So some of us went early to pick out seats that would be good for all involved and save them. Some “seat-saving” family members went a bit earlier than me and my sons. When we got there, they shared that there had been problems with a woman who was trying to take our saved seats. I don’t get mad at a lot these days, but pick on my family…and watch out!
A few minutes later, here she came. I didn’t have to have anybody tell me it was her- it was PRETTY obvious! She came to the end of the row we were in and started to blow past another nephew who was sitting at the end of the row. When he got up to tell her the seats were saved, she got in his face and said, “MOVE!” She then pushed right on by him.
Well, guess who was the next line of defense?! I saw her push past him so I was up in a heartbeat and closed the 3-seat gap between us before she could try and claim any of the seats. “Get out of my way!” I chuckled. “I don’t think so.” I’m taking these seats!” “I think you might want to re-think that decision.” This went back and forth, her getting more and more vile by the moment and us arguing over whether or not we could save seats. Finally, she SCREAMED at me, “You CAN’T save seats!” That’s it- flip all the cards over, push all the chips into the center of the table- we’re done! “Well, that’s funny because I seem to be doing a PRETTY good job of it- I notice YOU’RE not sitting here!” Mic drop! She fumed for a second and then played what she thought was her trump card- she threatened to get security. I invited her to go right ahead and even pointed out where security was standing! Not my finest moment- but it DID feel pretty good!
Isaiah 55:3a Listen and come to me. Pay attention to Me. Then you will live. I will make a covenant with you that will last forever. I will give you My faithful love.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a parishioner that led to this question from them, “Would you consider preaching about how to be a ‘good’ Christian WITHOUT being a doormat?” And it struck me- THAT is a profound concept! And this brief sermon series grew out of that! Through Doormat Theology, we are spending two weeks- last week and today- focusing on that very question. We established last week that seeing yourself the way God sees you- turning to Him for your guidance and self-worth are a GREAT start! Today’s main Scripture points us squarely in that direction.
Psalm 121 I look up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He won’t let your foot slip. He who watches over you won’t get tired. In fact, He who watches over Israel won’t get tired or go to sleep. The Lord watches over you. The LORD is like a shade tree at your right hand. The sun won’t harm you during the day. The moon won’t harm you during the night. The Lord will keep you from every kind of harm. He will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your life no matter where you go, both now and forever.
Psalm 121 is pretty all-encompassing. It speaks of nature, of time, of eternity…and of the God Who is with us through all of it. It starts with an admission that we need help- I look to the hills. From where does my help come? It then quickly transitions into answering its own question- my help comes from God.
We think we’re autonomous, self-sufficient, the master of our destiny. But then one failed relationship or one catastrophic diagnosis quickly proves that’s simply not true. The truth is that we need way more help than our own limited resources can provide. But when we turn to God and utter that one powerless, and yet incredibly powerful word- “Help”- then we have started the journey toward wholeness. Psalm 121 reminds us that God keeps us. He protects us. He preserves us.
Sometimes, it’s really hard not to feel alone. You feel like the world has turned against you- or was never actually turned toward you in the first place- and you have no one to talk to. The ground might shake and evil might threaten to overtake us. Actor Stephen Fry was once asked, “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?” Fry replied, “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.”
Pretty harsh, but if we’re honest, it’s fairly natural to feel that way. We face things that we can’t wrap our heads around and so we look for someone to blame. But when you DO feel that way, you need to know that God is there with you- in the quiet. He there in the stillness. He’s there in the turmoil. He’s there when life is fragile…and hard. The road to freedom isn’t found in denying or railing against the fragile quality of life. Life IS hard. Life IS finite. Life IS uneven. The road to freedom isn’t found on that kind of path. Instead, it’s found in knowing the God has conquered death. This temporary, fleeting, “here today and then gone in the blink of an eye” finite life is nothing more than a precursor to an eternity…eternity…of joy unimaginable.
As I said earlier, some folks read things like Psalm 121 and say, “He’ll protect us, huh? So, no sickness? No sorrow? No suffering? How’s THAT workin’ for ya’?” God DOES protect- He protects that which is eternal- our souls. He is our shade. He casts His shadow over us. He stands between us and the devil and quotes that great theologian Gandalf the Grey- you shall not pass! Our eternal destiny is held securely in His hand.
