Three Ways to Ease the Prohibitive Conscience

If our key formative relationships featured manipulation, because it was an easy way to control us, we may have developed what can be termed a prohibitive conscience – a conscience based in fear, operating out of guilt. Likewise, if we have encountered people who are controlling, and we haven’t been brought up in such a way, such manipulation can be jarring.

From early childhood we are trained in the way we will go (Proverbs 22:6). If, as parents, we attend to our children’s training toward the goal of helping them build their moral warehouse, and we provide a fair and loving environment for them to grow, our children inevitably develop what Growing Kids God’s Way calls a positive or healthy conscience. On the other hand, if we grew up in a constant state of fear, usually in a relationship with one (or more) particular care-giver(s), we probably wrestle with a prohibitive or unhealthy conscience. It is not an inherently bad thing, it is just a consequence of development when a strong sense of true right and wrong was not instilled in us – when ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ wasn’t reliable and bred fear in us in not knowing how to behave. It isn’t our fault, but there is something we can do about it.

Truth be known, we can develop this kind of prohibitive conscience through traumatic situations we encounter even as adults. Indeed, a prohibitive conscience can be situational; it can be triggered.

Is a prohibitive conscience a guilty conscience? A prohibitive conscience is not a guilty conscience, but it is a conscience that works out of the platform of guilt and fear. A guilty conscience is situational, based out of doing what we should not do or not doing what we should do and knowing about it.

What creates a prohibitive conscience? Conditional love and conditional acceptance. When people intentionally make us feel guilty. And when punishment for behaviour is detached from moral reasoning, such that the consequences are uncoupled from a reliable sense of what to do or not do. In any relationship, these states leave us feeling very unsafe and emotionally compromised.

What can we do to ease the prohibitive conscience?

This is the most penetrating question of all. Like most things when it comes to therapy, similar rules apply.

  1. Awareness is the crucial impetus to action. Coming to an awareness, and then to an acceptance, we all find it empowering to get to work on self-improvement. Having come to an acceptance, part of the initial task is to truly understand why there is a bent toward a prohibitive conscience. This inevitably involves on packing our relationships with our parents and those who have been key role models throughout our formation. If we know why, we’re well positioned to do something proactive.
  2. Focus then on the Son of God. Truly understanding what Jesus did for each of us on the cross and understanding the life he brings us through forgiveness and resurrection, we begin to rebuild our identity, brick by brick, thought by thought, positive reflection by positive reflection. When we do what is right because we know it is right and loving, we reinforce this understanding as right and appropriate. What a wonderful thing it is when we can commend ourselves when we do what is right, whilst holding ourselves accountable for when we could have done something better, but without beating ourselves up about it.
  3. Take control of our behaviour. The third thing the Ezzo’s recommend, as part of the process for easing the prohibitive conscience, is to take control of the behaviour that the prohibitive conscience controls. This is the opportunity to learn how to respond out of the higher mind, which does not react out of emotion, in this case, guilt. The higher mind has learned to pause, to reflect, and acts out of wisdom. In committing to manage our behaviour better, we apply the replacement principle of Philippians 4:8. Whatever is excellent and loving, we do these things. We add love and don’t simply take away fear. We don’t do our right things out of fear, we do them because we can, out of love. It’s such a subtle shift in our thinking. But, crucially important. We also learn not to second-guess our decisions. We do an action out of love and think nothing more of it. And lastly, the book of Proverbs is a good place to reside for a while. I can remember in 2007 spending 18 months in Proverbs, one chapter every day, and I was able to cover the whole book each month. We partake of that virtuous wisdom, imbibing it slowly, and it does its work in rebuilding our moral warehouse. And we accept those relationships we have where our best isn’t always the best.

Delighting In Dealing With Difficult People


You sense it straight away, booking an appointment over the phone.

The person on the other end is efficient if not a little curt. With every second it seems there is a heightening urgency in their voice. You feel as if you’re being intentionally problematic for them, even though you’re diligently polite.

Then, out rolls the statement that confirms it really is all your fault: “Well, we really aren’t getting anywhere here, are we?” It’s like they’re saying, “You are a very difficult person to help!”

You could be forgiven for thinking: “Okay, you’re a customer service officer and you just told me it’s my fault. I thought there was a rule against that, even if it is occasionally the case that, at least in this situation, I, the customer, am wrong!”

