This is a story I have had difficulty penning down because I struggled with ill feelings for a long time. Yet, I realize that the story must be told for the glory of the Lord.
There is this colleague of mine who never talked to me. She would not respond to my greetings. Even when we passed each other in the corridors and I wished her, she would either look away or ignore me. One day she walked into a room where three of us were working. We stood up to wish her and she responded to the other two by name but chose to ignore me. I wasn’t sure if I had done something wrong or if there was any misunderstanding.
Another day we were accidentally seated next to each other in an office program. She chose to turn her chair the other way probably to avoid conversing with me. I did not give up and I called out to her respectfully and asked her if she wanted a second helping of food being served. She pretended not to hear me when it was evident to all at the table that I was speaking to her. That was it! I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided not to initiate any conversation with her or wish her. I resolved to stop trying and I did. I stopped wishing her or making any attempts to talk to her.
Months passed and there was no change in the situation. But it bothered me to have such a strained relationship. It was an uncomfortable feeling. I did not want to be ‘not greeting’ a colleague at work! Finally, I chose to pray about it (and now I wonder why I did not do that earlier!). As I continued to pray about this for weeks and months, the Lord revealed to me something that I had never realised was a factor in this entire story.
The Lord revealed the sin in my heart. I realised that my regard for her was not pure; it was tainted with judgment, disrespect, and condescension. I judged her for being bossy, prejudiced, and inefficient. As I continued to pray, I looked for reasons to respect her and to my surprise, I found many - the way she handled her department, her punctuality, her passion for her work and some more. It was time for me to change not just my attitude but my actions. I started wishing her again and this time my wishes were not cold.
Now here comes the surprise in my story – in the time that I was praying and realising, the Lord was at work in her too! I am sure of that because two weeks ago she came to my room and asked me to be part of a programme that her department was planning. I couldn’t believe it. From not talking to me or even responding to my greetings, here she was, in my room, willing to engage with me and work with me.
What a change in attitude and what a turn of events! This had to be the Lord’s doing. The verse that immediately came to my mind is Matthew 7:5 - 'You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye'. The Lord used the speck in her eye to help me see the plank in my eye. And when I worked to get the plank out of my eye, He removed the speck from her eye.
There are two things I learned from this experience. The first is that the Lord can use anyone to show us our shortcomings. It doesn’t have to be a Christian or a mature believer, it can be anyone – a noisy neighbour or an over-smart sibling, a super-pious aunt or an atheist uncle, a talkative taxi driver or a humble housemaid, critical in-laws or non-believing co-workers! Sometimes the Lord uses the most unusual people to correct and teach us. He did that to the Israelites and we read about it in Habakkuk.
In chapter 1 verses 6-7, God tells the prophet that He is raising up the Babylonians, a bitter and hasty nation, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs (Israel). He says that they are terrible and dreadful; they are a law to themselves and they promote their own honour. Habakkuk cannot believe this because the Babylonians are a wicked nation, more wicked than Israel. They are idol worshippers and an abomination to the Lord. The prophet wonders why God would choose the Babylonians to judge and correct the Israelites who were more righteous than their invaders (v. 13). He asks God, 'Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?' (v. 13).
Habakkuk cannot make sense of why a Holy God would use an unholy nation to punish His own people. We could not have made sense of it either. May God never need to use unusual people to convict us, but if He did need, may we recognize that it is the work of God, with an aim to correct and teach us (and not just the unusual person).
The second thing I learned was that we need not give up on any relationship because God never gave up on us. When I decided to not talk to or greet my colleague, it seemed like the end of that relationship. But God had other plans. As I worked on changing my attitude and behaviour, He was working in her to change her attitude and behaviour as well. Our God is a relationship restoring God.
He did that with Joseph and his brothers, with Onesimus and Philemon, with us and Himself. Joseph showed Christ-like behaviour when he forgave his brothers, so must have Philemon when he took back Onesimus. Jesus forgave us while we were yet sinners. We can trust Him to set our strained relationships right. But this process only begins when we desire to be more Christ-like (however right or wrong the other person in the relationship might be).
May we never have strained relationships, but if we did, may we recognize and comply with the work of God in and through us in restoring those relationships.