The “Jerks” that grow us

What "Jerks" do when you're defusing a bomb.
What “Jerks” do when you’re defusing a bomb.

I just got off the phone with a jerk.  A self-righteous, condescending jerk.  I don’t talk with this person that often but when I do – it feels like finger nails down the chalkboard.   The sound of their voice irritates me.  Their intentionally chosen words reek of arrogance.  Even over the phone, you can feel the thick condescension.  This person doesn’t like me and they are not afraid to let me know it.   I was even reminded recently that I am a pain in their… um, neck.

Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, says that there are only 6-7 jerks in the whole world.  Unfortunately, he says, they move around a lot.   

If we are honest, we all have a “Jerk” (or three) in our life.   Maybe it’s the guy at work.   The neighbor down the street.  The woman at church.  The distant relative.  For some, the “Jerk” might live closer to home in the form of a Spouse (or Ex), Child, Parent, In-law?

In some cases, we can just avoid them.  Other times, because of life circumstances (family affliliation, neighbors, work environments), we must interact with them, even daily, for years.  How do we handle it?  Sometimes the flesh takes over and we verbally “duke” it out.

Unfortunately, there are days when I am someone else’s “Jerk.”    I hate that thought but I’m pretty sure it’s true.  Somewhere, out there, some person is blogging about how they met me, a jerk.  Hopefully, they’ll realize I was having a bad day.  Or maybe they’ll just assume I was raised poorly.  Most likely, they will think that deep down, I am just a mean person.   Yea, that’s probably it.   I mean, isn’t that what we think about our “Jerks?”

Over the years, I have come to realize that having a “Jerk” in your life can be a blessing.   There are things that I have learned from these “Jerks” that I could not have learned from anyone else.   Whereas I’m tempted to ignore them, I actually realize (now) that I need them.  Whereas I’m tempted to silence their voice, I have come to appreciate (now) their opposing views.   Whereas I generally wish they would leave me alone, I (now) am glad they infiltrate my comfortable existence now and then.   Mostly then.

Here are a few things the “Jerks” have taught me.

  • I am just like them.   This is a hard truth to swallow but sometimes the reason I don’t like them is because I’m just like them.   There are parts of me that I do not like and though I  don’t think I’m like the “Jerk” in any way, when I stop to think about it – I’m more like them than I care to admit.  Their presence in my life forces me to address things I prefer not to address.   If their arrogance annoys me it is probably because the pride in my heart resonates with it.   If their impatience bothers me it is probably because I hate the impatience that lives within me towards others.   Their annoyance, some times, is merely a mirror to the things about me that I do not like.   We have a hard time staring at a mirror when we see things we do not like.  “Jerks” have a way of showing us our imperfections while we hate them for it.
  • Humility.   “Jerks” say things that we ultimately disagree with.   They say things that are perhaps mean or even untrue.  They may even say things simply to push our buttons because they love our reaction.   Even so, I have found there are two primary responses to a “Jerk’s” criticism.  The first, most natural response is “Go away” or “Shut up” or “You’re a jerk.”   Even if these responses do not leave my lips, that is what my heart is screaming at them.   But why do I want to react that way?   Because I am hurt.   And in my hurt, what do I do?  I treat them the way they are treating me.  In essence, I become like the “Jerk” I hate which only proves my first point, I’m not that much different than they are.   The second response to a “Jerk’s” criticism is very unnatural and quite opposite, it is one of humility.   “Thank you for helping me see a different side of that coin.”  Or “I appreciate that perspective.  I did not think about it like that.”  Regardless of the humble words used, it can produce a humble heart from where the words are drawn.   When I am being criticized by a Jerk, I often find the words of a 5th century Catholic Monk (St. Francis of Assissi) echoing in my brain, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  Seeking first to understand their perspective in this verbal lashing helps create a humble heart in me.   When my heart is humbled, my fists are lowered.  When my fists are lowered, my tongue tends to not be as sharp.   When my tongue has been dulled, my words become more kind.   Humility absorbs the blow.   “A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1)
  • Understanding & Patience.   I am painfully aware of how far I am from where I want to be.   Sometimes I do what I don’t want to do.   Sometimes I say what I don’t really want to say.  Sometimes I act in a way that is not consistent with how I really want to act.  I have some areas that I am trying to work on and really could use some patience from others as I work this stuff out.   When I encounter a “Jerk”, this thought often crosses my mind – “Be patient.”   Perhaps they are far from where they want to be too.   Perhaps they are saying or doing something (even to me) that they really don’t want to be saying or doing.   For whatever reason, I am bringing out a side in them that maybe they don’t like and what they could use is some understanding and patience from me.