It’s like the time you’re genuinely lost for words, and all that slips out is a purposefully bewildered “wow!”

But I’ve found a better way of dealing with these situations. It’s foolproof if only you can play the role.

The role requires the humility that can stay in the role of being wrong; of being the problem; of understanding just how frustrating the experience must be for them; of standing in their shoes.

What a blessing it is to be able to sit in the role of being wrong and not to be bothered by it.

Somehow it affords the relationship peace. We can overlook their rudeness, because, let’s face it, you may never speak to this person ever again. It isn’t our purpose to school them in manners, because, quite frankly, they would resist any overtures of advice we might give. The only way they will be schooled is through an other-worldly technique we learn from the Gospel of Jesus – outlined in chapter 12 of the book of Romans.

There is nothing new under the sun. This will always work if only we have the poise of a humble heart to deploy it. It requires a sincere heart that isn’t bothered in being wronged, for it’s in being wronged wrongly that God actually acquits us. Nothing sticks when we refuse to fight.

This is the way the rest of the chat worked: having worked out a date and time that did actually work for me, I was extra cheerful that the date and time was decided. Then I simply said, “Thank you for bearing with me; thank you for your patience.”

Was she patient? No, of course she wasn’t. Did it matter that she was impatient? Not really. I could bear it. What does she now think having heard me say to her, “Thank you for your patience”? She might think, “Damn, straight!” or she might think, “How did he just respond to me so nicely even after I told him off?” She may think something entirely different, but grace has made space for her to reflect on my behaviour.

What I’ve found is this. Having a humble and friendly and peaceful attitude is not hard. It’s a decision, and, get this, it protects my heart. And when my heart is protected, theirs is protected too. I do no harm to them. Their harm is stopped in its tracks when I take no offence.

It’s only when you enter a situation prepared to be seen as wrong or weak that you offer that situation the strength of peace.

Kindness Is Differential Blindness

If life has taught me anything it is that I am selfish. I’m being honest. I don’t see very well at times. But times when I do see well, I’m prone to going my own way. I like to agree with those who think like me, and I tend to judge people who think differently.

I am not very kind at times. Indeed, I think it is more the case that kindness is something I’ve had to work on. It isn’t something that comes naturally. I think this is the case for most of us.

I want to suggest that kindness is more than we think it is.

The test of our kindness is the situation that runs cross-grain to our values.

We’re kind when we are when we don’t want to be.

Can we be kind to someone who operates against our sensibilities and rationalities? If we are responsible persons, can we be kind to those who are irresponsible? If we are irresponsible can we be kind to those who are responsible? Perhaps we assume that kindness is the realm of only those who take responsibility. Or maybe we’re overthinking it!

Kindness is that ability to look beyond the issue and value the person.

It is the capacity to keep honouring a person for who they are, especially when we disagree with what they do or how they think. And if we were to push this to the nth degree, we might give the onus of whether we are being kind or not to their perception. We think we’re being kind, but what do they say?

This is the kind of gospel force behind the Rev Wade Watts and how he won over the infamous KKK 2nd grand wizard, Johnny Lee Clary. No matter what Clary did to scare Watts, the Rev kept praying for and loving on Clary. Such kindness was shown amid persecution over a period of several years. Clary became at first befuddled, and then came to be won over by the first exemplification of God’s love he witnessed for himself.

Kindness is a game-changer. It is a love set apart from the world.

It is only ever true kindness when it is done as a choice of self-sacrifice, and not for some indirect gain. I think we can all agree, much kindness we give and receive is done for selfish motives, because we will gain something from our generosity.

Genuine kindness, therefore, is utterly enigmatic to the world. It actually makes no sense at all. And this is why it is even so rare in the church. Who would actually invite persecution and keep on loving back? That is so Jesus-like, and we never think to attempt to pull it off for ourselves.

Who would suffer attack and keep believing the best about the other person?

Answer: the kind person.

True kindness will lead us to love a person beyond their differing viewpoint or their negative treatment of us.

It will lead us to the bigger picture; to recognise the sanctity of the person before us and the freedom operating within them that sits behind the construction of their views. What explains their freedom also explains our own – the loving kindness of God to give us each our choice. Will we love or not?

We may also see that, though we believe our thinking to be right, we all make the same mistakes. We can only see and agree with our own view and those who think like us. The moment we are able to see this, others don’t appear so threatening, and they may begin to perceive us as nonthreatening also.