The truth is that we have no control over…much of anything. But when put our faith in Him, our foundation is firm. When we anchor ourselves in the infinite, we can better deal with what happens in the finite. When we align ourselves to the One who moves all things, then we cannot be moved.
So, how can I be a “good Christian” and not be a doormat? Well, for questions like this, we OBVIOUSLY turn to…Dr. Phil! I mean, who doesn’t?! Here are some classic Dr. Phil quotes-
“My dad used to tell me, ‘Boy, don’t ever miss a good chance to shut up!'”
“I didn’t just come in on a load of turnips.”
“Trying to run that by me is like trying to get sunrise past a rooster.”
“You don’t need a pack of wild horses to learn how to make a sandwich.”
“I tell you, if you’re in the front row of the parade and you stop walking, pretty soon you’re back in the tuba section.”
But one of the best things Dr Phil ever said was, “You teach people how to treat you”. Think about that- somewhere along the way, you have to decide that you are who you are- who God made you to be. You have to decide that you’re putting the best “you” out there that you can and that you’re committed to riding that particular horse all the way to the finish line. And then you have to embrace the fact that not everybody is going to like that fact…and that’s OK. And the truth is that you wouldn’t worry nearly so much about what other people thought about you…if you knew how seldom they actually did.
I once had someone reach out to me- electronically- looking for some guidance about dealing with a tragic event in their life. This was a person who would readily claim they are not a Christian and therefore reaching out to me was a huge and brave step. But we were on vacation and so I didn’t get the message for three days. And by the time I DID get the message, there was a second one from them wailing on me like a rented mule. It was dripping with spite and meanness, all aimed at the fact that, while I talk a good game, when they reached out to me I ignored them.
I had a choice- I could respond in kind, firing cannon shots back across their bow. And part of me was tempted. But the Christian in me won the day and I responded with grace and humility, sharing that I had been on vacation, apologizing for not getting back to them sooner and expressing my confusion and disappointment over their behavior. The response was humble and apologetic and we have had a better relationship ever since.
Eighty percent of all choices are based on fear. Most people don’t choose what they want; they choose what they think is safe. Your response to someone’s behavior teaches them what is and isn’t acceptable. So if you roll over and take whatever they give, the message is that it’s okay for them to do that. And people will always do what works for them until they have evidence that it doesn’t work. Go to the well until the well runs dry.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the textbook definition of insanity. Sticking your head in the sand and hoping things will somehow magically fix themselves is simply not a viable option. Neither is setting your expectations about how you are treated so low that you basically anticipate being treated like a doormat.
If someone is regularly treating you like a doormat, that’s NOT okay. Your job, no matter how daunting it may be, is to change your response to them- teach them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. It doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic showdown. It can be done gently and with the same amount of respect that you would want.
“So how do I know where to set my expectations for how I should be treated?” Base those expectations on what you’d LOVE to see happen and not simply on what you wish wasn’t happening. You don’t have to just lie back and take it. You don’t have to simply put up with being treated like a doormat. You deserve better- but the change has to come from you. Your response to someone else’s behavior teaches them what is and isn’t acceptable.
And the core of all of this is forgiveness. If you are unwilling or unable to forgive someone who has wronged you, then there is little hope of the situation changing. BUT- there is great power in forgiveness. When I forgive you, I’m not really doing it for you. You don’t HAVE to accept it. When I forgive you, the one who benefits most from it is me. And Jesus makes that clear in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 6:37-38 If you do not judge others, then you will not be judged. If you do not find others guilty, then you will not be found guilty. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good amount will be poured into your lap. It will be pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The same amount you give will be measured out to you.
If you don’t judge then you will not be judged. If you don’t find guilt you won’t receive guilt. If you forgive, you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. And HOW much? A good measure- pressed down, shaken together and running over. Not a meager amount. Not just enough to get by. Not a pitiful token. But a good measure- pressed down, shaken together and running over. Abundance. Fullness. THAT’S what God offers.