I am embarrassed when I find myself behaving in conflict with my professed beliefs. I am even more embarrassed when my falling short is borne in upon me by the superior behavior of someone I disagree with, as happened recently.

I received an e-mail one morning from a woman named Terri with whom I had attended a weekend retreat last spring. It was the much-forwarded text of a speech some conservative actor had made on TV, and boy, did it push my buttons. By the time I finished reading it, I was boiling, and I just wanted to strike back and upset someone else as I had been upset.

You know the sort of thing: it was all about how we in the U.S. had kicked God out of our schools, our government, et cetera, and if hurricanes ravaged New Orleans, well, why should we be surprised? And furthermore, America had become an “explicitly atheist” country and its youth were a mess because parents no longer spanked, like the Bible said they should. And more in that vein.

I was steamed. I should have realized that it was time to get up from the computer and take the dog out for a walk. I should have done almost anything but what I did: hit the “reply” button on my e-mail. I am glad to say I had just enough sense left not to hit “reply all” and vent at a whole lot of people I’d never even met, but that was the limit of my self-control. I wrote a short, vehemently angry reply and sent it.

A little while later, I received a response from Terri, who thanked me, without sarcasm, for my reply, went on to say how much she had enjoyed meeting me, and paid me a sincere compliment. It was the perfect example of the “soft answer” that “turns away wrath” from the Old Testament book of Proverbs (Chapter 15).

I sensed that, despite our obvious disagreement on much that was important to each of us, she wished me well. And I felt ashamed of myself for my outburst. I had responded to what I perceived as self-righteousness and lack of charity in a self-righteous, uncharitable way, while she was able to be kind and friendly to me, even though I had been anything but to her.

I tried again a day or two later, apologizing for my earlier outburst and offering instead a poem I had read in my church bulletin, whose author I don’t know. The poem, quoted below, I find a helpful reminder of the humility required from all of us who claim to serve God, regardless of the particular stripe of our belief:

Christian

When I say…”I am a Christian”

I’m not shouting “I’m clean livin’.”

I’m whispering “I was lost,

Now I’m found and forgiven.”


When I say…”I am a Christian”

I don’t speak of this with pride.

I’m confessing that I stumble

and need Christ to be my guide.


When I say…”I am a Christian”

I’m not trying to be strong.

I’m professing that I’m weak

And need His strength to carry on.

 

When I say…”I am a Christian”

I’m not bragging of success.

I’m admitting I have failed

And need God to clean my mess.

 

When I say…”I am a Christian”

I’m not claiming to be perfect,

My flaws are far too visible

But, God believes I am worth it.

 

When I say…”I am a Christian”

I still feel the sting of pain.

I have my share of heartaches

So I call upon His name.

 

When I say…”I am a Christian”

I’m not holier than thou,

I’m just a simple sinner

Who received God’s good grace, somehow!

I got an answer to that message, too, in which Terri graciously said there was no need to apologize and thanked me for the poem. But I did need to apologize — if not for her sake, for my own.

I’m glad now, not so much that I responded out of anger and hurt, but that I received such a gracious reminder of how easy it is for me to forget my own need for forgiveness and to lose sight of the fact that I always have the choice to act with kindness.