We truly live in a divisive world where authentic kindness, for its own reasons and not because it agrees with our interests, is rare.

Kindness is differential blindness, because we need to see past our differences to be truly kind. Being kind to those it is easy to be kind to is no real kindness. It is the unlovable person who is difficult to love that proves whether our actions are loving or not. If we love someone who is easy to love, we did our love because it was easy, and that isn’t love.

Yet… the majesty of kindness is that it’s so simple, it is easy.

When we truly wrestle with and master kindness we will find the keys to being able to forgive, for forgiveness is simply kindness, which is a love offered to the person notwithstanding the issues standing between us. Kindness leaves, trusts no less, the judgment to God. It likewise apologises sincerely for any wrongdoing done and trauma experienced.

Kindness, therefore, is justice done and reconciliation effected.

Kindness is blind to the differences between us. It sees the intrinsic value in the other person.

Kindness has the power to heal the world. Worlds healed not through power but through kindness.

Worlds will be changed, yours, mine, ours when kindness defines us, not powers.

God will bless the kind. Strive therefore to be kind.

The power in kindness is yours to give away. Such a power loves fully and is done without fear. Such a power as this… it builds, it supports, it empowers.

The Thing About Trust

Trust is a dangerous thing. You give it when you determine it is deserved. We lavish it on those we esteem, those we have given leadership of our lives to.

It is a dangerous thing because it can be betrayed. Like the business or church leader we faithfully served under, who may now be known for all he was; perhaps some kind of scoundrel.

The more we admire people, the more we trust them, and the more shattered we are when that trust is betrayed.

Time to explain where this article comes from. Like a good many Christians, I find that God speaks to me. He speaks to me in tones of truth, and certainly by gentle rebuke.

Recently, as I helped my son do his work before school, working on the nuances of writing sight words, God showed me the potential damage a person doing the role like mine could cause in a school. I work as a school chaplain, and I know first-hand just how much trust my principal, deputy, other staff, parents, and ultimately the schoolchildren place in me to do my role in a way that honours them and does not damage them.

Yet God showed me, in the massive amount of trust placed in me to do my role, there is an enormous amount of damage a person in my role could do simply by abusing the trust placed in me. One significant moment of folly.

The more trust that is given, the more trustworthy a person is seen to be, the more damage is done within communities, when that trust is betrayed. There are circumstances and events that mean that when trust is broken, there is no going back, and some damage – too much damage – cannot be undone.

How do I and other pastoral leaders reflect on this? Surely it commands reflection… !

I can only respond by saying I fear God for that kind of moral departure within the communities I work within.

I cannot afford to take for granted the trust that is placed in me because of the role I do. It is a privilege – and read the word privilege in the right way – simply to be relied upon to be a caring person.

Not just anyone gets to hear the things that I hear.

And not just anyone gets to say the things that I have the freedom and duty to say.

How could I not otherwise walk into every situation I face without respect? How can I discharge my duties well without enduring periods in fear and trembling for what damage I might do?

I can tell you that I live daily in the land of the sorts of damage I could easily do. This, for me, is the fear of the Lord. It is God’s constant reminder of the honour and duty of ministry in his name.

The thing about trust is it’s the most precious resource.

If relationships are the purpose of life, and I believe they are, then trust gives life its purpose.

We only find out how precious when it has been completely obliterated! I know for certain I would always rather be on the receiving end of betrayal than to be the hand giving it out. There is something abundantly safer, not to mention godlier, in suffering at the hand of wrongdoing than in projecting that suffering into others’ lives. That is a burden I so wish never to carry.

I have found this to be true. Hold trust lightly, knowing that it is human nature to trust too much only to have it destroyed. Hold trust heavily, knowing that the fate of those who trust you is in your hands. God help us.

Abuse and the Eggshell Skull Rule

It suddenly occurred to me, having written “a difference between a victim and a survivor”, that there is subjectivity out there regarding who can legitimately claim they have been abused. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have just learned about the eggshell skull rule.

