As a minister, I often find myself in situations where I have to listen to people vent about their problems. For the most part, I don’t mind. After all, my friends can attest to the fact that conversations with me often become venting sessions. Still, I am beginning to notice that some people take venting too far.
In my time in ministry, I have noticed that some people take out their frustrations on the person who is kind enough (or in some cases gullible enough) to listen. Unfortunately, that is usually me. Sometimes, it stops at basic blame shifting. However, in a lot of cases, people find reasons to start arguments or throw insults at me because they are unable to express themselves to the people who hurt them.
For a long time, I felt that it was my responsibility to sit back and take it. I felt as if these people in particular needed someone to hear their thoughts and affirm their humanity. Then I began to understand that it was foolish of me to attempt to affirm someone else’s humanity by allowing them to repeatedly disrespect me. As a result, I have been trying to revise my strategy for dealing with troubled people.
It is going to take a lot of work. I have several years of experience in allowing people to trample over me for their own personal benefit and old habits are hard to break. Nonetheless, at this point in my life, I see that my logic was erroneous. I wasn’t really helping those people. I was only giving myself a theological justification to avoid conflict.
Jesus may have been the ultimate scapegoat, but he also told people when they treated him badly. He flipped tables in the temple because he was so angry about its greed-influenced practices because the temple was where people came in order to get close to him. He made a point of letting the Pharisees and Sadducees know that they were wrong for questioning his divinity all because he didn’t come in alignment with their regal expectations. When he helped someone, he had no problem letting them know that they had sinned against him in the process.
In contrast, I very rarely let people know when they have crossed the line with me. Instead, I continue being helpful while realizing that I am harboring resentment. Then, I feel that I have forfeited my right to defend myself because I waited so long to deal with the situation at hand. Some of the results of my current strategy have been horrible.
The reality is that a punching bag doesn’t inspire people to change. In boxing, a punching bag is used in order to build up the necessary techniques to survive a match. Punching bags are used to train boxers by giving them the chance to test out their moves without fear of consequence. However, the match is a different story. In boxing, there is no such thing as a human punching bag (at least not intentionally). Both boxers try their best to overtake each other.
In the end, life is like a boxing match that I have been making too easy for people who come into contact with me with sad stories of how they have been done wrong in the past. I know that I need to make a change in order to truly be the person that God has created me to be. For now, I will strive to be more like Jesus who challenged people to do better in their interactions with him while still being the helpful Savior that we know and love.