Schadenfreund *

hotcoals

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Proverbs 25:15-28, 1 Timothy 6:6-21, Matthew 13:36-43


Schadenfreude is a German word which roughly means “finding joy in the misfortune of others.” It’s not properly used to describe being happy about random misery like starving children or disaster victims – there are other words for that, some of them in English – but reserved for the misfortunes of our enemies, rivals, or people who just plain irritate us. It’s not very Christ-like, but it’s human nature. When we want to think of ourselves as too enlightened for that sort of pettiness, we may call it “poetic justice.”

Proverbs 25:21-22 advises us: “If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on their heads, and the LORD will reward you.”

“What?!” you may be asking yourself. “I can please God and honk off my enemies at the same time?” Technically, yes. Once we’ve nursed a good grudge against someone – be it a person, nation, or rival bowling team – we don’t want them to reveal any redeeming traits, because that really sucks the joy out of hating them. It may even force us to examine our own motives. So loving your enemy (which is how you act toward them, not how you feel about them), while the right thing to do, may be exactly what they don’t want.

But how long is it possible to think of someone as an enemy if they continually show you kindness?  And how long is it possible to think of someone as an enemy if you see them hungry, thirsty, tired, and in need of all the same things you are? Unless one or both of you intentionally stokes those coals of fire, they will cool and vengeful kindness becomes simply … kindness.

By the time Paul quotes this verse from Proverbs in his letter to the Romans, Jesus has taught and shown us what it means to love and pray for our enemies. Revenge masquerades as human justice; God’s justice is about reconciliation and forgiveness, and he’s not above subverting our baser instincts to help us get there.

Comfort: You don’t have to feel good about your enemies to love them as Christ instructs.

Challenge: Examine how you treat your enemies or rivals in the workplace or social situations.

Prayer: Merciful God, teach me to love my enemies and take joy in their well-being. Amen.

Discussion: Where have you seen the healing power of reconciliation? Did one or more parties have to demonstrate worldly “weakness” but faithful strength?

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*not a misspelling; an attempt at a German pun

No Noise is Good Noise

aptanswer

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, Proverbs 15:16-33, 1 Timothy 1:18—2:15, Matthew 12:33-42


The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil.

The ear that heeds wholesome admonition will lodge among the wise.

Those who ignore instruction despise themselves, but those who heed admonition gain understanding.

– Proverbs 15:28, 31, 32

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of pithy sayings, instructions, and poems from several sources. Chapters 10 through 22 are attributed to Solomon, but he probably did not author them directly. Proverbs contains many themes, and one of the most prominent is wisdom.

A lot of this wisdom centers on the idea that, frankly speaking, we should know when to keep our mouths shut.

In our culture, most conversations pretend to be exchanges of ideas, but we generally lack tolerance for the silence necessary to thoughtfully reflect on what someone is saying to us. Instead we fill “awkward” silences by speaking whatever comes to mind first. Often we are mentally formulating our response before the other person finishes talking. And too often our default response mode is rebuttal rather than reflection. This is especially true when the discussion is about a disagreement, and we are more concerned with making our case – with winning the argument – than considering what the other person might have to add to our understanding. Spirited debate can be invigorating, even fun, but how often are we listening to respond, rather than listening to learn?

When we receive constructive criticism, we don’t have to immediately reply with a defense; we can take time to mull it over. When someone is experiencing grief or pain, we don’t have to offer cliched sentiments because we feel we have to say something comforting; we can simply be with that person. When someone is telling us about their problems we don’t have to offer unsolicited solutions; we can support them better with open ears and open arms. In these situations and many more, taking time to think will improve what we have to say, or show us we needn’t say anything.

Listening without feeling a need to respond every time will make us better friends, better parents, better co-workers, and better followers of Christ. Don’t be afraid of silence; that’s when we can hear God speak.

Comfort: Being slow to respond is often a sign of depth, not ignorance.

Challenge: For the remainder of the week, whenever possible, count to five before responding – or thinking about responding – to questions, news, etc. Note how these pauses affect the conversations.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to listen for you in the silence. Amen.

Discussion: In what situations do you find it difficult to hold your tongue, even when you know better than to speak?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.