It’s worth knowing about. This is a technical description of the Eggshell Skull Rule:

“Doctrine that makes a defendant liable for the plaintiff’s unforeseeable and uncommon reactions to the defendant’s negligent or intentional tort [civil wrong]. If the defendant commits a tort against the plaintiff without a complete defense, the defendant becomes liable for any injury that is magnified by the plaintiff’s peculiar characteristics.”[1]

A simpler explanation is this:

“The rule states that, in a tort case, the unexpected frailty of the injured person is not a valid defense to the seriousness of any injury caused to them.”[2]

In the commonest language, the eggshell skull rule dictates that if a person is struck on the head by a forcefully inflicted feather and suffers injury, because their skull is made of eggshell, the blame is entirely laid at the feather wielding person’s feet. Scary isn’t it?

If we hurt someone, whether we meant it or not, and they suffer an unforeseeable and especially an uncommon injury, we are liable.

This rule is an accepted principle under common law. This law is the kind that is practised in courts where a person can be sued for damages. It is not the kind of court that sends you to prison.

What does this have to do with abuse? A lot, actually.

It means we cannot tell a person that there was insufficient force or reason for them to claim abuse. It means that abuse is now not so much defined by the act done against the person, but by the injuries they sustained.

They may be particularly vulnerable person, and the damage done would not have caused a more resilient person to suffer such damage.

The good thing about this principle of law is that it protects the most vulnerable people. The good news for the victim or survivor of abuse is they don’t need to prove the level of abuse was unacceptable. They have the proof in their being.

The way I understand it, if a person has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and they didn’t have it beforehand, and one single event triggered it, there, in that event, is the (potential) tort – the civil wrong. And this rule probably applies well beyond this specific example. (Not being a lawyer myself, I write this simply to convey the existence of the rule.)

What can be said is we need to be very careful what we call a false allegation from a true allegation.

There is a notional case of the woman who on separate occasions seems to talk up a sexual encounter, on the one hand, and claims to be sexually assaulted, on the other. Some people would say it is a false allegation, because she talked about it in brash terms. Perhaps this was part of some bizarre (although not uncommon) coping mechanism. It may not seem right. Later, as she reflects, she recognises the mental and emotional toll. She is depressed, despairing, unable to function. She perhaps is diagnosed with PTSD. We may feel sorry for the man, for the way that she spoke initially. But it doesn’t change the fact that the damage is done. This is just one theoretical example. I know how much discussion this example could generate, but my prayer is that we would simply reflect on this rule, and its unequivocal power for vulnerable people.

I appreciate there are a wide range of views on this topic.

I too have strong views, and they change somewhat when I’m exposed to new information. I am thankful for the eggshell skull rule, because it affords protection for those who have been inadvertently or deliberately injured.

It doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t do. What matters is the effect. This rule is designed to make us think deeply about how we interact with other people.

The Relational Beauty of Empathy

It has long been a mystery to me just why on earth some people have an excess of empathy and some people have a dearth of it. At one end of the spectrum we have people so empathic they end up in relationships with those at the other end of the spectrum – those at the narcissistic end. I don’t think it’s useful in the present discussion to focus on the latter, because the former are so much more worthy of discussion and praise.

But how beautiful it is when two people who are empathetic are joined together. Those with empathy truly deserve those with empathy.

I have done word studies on the Greek word epi-a-case (epieikes) several times over the years. I have always focused on the qualities of this trait in people, but now I would like to focus on the outworking of these traits.

This word means gentleness, meekness, graciousness, and there is definitely a kind patience involved in the person who is characterised by epi-a-case. Such a person is caring and sensitive, and our world often sees these traits as weakness. But the person with epi-a-case isn’t weak at all.

If we add all of these elements together, as far as another person can see, we see in this person the quality of empathy, to at least this regard:

Because of its commitment to grace

empathy will suffer a broken heart,

and yet that suffering will build

even stronger vulnerability.

Empathy can experience

the fullness of God’s reality,

because truth with love,

both to their fullest,

is worth the experience.

Empathy can be bravely vulnerable,

because it knows no other way.

Yet we often suppress empathy

because it feels like weakness.

Particularly in an increasingly narcissistic age,

one of the greatest gifts we can give our children

is opportunities to experience and express empathy.

As far as relational connection is concerned, those with empathy offer warmth of survival in the coldness of conflict. They believe beyond the desolation of the void left by warring parties who prefer estrangement. Empathy reaches and continues to reach out and up, and that can only be called Love.

Love reaches forth without expecting

the other to reach back.

It offers strength to those

who would take strength away.

Yet, love, in the glory of wisdom,

will rebuke the abuser for the abuser’s own good.

Love loves because it can,

not because it must,

not because it’s cajoled,

and definitely not to be repaid.

