Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Even back in the 1700s, Franklin knew it would be easier to list the things that were immutable rather than the things that were unsure.
Here in 2018, I’m uncertain of many things—aren’t we all right now? Will the world hold together another year? What freedoms might we lose within the coming days? What tragedy might take us or someone we love? In what inexplicable ways might violence once again shatter the core of the nation and the world? It feels very much as if Franklin was onto something with his short list of certain things.
But I’m not here to talk about uncertain things. I’m here to talk about the third certain thing in the world—at least according to my teenage journal.
Sometime in my teen years, I added to Franklin’s astute observation when I wrote in my journal, “Death, taxes, and annoying people—there will always be annoying people.” I still agree with myself, though now I might change the angsty word annoying to rude, unkind, judgmental, indiscreet, untactful, selfish, or villainous.
Sometimes the certainty of unpleasant people can bother us just as much as world-shattering uncertainties because there’s nothing we can do about either one. We fluster ourselves in Facebook skirmishes; we vent about annoying acquaintances or unfair landlords; we allow bitterness to build, poisoning us in doses each day. It feels very much like our hands are tied when it comes to making other people behave, and for good reason—they are.
I’m slowly—slowly, I tell you—learning (no that’s too generous a word: grappling with is more accurate) the truth that it is not my job to change someone else’s flaws or behaviors. I can only control my actions and responses to circumstances—and though I can’t speak for you, for me that’s a full time job.
But the rude driver, the vindictive woman in line at the theater, the poorly behaved children and inattentive parents, the hypocritical relatives, the blustery people who can only talk about themselves—boy, can all of these things make me steam.
I realized this week, perhaps have known for a long time, that I have a heightened sense of justice.
Chalk it up to my ISTJ tendencies or self-righteousness or the need for the world to be decent and orderly. I want wrongdoing vindicated, and I want it now. I want the world to make sense, and swift judgment makes sense to me. In fact, my internal vigilante gets so worked up that I too soon forget the ways that I inconvenience, offend, anger, or otherwise annoy people around me. It’s an inevitable side effect of being human—even, or perhaps especially, for me.
My internal vigilante gets so worked up that I too soon forget the ways that I inconvenience, offend, anger, or otherwise annoy people around me.”
While I was stewing about something at a red light the other day, Micah 6:8 came to my mind: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” It struck me that God didn’t say to love justice but to do justly and love mercy. In other words, we are to go hard on ourselves and easy on others.
It struck me that God didn’t say to love justice but to do justly and love mercy. In other words, we are to go hard on ourselves and easy on others.
It’s a pretty sure bet that there will always be people who can press all our buttons like a child in an elevator with 100 floors, but Jesus also promised the certainty of himself—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)—and his grace to do hard things (impossible things, in fact, in our own strength), to love unlovable people, and to change my own attitude and mindset.
In the coming new year, I want to focus on obeying the second commandment—loving my neighbor, letting go of things I can’t control, and becoming more consistently like Christ—certain as death and taxes.
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