The Cure For My Passive-Aggressive

Pat thought what you wrote was a little passive-aggressive, a mutual friend relayed, her eyebrows raised.

The charge caught me off-guard and I winced. I’d never thought of myself that way- as a sort of silent and brooding, wounded-then-wounding type. Then again, sometimes we are blind.

So I raced off to re-read that post, with a sharp eye for the signs. But try as I might, I didn’t see the backhanded jabs of passive-aggressive. And as much as I can know my own heart, I knew that there was no motive to hurt in those words.

But, like Chesterton said, to have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it. The words came off as hurtful to friend I respect. So I pulled the post.

And that was the end of that.

Or not.

Find The Kernel.

Turns out, I’ve been sitting with Pat’s passive-aggressive charge for  2 1/2 years now. Which, I suppose, might prove the point. Maybe. We’ll sift that out later.

Regardless, I’m learning to look for the kernel of truth when I’m criticized. Because even if the charge is mostly false, there’s usually some truth.

And why, you ask, are you so relentless about this kernel business? 

Glad you asked: It’s because I know that letting hard truth land on me– painful as that is- always propels growth. Because I’m learning that if by God’s strong grace, I can chew on the seed without shattering my teeth, the odds are that its truth will nourish my soul and change me for the good.

What Is Passive-Aggressive?

Passive-aggressive, for the record, describes a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials. 

Passive-aggressive behaviors might include:

  • Putting off responsibilities
  • Carrying out responsibilities late, not at all, or inefficiently
  • Sulking
  • Using forgetfulness as an excuse not to do things
  • Having pent-up feelings of anger
  • Resenting and blaming other people

Avoiding direct confrontation, resenting, sulking– who can’t relate, at least a little?

Not guilty. And guilty.

But even in light of the list, I have a clear conscience about the post.

But what about the kernel? What about me would make Pat think that?

  • Do I sulk and pout?
  • Do I resent those who hurt me?  
  • Am I tempted to hurt others back even when they hurt me unintentionally?  (But only in socially acceptable ways of course- like avoiding eye contact or withholding smiles, or forgetting her special day when she forgets mine?)

I do and I am. Guilty as charged. Pat was wrong about the particulars. But Pat was right about me.

And I suspect I’m not alone. Because passive and aggressive come natural.

Here’s what I mean.

Get past natural.

Once upon a run, a ferocious German Shepherd bit me in the hamstring. It broke the skin. It hurt. At once, I wanted to kick the dog as hard as I could and run away as far as I could.

I think that’s our reflex reaction when someone hurts our feelings, too- fight or flight.  Lash out or flee. Both are knee-jerk natural.

But Christians are called to something more. We’re called to supernatural. We are called to love one another. Loving people like Jesus loved means we have to move past the soul’s passive-aggressive preset.

Some situations might call for boundaries. I get that. But if we cordon ourselves off too tightly to prevent hurt, we might miss out on kingdom blessings (see Matthew 5:1-12) that come from giving love. I’m learning to be  wary of promising in my pain, “I’ll never get close again.”

To Forgive Is Divine

Human love demands risk. There is no safe investment, C.S. Lewis said. To love is to be vulnerable.

Maybe you’re less prone to retreat and more apt to fight back.  Your preset is “To vent,” and “Tell ’em like it is.” When unfair stings you,  it’s up to you to let her know how much she hurt you or let him feel the pain he gave.

These reactions all come natural. In a comment, commenting on ​1 Peter 1:6–7,John Piper explains that,God allows trials in our lives that could make us very angry. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be trials. But the reason he does is to refine our faith the way gold is refined by fire.”

 So will we? Will we look through the hurt to the sovereign goodness of God that allowed them? Or do we shut God out and let our passive-aggressive grow.

Only one is supernatural.

The Cure For Passive-Aggressive

There is a cure for every one of our sinful, destructive patterns. They’re not all named and described like in the DSM-V, but our Maker is our Healer and  He wrote the complete diagnostic and treatment book. What’s more, through his Holy Spirit, he gives his children the power to carry out the cure. 