It is amazing what love becomes when it is manifest in the practicality of empathy. Love like this knows no bounds, and it rides up on the wings of hope, ascending into transcendence, believing against the odds for the purposes of reconciliation.

So, if empathy can be transliterated as love, we need to know that love is the end of all being, as well as being the means to the attaining of it.

Love has its living opportunities.

We take them today or we miss them forever.

And if we miss them today,

we take them tomorrow.

How gracious is the Lord

to esteem to us a full life

of repetitive error

where the opportunity to overcome

is continually presented?

We began with empathy, so we must conclude that way.

The relational beauty of empathy is compelling. It is the trait of those who believe in relationship. Those who would reject empathy, either the partaking of it or the receiving of it, are fools in a relational world and life. Those who would reject empathy are in the class of those who would abuse the very systems that the empathetic support.

But the empathetic have an eternal power beyond destruction. This everlasting supremacy is worth suffering abuse for, because God will have the last say.

Those with empathy truly have God’s Kingdom.

Once they understand that,

they already have everything.

Such a person can only be content.

Safe Versus Unsafe Emotions

Emotions belong in two worlds or in two domains. They are either healthy or unhealthy, productive or unproductive, primary or secondary, direct or indirect.

We may come to think of emotions as purely relevant to only ourselves, but we only need to ask those who are close to us – those in our families and those we work with – and we quickly discover that our emotional worlds are interconnected.

If we are healthy and productive emotionally, dealing with our emotions truthfully, and we can experience primary emotions, we deal directly with ourselves, through being honest. This is always a blessing for others, and it is usually manifest in the ability and practice of getting the log out of our own eye. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 7:1-5.

An example of this is instead of diverging into anger, we go directly into our sorrow. There are so many things that make us feel sad in life. Sadness is not the enemy. Sadness is an invitation into healing.

Our emotional worlds are interconnected. If we acknowledge our hurt, experiencing God’s understanding, our compassion is available to all.

But if we are unhealthy, and therefore unproductive, emotionally, we can cost those who are close to us, which is always costly to us. We accost them with our unkempt emotions. We spew over them all sorts of vitriol, because instead of looking at our own junk, we prefer to notice what our eye doesn’t see very well – that little speck in them, as far as we’re concerned – God wants us focused on how we can love better, not on how they might be missing the mark.

We take what makes us sad, and instead of looking intently at our sadness, which is pain, and instead of staying in that place, we flee from pain. And the only way we can reconcile it is to blame someone else. We go from the core, primary emotion of sadness, which is justified and true, however painful, and instead of going deep into it to be liberated in the practice of acceptance, we take a shortcut and rationalise the pain as not only unbearable and unthinkable and unpalatable, but also as unreasonable and unfair and unwarranted. Somebody must pay! And how convinced we become. It’s a trick played on our vision. We are seeing the wrong things.

Our emotional worlds are interconnected.

If we’re hurt, and we remain unaware, we hurt others.

We all have one of two ways to go in dealing with our emotions. We go the right way or the wrong way. We have all had a taste of going the wrong way. We have all responded out of the wrong kinds of emotions. We have all taken our anger too far, not to mention having gone the route of anger when more correctly it could and should have been prolonged sadness to the destination of acceptance.

Few of us enjoy going to painful places. And I know I am not one of the few who seems to enjoy pain. Yet I do enjoy, at a deeper level, the therapy of God, as He interacts with me when I am honest enough to experience my sorrow.

The actual practice involves coming to a place of complete defeat.

Christians call it surrender.

If that sounds defeatist, you need to understand that it isn’t. It is the most beautiful thing to accept what we cannot change. When I admit defeat and give over those desires of mine that have become demands, it’s as if God says, ‘Finally, I have something to work with in you. Finally, you are weak enough to listen. Finally, you are weak enough to embrace My strength. Finally, you accept that it is best for you and for all concerned for you to do My will.’

Honesty is the open door to reconciling our emotions and our relationships.

Coming to this place, which is a sense of despair in oneself, is precisely the point of the Christian walk.

The despair comes first, then it’s life as God scoops us up in our spirit.

In our pride, which prioritises our secondary emotions like anger that refuses to acknowledge the truth, we are struck out before we take the first step toward first base.

