Aaron and I have lived in many great places around the country. We’ve been near mountains, oceans and seen beautiful sights and experienced some amazing things. Out of all the places we’ve lived, my favorite has been Massachusetts mostly because of the people. It’s the only place I’ve been where the accents are stronger and funnier than mine (besides a slow southern draaaawwwl). I can imagine them saying, “I’ll pahk yuh cah.” (Translation: I’ll park your car;) And to them I would reply, “I see you parkt behindt da tree der” (I’m sure there’s no translation necessary). Every time we return, I’m quickly reminded why we love the people so much!
Last month, our friends invited our family to come for a visit. Aaron was asked to speak at their Men’s Conference while the kids and I spent time with friends. We had a great trip- and as always we had fun laughing at each other’s accents. On this particular trip another difference in our cultures stuck out to me.
It’s something that I somewhat admire. The people out there just “tell it like it is.”
I heard a story of something that briefly happened at the Men’s Conference. I guess a man raised his hand and challenged some things that the pastor was saying. He wasn’t being a terrible person, he was just expressing his opinion and his opinion was that the pastor’s plan wouldn’t work. So, he decided the best time to voice that was while the pastor was publically introducing a plan that included several positive testimonies from others in the room.
Immediately after the service, two of the other men went right up to him and began joking around and “telling him like it is.” They said, “Joe, what were you thinking? You email stuff like that! You don’t publically derail what the Pastor is trying to do! You’re so “retah-ded!” Then they began mocking him by repeating things in his voice, “Hi, I’m Joe and I……blah, blah, blah.” All of it directly to his face.
In the Midwest, we wish we could talk to people like that! Most of us would never- ever be that blunt. Our style is more hold our peace and talk about it when we get home. I’ve determined that the culture out there is a bit too sharp, and the culture here is way too soft. I’m thinking if we all move to east Ohio we’ll find the right balance!
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” -Proverbs 27:17
This verse illustrates how a friendship is supposed to work. Two people who become better when they are challenged and encouraged by rubbing shoulders with each other. It’s exciting to watch the synergy of growth in two friends when this is done correctly.
I love being around sharp people. I’m not talking about a “sharp” tongue- though I can handle that in small doses. What I am talking about are the people made of spiritual iron. Their very presence encourages me to go deeper and pursue the next level. As Iron sharpens iron, I become stronger every time I connect with them.
Here’s the problem. Not everyone is made out of iron!
We have to do some investigation before we know what people are made of since God is the only one who knows the heart. People may look like Iron on the outside but in reality they may be filled with the equivalent of spiritual aluminum.
What happens when a sharp piece of iron comes in contact with aluminum? The resilience of these two metals will be unmatched from the beginning. Individually, the amount of friction they can handle is extremely different.
When a person who is made out of iron brushes up against someone who is not, the result is usually confusing for both. The Iron is left thinking, “what happened? Why did they get so mad?” And the aluminum is often mistaken about whom or what actually hurt them.
For example, pretend I have a large open wound on my arm. For sake of illustration, let’s imagine that I’m standing in a crowded room ignoring the gushing hole in my arm. You are in the same room and accidently bump it as you hurry past me. You say, “Oops! I’m sorry.” My response is, “Ouch! You hurt me! You need to be more careful!”
Now picture the same scene one year later. My wound is completely healed. A large scar is all that remains. It’s a reminder of a place where I once had pain. You are in a hurry and you bump my arm in the same spot. “Oops! I’m sorry,” you say. This time my response would be different. “That’s ok. It didn’t hurt. Everyone makes mistakes.”
We will be able to better relate to others if we understand this. Though we want to count on the maturity of everyone who claims to be a Christian, it’s simply wishful thinking. Because I believe that I’m made out of Iron, its wisdom for me to realize not everyone else is.
Others need to be aware that their real source of pain may not be coming from the people brushing against them in the day to day. There may be some gaping emotional wounds that need to go through the healing process. Someone who was a bit too sharp may have just revealed a hurt- not caused the hurt.
If you are a Christian who finds yourself getting offended or hurt often, you may want to bring your spirit before the great physician. There might be emotional areas of past wounding that are bleeding out. You may be going through life blissfully unaware until someone touches your wound.
There are many things that I am not great at. Believe me, I could write a book about all my shortcomings. This, however, is something I write about with confidence. “I’m offended” is not a trap that I fall into often. I strongly believe it’s because of the season of time spent letting God heal the many deep hurts and pains of my soul. Like a master surgeon, he held my heart in his hand and stitched it back together. I have many scars that remind me of the pain I once had, but not many unhealed- tender spots open to hurt feelings.
If you’re not sure if a metal that looks like iron is iron, see if it’s magnetic! People that are made out of iron are magnetic. Iron is also much heavier than steel. People that are made out of spiritual Iron have substance to them.
The Bible doesn’t call us to be “steel.” Steel may look like iron at times but it is a bit too sharp and doesn’t carry enough weight in a corrective conversation. It’s not enough to tell the truth. In friendship, mature people do not forget the “in love” part.
“Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Eph. 4:15 (NIV)
So… let’s meet somewhere in the middle! Let’s only speak when it’s necessary- not just when it’s true. And may we allow God to heal our pains and thicken our skin so we don’t get hurt during the God designed sharpening process!