A few years ago, I’d just collected Daughter Number Two from nursery and was about to put her in the car when a man stormed out of his house and began to shout at me. Here’s the thing: about an eighth of my front wheel was protruding across his driveway.
The force of his rage was impressive. His veins bulged. His eyeballs protruded. He spat and paced and pushed his face right up into mine for emphasis. It went on… and on. People stopped and stared. The grass under his feet withered. Men grew beards and birds flew south and back again. Okay, so maybe it didn’t last that long, but have you ever noticed how slowly seconds pass while you are being shouted at?
He finally stomped back into his house and I drove away, feeling rather shaky. Usually, I would have reacted like this:
- Cry (and actually, I did. I am a crier, what can I say?)
- Think of lots of reasons why it was unfair and I was in the right.
- Find people to tell about it, and make sure they were on my side.
- Try to find an alternative route to nursery and feel faintly depressed every time I went anywhere near the scene of the conflict.
Instead, as I drove home, I think I heard God ask me, “How are you going to find a way to bring good out of this?” I remembered hearing Angry Man say something about his wife having cancer, and it was as though there was a script of the scene in front of me with those words highlighted.
I got home and did number 2 and 3, and my ex-gangsta, now-vicar hubbie asked if I wanted him to go and have a word, which was very nice. But then I wrote the man a card and bought him some chocolate, and committed to pray for him and his wife until July when the nursery routine would be over.
I saw him a couple of afternoons later and asked him if he got my card. We talked about the cancer, and I told him I was praying. He said sorry for shouting, but every day is a bad day, and small things just set him off.
I don’t know if this is something good, but I am grateful that God showed me a way to avoid number 4, because I really don’t know if there is another way to get to nursery that doesn’t involve skydiving.
Jesus had a radical approach to conflict. If you are wronged, he taught, show your enemy extreme generosity. They sue you for your shirt? Hand over your coat as well. Go the extra mile. Turn the other cheek. We know these phrases well, but in practise aren’t we all more likely to follow human instinct and hit back, slightly harder? I know I am. But what I learnt in this very minor altercation was that Jesus’ way works. If we can overlook the fact that you could argue that in this scenario Angry Man was the wronged one not me (though I’d remind you he did shout very loudly at me. Poor me!) by giving him chocolate rather than evil stares, the conflict deescalated. Paul writes to the Romans, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’ (12:21). A little generosity can go a long way.