But as soon as our pride is dealt with, and we realise that these primary emotions are nothing to fear, because the pain is bearable even if it feels unbearable for a time, we enter the safe sanctity of God and His deeper therapy for us.

Here’s a Person to Be Wary of

The world is full of lovely people, so don’t get me wrong if this sounds a bit far-fetched or gets us talking about negative things too much.

But the fact is there are people in our lives that gain far too much access to us.

Let me paint them in this way: this is the person you get into a conversation with, who perhaps begins by flattering you in such a way that their charm disarms you. Then, before you know it, they start some kind of diatribe on a topic you disagree with, but lo and behold, they have you agreeing with them, even though your head and heart are saying, ‘No, this is not on!’ You quickly learn that their approach to you was not out of wanting to get to know you, or to shoot the breeze, or to share about themselves, but they have some agenda, and you play some strategic part in it; you’re a pawn in their manipulation. Against such a person is a loser, for such a person with such and such of an agenda has already done the thinking about how you or I will be their conquest.

This interaction is not about relationship.

This interaction is about their influence.

There are no friendly conversations, just for the sake of relating with them, with this kind of person. They have no interest in fellowship or support or care. They will not be honest with you about themselves, and they won’t be that interested about what you might honestly (yet foolishly) disclose about yourself. And yet some are highly skilled in appearing to be caring and interested. But it falls away in that it’s selectively used; these people are not caring by character – they switch it on for their advantage, when it suits them.

This is a person we all know. We all know this kind of person. They are the kind of person who want to know us for what they can get out of us. There always seems to be an end goal or an agenda with this kind of person. Because this kind of person plays the manager role very effectively, they are commonly found in leadership positions, but they bear no traits of true leadership, because their objective is exploitation. Yeah sure they will cloak their exploitation of you and me in the need to do something good on behalf of an organisation, or worse, blaspheme God’s name by saying that they are discharging God’s will (yes, that’s a form of spiritual abuse right there).

One sure sign of this kind of person is we feel used by them in having simply interacted with them.

Normal interactions don’t leave us feeling manipulated.

It may be the case that we know many sharks who are prepared to exploit us for their gain. But we are called into relationships with people who don’t desire to get something from us, but with people who will love us and accept us for who we are.

One key sign that we are in an interaction with someone unsafe is we will feel manipulated about how we respond, to the point where we may find we’re agreeing with them in our words whilst feeling coerced in our minds. There is discomfort in the interaction and not the free ability to confront them.

What do we do with these kinds of relationships?

We avoid these kinds of interactions, but when they do take place, we need to be wary, being careful what we say, and being doubly careful what we agree with. Expect that you will disappoint this kind of person, but don’t let them brow-beat you into feeling guilty.

If you confront them, don’t expect it to end well. People such as these disdain honesty and their pride despises the calm strength we bring in disagreeing. They will meet you and raise the stakes.

With such a person you need to be, as Jesus said, wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.

I consider a person safe and trustworthy when they don’t require anything of me. Relationships work best when we voluntarily give of ourselves, not because we’re being controlled.

Why do we make excuses for the people that waltz into our lives and do some of the following?

– often make assumptions, not checking with us because they care so little;

– take us for granted by not considering our needs;

– draw attention to our behaviour when we decide something they don’t agree with;

– ask ‘small’ favours that are always larger than they initially imply;

– offer ‘elegant tradeables’ (things we neither want nor need) in exchange for things we value;

– think nothing of us forfeiting our family time for them (even with a sugar-coated apology);

– will interrupt us interacting with someone else because of ‘something important’ i.e. to them.

Don’t Crush What You Need to Blossom

This is another wise saying of my wife’s. ‘Don’t crush the flower before it gets its chance to blossom.’

Now, I am not really a gardener, but I have it on good authority that flowering plants need to be planted and tended well before they can mature. The same theory fits with human beings, whether it is in families, workplaces, churches, or marriages.

Ultimately this is about making the choice to believe in others, to set them up for success, which is to recognise that our success ultimately depends on their success.

If we would be the kind of person or father/mother or manager or pastor or spouse who would put the other person down, we would be putting ourselves down, because in crushing the flower before it blossoms defeats the whole purpose of planting the flower in the first place.

Who enters into a partnership with someone to crush them?

The unfortunate thing, however, is too often we find ourselves in these kinds of relationships. When far too early in the journey the potential was burned. Or, over the longer run the little buds got mangled time and again. There was no chance of recovery. And I have experienced it personally when one fatal moment condemned what was such a promising relationship.

