A young newlywed, Maureen, recently told me she was visiting her friend, Cassie. Cassie’s sister, who has a toddler, was also visiting. The toddler was a busy boy, and he knocked over a drink. Maureen said she waited for a harsh reprimand but instead the sweet mother said, “Oh dear, Johnny. Did you spill your drink? Well, that’s okay. Let Mommy help you clean it up.”
My friend then said that in her family-of-origin, if you made a mess, you were met with, “Can’t you be more careful?!” We have all learned how to react when others disappoint us—even if it’s toddlers—by watching others.
I think one of the most helpful relationship skills in the world (I’m not exaggerating) is the ability to accept other people as imperfect, fallen creatures who are ½ strengths and ½ weaknesses. People disappoint. Let’s go a step further. All people disappoint. We want others to be faithful, giving, selfless, considerate, merciful, self-sacrificing, generous, and affirming. But they can’t do all of that consistently. No one can. Eventually, everyone will disappoint you. (Actually, to be fair, I’ve heard a few stories about some parents who are almost perfect like this, but just a few.)
We have a joke in our family that the most important marriage skill is “overlooking.” That’s kind of funny, because it implies that spouses do a lot of wrong things that need to be overlooked. However, if people are breathing, they are in porcupine mode, pricking each other, and offending each other.
My friend, Karen, is very good at accepting others. When we lived in the same neighborhood and walked together, she would tell me stories about what people said and how they acted. But she was never offended or resentful. I remember thinking, “Really? You put up with that? You forgave that?” She accepts people because she somehow understands that this is the human lot. (It’s no surprise to find out that her sweet mother is just like this.)
For those of you who are mere mortals and your parents were average (or below), you have to learn to think like this. You have to renew your mind (Romans 12: 2) and learn to overlook (be smoke) and forgive. Knowing your own shortcomings is extremely helpful, as well, as this helps you accept others.
One very lovely woman in one of my recent groups was disappointed with the snappiness of her 17-year-old daughter. She was starting to resent her daughter because she interpreted the daughter’s need for independence as disrespect. However, when the mother understood and accepted the daughter’s need for increased independence and thus gave her a little needed space, her relationship with her daughter bloomed again. (Of course you have to train children, but being 17 is very close to being an adult and the relationship must change.)
One helpful trick for when you’re offended by someone you care about is to Flip the Coin. When you realize you’re offended, you say to yourself, “Don’t look at how you’re loved and given to. Look at how you love and give.” That’s Flipping the Coin. It’s similar to Hot Potatoes. It’s changing thoughts! (If you’ve read Lessons 1-3 in Happy School, you already know all about the miracle of changing thoughts, i.e. Moving Into Another Room in Your Brain.)
God lifts up the humble. Accept, overlook, forgive, repeat. The principle is unstoppable and unbeatable for growing close, warm, deep relationships.
If you’re appalled and think this is not good relationship advice, then you have not been soaking in the New Testament. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul taught the Colossians in chapter 3, verses 12b-13: “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Another tip I discuss with my groups in helping them deal with difficult people is to consciously think about any way this person has benefitted you. One girl told me how difficult her mother was, but it helped her to forgive her mother when she remembered that the mother had paid for her college. Another woman told me how a friend had betrayed her, but she also was better able to forgive as she remembered all the information she had learned from this friend about how to set-up her new home business.
It is guaranteed that other people will disappoint you. But as Christians, we have anti-cultural advice in how to respond. Learn to overlook. “…it is (one’s) glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11).