
If your friend posts something unsavory or suggestive about you online, where does it rank? If it’s really bad, maybe it is halfway to murder (defaming a person’s reputation can be devastating and take years to restore). Now what? Does a 5 justify returning fire online? Does a 5 make it okay for you to hurt her like she hurt you? You may need to speak with her. In fact, you may need to bring a mature (non-emotionally driven) adult with you. What you must do, though, is heed the words of Jesus:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).
Further, we must receive and do Paul’s words:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).
Now we come to the comparatively rare 8s, 9s, and 10s. What if someone breaks his marital promises by committing adultery, abuses you or someone you love, or murders someone close to you? These are severe sins. The responses may, likewise, need to be severe. What it can’t be, though, is emotionally and/or vengefully driven. Regardless of where an action ranks on our scale, we, who have the Spirit, are called to display the fruit of the Spirit, and part of this fruit is self-control. We must also be mature enough to recognize that 8s, 9s, and 10s will likely require help.
If you’ve experienced an 8, 9, or 10 (or even if you’re struggling with a 5, 6, or 7!), talk to a pastor. Talk to a mature, Christian counselor. Contact Lutheran Family Service. Talk to a trusted Christian friend. You need to talk to somebody who knows God’s Word and is able to bring it to bear on your hurt and on the situation. This is critical. You need solid, Biblical counsel. You need to hear and to rehearse God’s promises:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). 
All of this requires a mature assessment of reality and a firm grasp of God’s Word. And this requires work, but here’s what you need to tell yourself: My relationships are worth it. My mental and spiritual health is worth it. Truth is worth it.
Want to talk about a particular struggle in your life? Call/email/text/stop in! Let’s bring God’s Word to bear together. – Pastor Conner  

[1] This a VERY important insight. Sometimes friction isn’t caused because one person is wrong and one person is right. Sometimes it’s merely because two (or more) people are different. Emerson Eggerichs (author of two exceedingly helpful books on marriage) helps people grasp this by regularly repeating the phrase Not wrong, just different. Where friction is caused by differences, this would be an exceedingly important phrase to recall!

[2] This is very important. Too often we think with our emotions. What we need to do is get back to the foundational thought we’re believing to be true. In this case you may believe that your husband is intentionally being unloving by leaving his socks on the floor. It is far more likely, however, that socks on the floor don’t matter as much to him. This would make your belief untrue and the emotions you’re basing on them equally untrue. And you’re unkind words about him and his boorishness would also be uncalled for. For now, simply remember this: What you think (i.e. believe to be true) affects what you feel affects what do. If what you believe to be true isn’t, your emotions and actions may likewise end up being founded on something that isn’t true.  

[3] This is an opportunity, though, for you to draw near to your wife. Sharp mumbling is usually evidence that she is feeling unloved or that she is hurting in some way. While she may be handling it wrongly, you don’t have to. You can draw near to her and listen nondefensively as you seek to emulate the compassion of Jesus in your marriage.

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