I have spent my entire life listening to God. And for almost that entire time, I have been taught about the basic tenets of God’s love: three things, respect, courtesy, and gratitude. I could run them off my tiny child’s fingers probably even before I could talk.
And, for the most part, I saw this lesson as something that belonged in Every Child’s Book of Virtues, that is to say, for me it was a lesson that received something akin to, yeah, yeah, yeah. Respect, courtesy, and gratitude.
But I found myself the other day, now gray-haired with achy knees, saying to someone else, The older I get, the more I am impressed by that seemingly simple lesson. I can’t get over how important these three things are in a person’s life.
The first application of their usefulness, because I’ve been rooting around in the concepts of authenticity for a number of months now, is just that: if a person feels that they are having a vision and they want to know if it is from God, then all they have to do is overlay on that vision the concepts of respect, courtesy, and gratitude, and if these values are not revealed in the vision, then the vision is probably not from God.
And it’s with age that I have come to appreciate how subtle their absence can be. The vision doesn’t have to be a command to kill one’s neighbor or rob the convenience store on the corner to be clearly not from God. There are also impulses that come to us on a daily basis that we need to check for respect. Will this action taken be one of respect?
And the answer can be very tricky. Respect towards whom? Will my confrontation with this other person, even though it will not contain respect for the other person be an expression of respect for myself?
A person cannot create self-respect from the destruction of someone else’s.
And, yes, even I coached my massively well-behaved son to fight back when a bully struck at him again. And he did. He didn’t like it. And, yes, it solved the problem.
But is that God?
No. It’s childhood.
And we’re not children any longer. And we’re the ones that have to sort out how destructive we can be through our gossip, or meanness, or selfishness. In our workplaces, our homes, and even in our cars.
Respect needs to be there. Courtesy needs to be there. Gratitude needs to be there.
And while mulling this over the other day, I realized that the second force of these basic God tenets is their creation of safety in a relationship. Think about it. If the other person knows that, in the face of anger or resentment or hurt feelings, you will treat them, to the best of your ability with respect, courtesy, and gratitude, think of how that relationship will be transformed.
I think a lot of disease in this world comes from our fear of the other. What will that person do to me if I am myself with him? We literally worry ourselves ill over this. Do I speak up? Do I remain silent? Do I reach out? Do I stay safely and securely inside my cocoon?
Living with other people is the most delicately dangerous thing that we do. And it doesn’t get easier with age. Oddly, it even appears that it gets more difficult.
Curtailing our behavior, restricting ourselves to behaving in this way (or kicking the sand from our shoes and walking away from the situation) could be the most important discipline that we impose on ourselves. It is the discipline that reaches out in love, to others and to ourselves, and allows others to reach out in love to us.
Finally, I think that the triumphant triumvirate are the best weapons that one can use in spiritual warfare. There is in my book on spiritual warfare that moment when you go into battle with empty hands. That is to say, you are not asserting the truth, you are not on your knees chanting the Lord’s Prayer, you have not been forced to use foolishness.
Instead, it is just you and your enemy. There is only the battle. And what do you have? Nothing.
And so you can look the situation in squarely in the eye, and be polite. You can limit yourself to only speaking when spoken to, and responding with respect, courtesy, and gratitude.
Because, as Jesus says, bless your enemies.
For your blessings will be like burning coals.