I recently had two friends of mine leave my life because I was a “Jerk.”   One thought I had lied to them.   I did not.  The other thought I was judging them.   I was not.   But, looking at the situation from their perspective, I understand why they think those things.   Given their thought process (and past history with others), it makes sense why they thought I was being a “Jerk” to them.   In both cases, they have said hurtful and mean things to me.   In both cases, I have apologized and tried to fix their incorrect perceptions.  In both cases, they are still in the non-friend category.   I’m still a “Jerk” and it’s easier for them to keep me there.   Even so, in both cases I have tried to be understanding and patient – even leaving the door of friendship open for them to come through again.  It’s not likely.  I mean, who wants to be friends with a “Jerk?”  Such is the problem with being someone’s “Jerk.”   Even when you try not to be one, you can still become one to others.

Years ago, a  close friend of mine and I took a trip to Ecuador on a soccer missions trip.  During one of our practice days, guys on the team liked to play chess, a favorite game of mine.   Given that there were over 20 of us on the team, and only one board – we had to take turns playing this long game.   My friend Brady was in the middle of an intense match with another teammate when he left to run an errand that would take him several hours.   Seeing the board in mid-game but unattended was frustrating.  Others wanted to play but did not want to ruin their game.   It was then that we came up with a brilliant solution.  We carefully recorded where each piece was, leaving a detailed map, and then began a new game for ourselves.   When our game was complete, we would put their game back together and everyone would be happy.  Unfortunately, Brady returned before our game was completed.   When he saw that we had “ruined” his game, he was immediately angered.   To him, we were “Jerks” for disrespecting his game.   Instantly, he took our board and lifted it up causing pieces to go flying everywhere.   Stunned by his sudden “Jerk-like” actions, we protested and got into a verbal argument.   The mood was tense.   When I produced the drawing of his board, this former “Jerk” immediately became remorseful.   Instantly his demeanor changed and humility set in.  He had just realized what he had done.   Thinking we ruined his game, he ruined ours.   Our game was over but thanks to our detailed drawing, his game could continue as before.   That is, if I didn’t immediately rip the sheet up.  Which I did.  (We already established I’m a “Jerk”, right?)

Here’s the point.   Brady was (and still is 23 years later) one of my closest friends.  We are both Bible reading Christians, taught to “turn the other cheek.”   We both were on a Christian mission trip sharing the love of God with others.   Because of our age at that time, we were both considered leaders on this team and looked up to by our younger teammates.  And in spite of all of that, we both acted like children and behaved like “Jerks.”   Over a stupid game.

“Jerks” come in all shapes and sizes.  They can be the town prostitute or the local Pastor.   They can be called “Daughter” or “Dad.”   They can teach at a seminary or sit at a bar.  And that inner “Jerk” can come out at any moment when you least expect it (in traffic, long store lines, church, home or even during a harmless game of chess).   Sadly, we are all one word or deed away from being someone’s “Jerk” today.

When your “Jerk” calls today, how will you treat them?   When your nemesis arrives, how will you react to their fiery verbal darts?  It’s easy to treat people the way they deserve.  It takes more strength of character to love them in spite of themselves. 

