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?