Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?
You have planted them, and they have taken root;
they grow and bear fruit.
You are always on their lips
but far from their hearts.
Jeremiah 12:1b-2 (NIV)
Allow me to begin my post this morning with a confession. I’m not the best at picking up after myself. Wendy has often commented that she always knows where I am because I leave a trail of things laying around wherever I’ve been.
There is a lot of truth to what she says.
Along my life journey, I have observed it to be common for individuals to speak of others in broad, extreme generalities. This happens on multiple levels. I see it in the most intimate of interpersonal relationships as Wendy and I will, in our frustration, point out what the other “always” or “never” does whether it is in reference to a self-righteous accolade of what one does (for the other, of course) or pointing out with accusation what the other fails to do (for the accuser). My maternal grandparents used to call this particular form of marital accusation “pointing the boney finger.”
I find this “all-or-nothing” mentality arising regularly in conversation, especially when it comes to religion, politics, and cultural tension. The “boney finger” reaches out to paint a broad swath of humanity (often referred to as “those people”) in the extreme generalities of “always” and “never” or their synonymous counterparts. It hear it from individuals on both sides of various issues. I hear it from politicians on both sides of the aisle. I hear it from media on both sides of the political spectrum.
One of the unique characteristics of Jeremiah’s prophetic writings is the way that he unashamedly voices his complaints to God. While most of the prophets simply record the message God downloaded to them, Jeremiah is having a conversation. He typically doesn’t hold back.
In today’s chapter, Jerry is feeling the heat. In yesterday’s chapter, God reveals to the prophet that the people of a place called Anathoth were threatening to kill him if he didn’t shut his prophetic mouth. He begins today’s chapter with a complaint to God about “all” the faithless prospering and living at ease. He claims that God is “always” on these people’s lips but not in their hearts. Jerry’s solution is a very human one: “God, can you just make them go away.”
God’s response to Jeremiah could not have been heartening to the prophet. He begins by basically saying, “If you think it’s bad now, then fasten your seatbelt. It’s only going to get worse.”
As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I realized that it shouldn’t surprise me that God told Jerry it would get worse. I have observed that the the attitudes and vocabulary of extreme generalities does not serve the cause of reconciliation, peace, or love. Rather, it serves to entrench people in their opposition of others, feed differences between individuals, and reinforce one’s self-righteous contemptuousness and bluster.
Which brings me back to Wendy, the person whom I love most. The attitudes and vocabulary of extreme generalities the we can (and do) throw at one another in our frustration could easily drive a wedge of bitterness and resentment between us. I have observed many spouses who end up in places of alienation as the boney fingers of “always” and “never” point ceaselessly at one another.
The antidote that Wendy and I have found is in learning to meta-communicate. In other words, let’s talk about how we’re talking to each another. In doing so, we have to be willing to step back from the line we have drawn in the relational sand. After a few deep breaths we come to admit that my boney finger accusations are coming out of my own frustration, anger, and resentment. We concede that our “always” and “never” is unfair despite the measure of truth we feel underneath it. We both acknowledge our love for one another and our desire for good for one another and our relationship. At that point, we can typically embrace the desire and commitment to modify our words or behavior for one another.
And, it works because we make sure it works both ways. Whether talking about interpersonal relationships or larger group relationships, I’ve observed that if only one side of the relational equation is expected to learn, communicate, step back, admit, concede, acknowledge, desire, commit, and modify, then any kind of reconciliation and mutually beneficial relationship is doomed. It takes two to Tango.
Which means, you’ll have to excuse me, I have a few things to pick-up before I enter my day! 😉
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.