Reverting to the analogy of my wife, all relationships have sanctity, and all people are sacred. Of course, we must choose the right person and the right people to be in relationship with. And once that choice has been made, all following choices pivot around nurturing the relationship, which is to keep it alive, to keep it thriving, hopeful for the fruit of growth, and hopeful to see it in full bloom at the proper time.

‘Don’t crush the flower before it gets its chance to blossom.’

Relationships will inevitably require a lot of us: patience, kindness, self-control, faithfulness, graciousness, compassion. We can only carry out these qualities in our closest relationships that we wish to see in full bloom when we, ourselves, live out the Christ physiognomies of character.

Of course, it is in our best interest to protect and nurture what is in our best interest to protect and nurture. If we don’t protect and nurture what is within our control to protect and nurture, we will find it will cost us dearly. This shouldn’t be our primary motivation, but it is sufficient to be a strong motivation anyway.

There are so many kinds of persons that are naïvely susceptible to being abused to the point of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is the vulnerable flower that is crushed hardest and most. It is the vulnerable person who stands to be hurt to the point of trauma.

From a pragmatic viewpoint, it can take some time before the investments of encouragement bear fruit in the blooming of beautiful flowers. But that is our purpose in this world: that the Kingdom might come in the people we serve.

We know that our lives are flourishing when those lives around us are flourishing.

A Front and Rear Guard for the Heart

I awoke as I normally do with the thought, what will I speak on today, and what will I write? Sometimes I already have the idea, but not this day. And then I read Acts chapter 14, and I see two words that summarise what Paul and the brothers were up against on that first missionary journey.

First I see the opposition that they faced. The second thing I see is the flattery they encounter. Two completely opposite, and yet equally dangerous spirits, but both replete with opportunity.

I have been pondering Proverbs 4:23 for some time. It says words to the effect, ‘Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life.’

So, in the context of guarding your heart there is a need to guard against the frontal assault of opposition and the rear assault of flattery.

The front guard for the heart

It is amazing that Paul and the brothers committed to staying a long time in the place where they faced so much opposition. We are tempted to run from opposition, either for fear or simply that we don’t want to waste our time. Opposition is frustrating, annoying, and anxiety producing. But it is in opposition that we have one of the two best opportunities to share the true gospel. (The other best opportunity is when hearts are ripe and ready to receive the goodness of God and His grace.) But the best opportunity in opposition is to prove the power of the gospel by putting on the front guard to protect one’s heart.

When we put this front guard on, we anticipate the opposition, which is to expect it, and not be anxious about it, but be committed to doing everything we can to live peaceably in the opposition as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). I’ll never forget my eldest daughter starting work at the local Chinese restaurant, when she was 15, and the opposition she faced from the brusque female manager. He was so discouraging to her at the time. But I kept encouraging her to do her best and have faith that she could win her manager over with her character. It took two years, but when she left that employment, her and her manager had an excellent, trusting rapport, and the manager even sought my daughter out for help with her English. Persistence pays in relationships. If we keep showing up, refusing to become despondent, endeavouring to keep serving this other person who is in opposition to us, we can have influence. But we need to put this front guard on. We need to guard our heart so the opposition we face doesn’t undermine and threaten to destroy us.

The rear guard for the heart

Well, if we thought opposition was the worst spirit with which to contend, think again. Flattery is a doozy. I’m not sure if there’s anything worse than flattery, because there is always something underhanded behind it. There is a big difference between encouraging someone, being kind and gracious, and the shameless flattery we receive when someone is clearly trying to sell us something.

The problem with flattery is what is attached to it. Flattery comes with strings attached, or it seeks to deceive in order to win its way into our heart. Of course, the narcissist uses flattery with much charm in the initial stages of a relationship, and their winsomeness continues to woo all the unsuspecting. None of us like to be suspicious. But there are behaviours, and flattery is one of them, that we need to be on guard about.

We need the rear guard for the heart in situations of flattery. Either we are being sold something, and that something when flattery is used is never good for us, or there is the equal and opposite angle about to come at us, which is the most stringent opposition, in the form of a kind of borderline personality disorder, love-then-hate, response.

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Wisdom advises two guards for the heart. One for the front: to protect our heart when we’re opposed, so we keep our love on, and the other for the rear: for when the deception of flattery is used against us.