Next time you encounter a “Jerk”, consider the actions of Christ.   While on the cross, He forgave His executioners.  While struggling to breathe, He pardoned those insulting Him.   While in excruciating pain, He prayed for His enemies, “Father, forgive (these “Jerks”) for they do not know what they are doing.” (Emphasis mine)for jerks blog

The following quote (below) has had a profound impact on my life and interactions with the “Jerks” I encounter.   These words pound my conscience even when my hands want to wring their necks.   May it challenge you as it has challenged me.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Jesus in Matthew 5:43-47)

Perhaps we can reduce the number of “Jerks” in this world, starting today, with the person in our own mirror?

Cursing at the customer service people

Back in the day I used to do a lot of speaking for various groups.  Some of it was motivational and inspirational.  Some of it was Bible teaching for teenagers and college students.  Occasionally I was asked to lead a seminar, speak at a conference or even do a school assembly.   One church even asked me to deliver a Sunday sermon.   I don’t remember what the sermon was on.   I do remember the response from the congregation – graciously positive.   What a relief.  I really hate speaking in the midst of flying tomatoes!   Afterward, I went home and went on with my day.

The following day was, as you might expect, a Monday.   When I took a moment to check the weekend mail, I discovered that my local utility company had overcharged me AGAIN for the second month in a row.   The hassle to get my money back after the first overcharge was nothing short of infuriating.   Now they are doing it again?  I immediately called the 800 number and navigated through a seemingly endless number of prompts.

  • Press 1, for English.
  • Press 1 if you are a current customer.
  • Press 2 if you know your account number.
  • Press 5 if you know any numbers.
  • Press 7 if you know the square root of Pi.
  • Press 4 if you want a pie.
  • Press 8 if you are tired of pressing buttons.
  • Press 9 if we are wearing you down.
  • Press 6 if you are about to commit a felony.
  • Press 8 if you are voting for Dancing with the Stars.
  • Press 3 if you still remember why you are calling.

UGH!   After what seemed to be 90 minutes, I finally got past that non-sense and was able to speak to an actual human being.   In that moment, a flood of emotions were upon me.  I was glad to be out of the purgatory of prompts.  I was furious I was having this conversation again.  I realized that this customer service woman is not the cause of my problem.  I also realized that she worked for the evil organization and needed to hear my frustration.  I wanted to yell and curse and scream, which is unlike me.

But my conscience and character were telling me to be patient and gracious and kind in my speech.   In that split second, I had to decide what voice was going to win.  I honestly did not know.  There were two beings on each shoulder, the devil and the angel, and they were battling over my mind and tongue.  Against my true desires, the angel spoke softly to the woman and explained my repeated frustration with her company and their costly mistake.

Customer service people are trained to handle idiots like me.  This lady was great.  She was helpful.  She was understanding and patient.  She spoke in a very disarming and soothing manner.  Within about ten minutes, my problem was solved and the money issue was fixed.   I could feel the blood leaving my head and watching the hulk-like figure lose it’s shade of green.   What she said to me next sent chills down my spine…

  • Customer service lady: “Mr. Arters, is there anything else I can do for you?”
  • Me: “No, Ma’am.  You have been very helpful.  Thank you so much.”
  • Customer service lady: “You are very welcome.  Before you go, I need to tell you something.”
  • Me: “What’s that?”
  • Customer service lady: “I just wanted you to know that the sermon you gave yesterday at church was very powerful and it really impacted me.  I was glad that I had visited your church.”
  • Me: (long silence)  “You were there?”
  • Customer service lady: “Yes, when I saw your name on the account I realized it was the same name on my church bulletin.  At any rate, I just wanted to say thank you.”
  • Me: (long silence)  “Um, you are welcome.  Thank you!”

I hung up and honestly wanted to cry.   How close did I come to discrediting my sermon?  I was about three seconds away from steamrolling a visitor at my church, without even knowing it.   In this case, my lips and my life matched.  Fortunately for me, what she saw in the pulpit and what she heard on the phone were the same.  The truth is, my heart was far from speaking kindly that day.  There was rage in my heart and only because I was raised right and living in the South, did I realize that such behavior never solves problems.

