The Tarnished Golden Rule   5 comments

On my way to work tonight I turned from our winding, unlit street onto Hawkins Mill Rd, and an oncoming car flashed its brights.  I looked down, saw the blue square on my dash, and flicked off my high-beams while responding with a surprised, “Oh, thanks!” to no one in particular.  My mind flipped back two nights to our drive home from a school play.  The guy behind me had on his brights, too intense even for the night-time position of my rear-view mirror, so I shoved it up against the roof and leaned right to avoid the glare in my side mirror.  In less than a mile I was so irritated I wanted to pull off, get behind him, and power up my highs… just to teach him a lesson.  I didn’t mention this to Kimberly.



scales of justice

My grace period for dumb driving is short.  If the nuisance behind me had dropped his floods within a few blocks, I would have been grateful; within a quarter-mile, my “thank you” would have been sarcastic; after that, the dumb stamp would stick fast.  Notice that I am even-handed.  If I had kept my highs on tonight for another 15 seconds or a second flicker-reminder, I would have said, “Oh, sorry!” instead of “Oh, thanks!”  And if I accidentally went a mile as a high-beam tailgater, I would have slapped my forehead with an idiot label.  My good Christian conscience insists that I treat everyone equal before the law.  It’s the golden rule in reverse: I only disparage others to the extent I disparage myself.  Perhaps we could call it the iron rule.

Kimberly likes to keep things fair too, but her scales are those of grace rather than justice.  She sees mistakes as a daily, inevitable occurrence and wants us all to live in acceptance of one another’s shortcomings.  Wow, I think, no societal norms, no expectations, no standards?  Ignore the stop signs and traffic lights; it’s every man for himself.  I’m going to need an SUV.  No, she says, just lowered expectations…  sometimes people are late for meetings or forget to return a phone call or leave their high beams on, and that is okay.  No one shoots 100% of their free-throws (she didn’t actually use the b-ball analogy).  I agree with her.  So how do I reach this new high standard of grace?  After all, a 50-year rut is not overcome quickly, even by a perfectionist… especially by a perfectionist… or maybe ever by a perfectionist.  Now that I think about it, perfectionism seems to have a Teflon grip on grace–the harder I squeeze, the quicker it squirts away.  Grace falls into the open hand of acceptance  It’s a gift, not a conquest.

metal puzzleSuch wise sounding words, but what do they mean?  Like those twisted metal puzzles I got as a kid–it looks simple, but I don’t see how to solve it.  I can either work at being more gracious or not work at being gracious.  So I set goals and standards and work hard to be nice and patient and accepting.  Now I have a new standard by which to judge myself and others–instead of criticizing the late and forgetful, I criticize the impatient and demanding.  Wait, something went wrong.  So I stop working at it and just keep living as I’ve always lived, as a curmudgeon… hmm.  Why can’t my spiritual journey be as uncomplicated as everyone else’s seems to be?  I’ve  sorted out this grace puzzle before, but it seems I have to re-learn it every time I stumble on another facet of my deep-seated legalism.  So here we go again.


Posted March 5, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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5 responses to “The Tarnished Golden Rule

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  1. When I see people doing crazy things in traffic, I always say out loud to my boys “wow, that person must be in a HUGE hurry, that must feel horrible” or “wow, that person must be having an awful day. I’m glad our day isn’t like that”. I don’t even know if I believe what I’m saying…I just want to teach my boys that since we don’t know, we may as well assume the best of people. I have noticed though, that the more I say those things, the calmer I feel inside about other crazy drivers (or cranky people in line, or whatever). Maybe it’s just a matter of practice…and of “fake it til you make it” 🙂

    • Thanks for the feedback, Kim. When I’m aware of what I am doing and i have the emotional space, I try to rethink my perspective to give others the benefit of the doubt, but the fact that it does not come naturally to me means that I have a long way to go in re-orienting my perspective to one of grace, both in receiving and giving it.

  2. I used to think that others had a much smoother time on their spiritual journey and that only mine was so messy. I believe now that if someone is truly a devoted seeker of Truth on The Way, it will simply be messy. This is the spiritual struggle, the challenge of striving for heavenly things.

    We come to many forks in the road in the course of each day, where we have a choice to take the higher or the lower road, where we have the choice to choose love, or to not love. Sometimes we choose well, sometimes not.

    We stumble on The Way again and again, and get back up, again and again, and hopefully each time, we are better for it, having learned a little bit more.

    Peace and Good, Sophia

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Sophia. I agree with you that many folks live messier lives than they are willing to admit. I hope that by sharing my own journey they may be willing to be more genuine about their own struggles. I have to admit that my own spiritual journey was quite neat and tidy until I hit a wall of depression and realized the mess I had been ignoring.

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