Some Christians seem quite like porcupines.
They are so bristly and sharp that people are reluctant to come close to them for fear of getting hurt. It seems wise to the onlookers to practice self-preservation. Who among us enjoys unpleasantness? Who craves the company of a Negative-Nancy, a Whining-Wilfred or an Angry-Anderson? Who runs out into the street when Mack-truck-Maggie is barreling right at them? Most are not so brave.
“In my heart,” said one porcupine Christian, “I wanted so much for everyone to come and hug me and tell me that they cared. Once, a woman told me that she had really wanted to, but she was afraid that I would lash out at her in my pain. How I wished she could have overlooked my weakness and reached out to me.”
How do people turn into porcupine Christians?
That path starts with lack of forgiveness or misunderstanding. Unrecognized selfishness and envy accrue, leading to confusion, pain, futility, resentment, anger, and bitterness. The church experience seems to be the opposite of what Paul says in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” In the porcupine’s mind, the opening verses of Philippians 2 might seem the reverse of what they should be:
There is no encouragement from being united with Christ, and not likely to be any comfort from His love around here, let alone fellowship, tenderness or compassion. Nobody is going to try to please Jesus by acting like He would, showing love like He would, or working together in the same spirit or purpose. What you want is more important, and your opinion is as worthy as anyone else’s, so make sure you follow your dream and make everyone else do as you want. After all, nobody else is better than you are, and no one else will do it right. And, if your busy family has things to do, you only need to take care of yourselve, and let everyone else take care of their own interests. Really, who wants to be a servant in this day and age?
Such is the porcupine’s perception… but in all honesty don’t these thoughts, at times, live in all of our hearts?
The initial distress is like a little pile of dried mud on the rug that gets swept underneath that rug. It might start with taking offense at a word or action. Or it might start with being criticized for taking offense, so that one believes that there is no way to resolve the problem. It might begin with someone saying, “Oh, he’s always like that – don’t bother trying to talk to him.” Sweep, sweep, sweep.
If someone’s words or actions have caused us to feel angry, we are not allowed to sweep! Jesus said we must go and talk: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). Hopefully, you will either receive an apology or discover your misunderstanding. Both parties, in love, must notice their own sins, and attribute to the other the highest of motives, “Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4). This first step must not be neglected!
Otherwise, years may go by, with quills of bitterness growing and no one knowing where and why everything went wrong. People begin to avoid the porcupine and the pain just deepens. Fear controls behavior as everyone stays away rather than run the risk of facing an angry retort.
But inside, the porcupine longs for comfort and peace, even while consumed with bitterness. Difficulty with emotions does not stop the desire for the warmth of brotherly Christian love; it just makes it nearly impossible to obtain. Sin continues, unchallenged by mercy, due to fear.
Before we take the easier path of thinking, “I’m not going to say anything to him,” or “you could never hug her,” let’s determine whether we might be at fault in the situation, and remember that Jesus also told us:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
And if we are not at fault, but are just brothers and sisters in the Lord, let us cease our fear, because a soft word and a loving gesture will do more to smooth down the quills than avoidance ever will.
Squeeze that hand. Give that hug. Say a word. Drop off that cake. Write that note.