There have been plenty of times that my life has not matched my lips.  I’m working on that.  I have to constantly remind myself that I am always being watched – even when I am alone.  The customer service reps on the phone and the people behind the ticket counter at the airport, they both have ears.   The grocery bagger and the guy who works at the gas station, they both have eyes.  They watch and hear what we say, what we do, how we treat them.  And they know more about you then you think.

It has been said that “character is who you are when no one is watching.”     So, who are you?

It’s easy to look good on a platform or behind a pulpit or in a pew.  Anyone can pad a resume, impress on an interview or dazzle on a first date.  But how do you behave when you think no one is looking?  How do you speak when you think no one is really listening?   What does your web history reveal about your free time surfing?

Remember, we all live before an Audience of One.

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” – Proverbs 15:3

Road Grace

People fascinate me.   What they do.  What they say.  What they wear.  People watching is one of my favorite past-times.  I particularly enjoy this activity at an airport for two reasons.  First, you get to see the widest selection of people in one place AND secondly, it means I’m going somewhere exciting.

I find myself distracted by this hobby even at the grocery store.  Grocery shopping already takes me too long but add the people watching, and I’m there all night.  I’m curious as to why that man wears colored socks with sandals.  I wonder why that woman thinks it’s appropriate to wear that skirt… ever.   Don’t these people have loved ones at home to prevent them from going out in public like that?  I’m not too upset about it though.  After all, they provide fodder for my hobby.   And now, thanks to the internet and websites like – people watching is available to all without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Watching people drive has me particularly fascinated.   I thought about publishing a photo book called “Nose picking drivers.”  And if the police would give me a mini-light and siren, I could make about 20 citizen arrests for all the texting and driving I see.   What I have never understood is how short a fuse most drivers have.   I have noticed that tempers seem to flare quicker behind a wheel than almost anywhere else.   Sit at a green light for more than 3 seconds and horns will honk.   Don’t turn right on red and even the old ladies start yelling.  And for goodness sake, do not go under the speed limit on any highway for any reason.  You’ll receive the #1 sign (with the middle finger) almost immediately when they pass.

Anger, by definition, is a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong.  Apparently, waiting at a red light longer than you have to creates that strong feeling of displeasure.  Going too slow is just wrong – particularly if you are in a belligerent hurry.

But why the instant rage with a nice guy like me?  To my knowledge, I never offended that driver in the past.   Was my “wrong” THAT wrong?  Why does the anger appear so quickly in so many?  What causes this phenomenon to be so common that we even have a nationally recognized name for it, “Road Rage?”

Apparently the human condition hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years.   Maybe Chariot & donkey rage was a big issue in first century Palestine as well?  James, the brother of Jesus, questioned the nature of arguments when he wrote, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?”  His answer: “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill.  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.  (Or in our case, honk)

Not all anger is inappropriate, however.  There are times when anger is not only normal but expected.   Even Jesus expressed righteous rage and in the Temple of all places!  Over the years I have used the following checklist to help keep my anger “in check”.   Perhaps this will be of benefit to you should you struggle with a short fuse – particularly behind the wheel.

8 questions to help me discern & resolve inappropriate anger:

  1. Is my anger selfishly motivated?  (James 1:20)
  2. Am I angry because I am offended or because God is offended?
  3. Have I taken the time to think through this “offense?”   What are some likely scenarios that could have caused the other person to wrong me without malice?
  4. Will I be just as angry about this one week from now?  One year from now?  (Matthew 25:14-30)
  5. Have I allowed my anger to linger past sundown?  (Ephesians 4:26-27)
  6. What have I done to cause this situation?  What can I do to make right this wrong?  (Matthew 18:15-18)
  7. If God were in my shoes, would He be angry as well?  (Jonah 4:5-11)
  8. Would He be angry for the same reasons?

Next time you’re tempted to honk – think about this list.   Assume the wrong done to you was unintentional.   Use the horn for emergencies only and show some Road Grace, even if you’re not on the road.