(Posted with permission)
A confession: I behaved like a Scrooge. It was Dec. 24, the Saturday before Christmas, and I had a few last-minute things to pick up from the store — and I anticipated a chaos, beginning in the parking lot.
I was right. As I searched in vain for a parking space, I was certain that a lady stopped halfway down a row of the parking lot with her blinker flashing was waiting for another driver to vacate a space — honestly.
Mildly irritated that she was holding up a whole line of traffic, I pulled around her, just as a spot at the end of the row opened up. “How perfect,” I thought to myself, a spot even closer to the entrance than that line-clogger was waiting for. Quickly, I pulled into the spot and went to retrieve a shopping cart.
It gets better — or worse?
The woman who I believed was clogging traffic jumped out of her car, upset with me for taking her spot. Ahh, the crossroads of decision-making. Common sense — painfully absent in a Winco parking lot on the best of Christmas Eves — would dictate a sincere apology and an offer to move, allowing her to take the space she so patiently had waited for. Regrettably, I chose another option.
“You were waiting for that spot, not this one,” I insisted, pointing at a space near where she had parked.
Indignant — and rightfully so — she jumped back in her car and sped off.
Did I win? Of course not.
Moments later, another shopper explained what really happened. I was wrong.
Looking back, I’m disappointed in myself, embarrassed that I instinctively insisted on my view of events. If I could, I would apologize in person for playing Scrooge — and if you’re reading this, dear shopper, please accept my apologies; I was in the wrong. Since I can’t do that, maybe I can mine this experience for a nugget or two of personal reflection.
What bothered me most about this whole incident was how natural it was for me, in the moment, to do the wrong thing.
Maybe this isn’t a unique experience. In the heat of the moment, isn’t it remarkable how quickly we revert to doing the wrong thing?
We dig in our heels and argue with our spouse, rather than own up to our mistakes and admit our fault. We get swept up with the gossiping and backstabbing about what others are doing rather than quietly walking away — or better, defending the one being slandered. We naturally cover for our actions by telling a lie rather than speaking the truth and facing the music. Entertaining lustful thoughts comes to us as second nature, while guarding our minds takes such effort.
In his book “After You Believe,” N.T. Wright suggests that Christian character is the result of habits that are rehearsed time and time again, until they become second nature.
It involves telling the truth in hundreds of ordinary, daily instances so that it’s natural to speak the truth when it will be very costly and difficult. It’s about disciplining yourself to speak encouragingly in hundreds of day-to-day moments so that you can be a great encourager when it counts. It’s about developing the habit of listening before speaking so that you don’t snap at someone in the Winco parking lot.
It’s all motivated by grace, of course. As Bryan Chapell, another Christian writer observes, we are “holy from God’s acceptance, not for his acceptance.”
Developing Christian character is a habit that happens as we recognize the depth of God’s love for us, and the price he paid to forgive us — not a way to earn God’s love, acceptance or blessings.
Early in a new year comes the time when we make resolutions to change — to exercise more, to weigh less, to stop smoking, to spend more time at home, to spend less time complaining.
How about resolving to discipline yourself in developing Christian character? What habits do you need to develop in your relationship with God?
Make a commitment to cultivating habits that will lead you to look more like Jesus. I will — and next time I’m in a Winco parking lot, my words will be words of grace.
Rob Toornstra is pastor of Sunnyslope Christian Reformed Church. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (503) 363-5159.