Here it is, the Passive-Aggressive cure. It jumped out at me on another run when I wasn’t being chased by dog. It’s found in 1 Peter 4:19: Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. When I got home, I jotted this down:

1. Passive >> Continue to do good.

2. Aggressive>>Entrust yourself to your faithful Creator. 

3. Passive-Aggressive>> Forgive (and keep forgiving whenever the  hurt wells up) and cover with love.

And remember, If you hold a grudge, you doubt the Judge. Surely the judge of the earth will do right. His eyes see all. The thoughtful, or spiteful, lips and hands and the unforgiving, bitter hearts. 

Do Good.

God will give you opportunities to do good to those who hurt you. I know He will. Years ago, in the throes of some big hurt, I prayed that the man who hurt me would need help, and that I would be able to give it.

God answered that one before I’d prayed it more than a handful of  times. I saw said man with a broken down truck on the side of the road on my way home from work, and I thanked God and stopped to ask if I could help. It was part of my cure.

Do good. Trust God. Cover in love.

Cover WITH Love

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Keep on loving. Stay engaged. Fake it till you make it. I keep coming back to a passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Here he explains what it looks like in real life when we cover with love.

A game, a joke, a drink together, idle chat, a walk…-all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, in which we console or are reconciled, in which we “seek not our own. Who would rather live with those ordinary people who get over their tantrums (and ours) unemphatically, letting a meal, a night’s sleep, or a joke mend all? 

It’s supernatural, strong grace when we’re able to  “get over our tantrums” and just get on with it. Sulks come far more easily than doing good and trusting God and proving I do by telling a joke or smiling at the one who hurt me.

But that’s covering. It’s humility. That’s love.

Covered BY Love

The last part of the passive-aggressive, bitterness cure, I think, is to remember that we ourselves are not always so lovable.

I’ll close with a quote from a previous post. Incidentally, it’s a revision of  the post that Pat took issue with. And it’s as true now as  it was then. It’s about covering.

It’s Lewis again: 

There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved…You might as well ask people to like the tastes of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All may be sure that at some times…they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.

There’s no other way. You are, and I am, receiving Charity. And it’s not because we’re always lovable, but because Love dwells in those who love us and cover our sins.

That’s it, folks-what Paul called faith expressing itself in love. This is the only cure for my passive-aggressive: trust God means good, leave him your hurt, and do good.

The fix is not fast or flashy. But it works.

“Come Down, O Love Divine”

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

 

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
   
– Bi­an­co da Si­e­na

Post-Mortem on a Pillow War

He can put on his own pillowcases, I fumed, fumbling to fit my own maroon pillowcase over bulging queen-sized bulk. 

And if anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar… 

Oh! but his words hurt me so, I said in my head as I slammed two clean cases-as hard as fabric can possibly be slammed-on the bed. On his side of the bed. 

For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 

But I’ve done his laundry week after week, month after month, year after year. What’s two pillowcases? They’re clean anyhow. 

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 

But he hurt me. And I’m mad. I’m very, very mad. And sad. 

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 

Well, maybe I’ll just put one of ’em on. He can do the other one.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

I s’pse I am hard to handle sometimes, he’s right about that. I can be harsh and proud and provoking. 

For if you live by the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 

And when brother-husband came to bed, I said, 

G’night, Hon. Enjoy them fresh pillowcases.  

I didn’t break down the bedroom fight-how Spirit KO’d flesh. I didn’t explain how the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, came to my rescue and defeated pouty, self-pitying me. 

I didn’t tell him how-all glory to God-love won this pillow fight. 

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Fight the good fight of faith.

1 Timothy 6:11b-12a




More Meek?

Mom, that sounds like you and Dad arguing, ya’ know?

So interjected seven-year-old Gabe, as I wrote this very post yesterday. In the background, a radio talk show host was arguing with a caller. I wish I could say his comment was scripted.

In May I posted an introduction to Mademoiselle Meekness.  I offered some reasons to pursue her and debunked a couple of misunderstandings about her. Matthew’s Henry’s 1698 essay, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit,” prompted both posts.

Our ladies’ small group finished the book last week.  But before she’s shelved beside Puritan peers, I must pay my respects to the fair lady. 

By way of recap, meekness is not a shy temperament. Nor is she mousy or weak. She is certainly not “tolerant” refusal to reason or settle on truth. I can’t resist including this century old G. K. Chesterton quote, describing such misplaced meekness:

What we suffer from today is humility [meekness] in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason . . .(Orthodoxy, p. 31f.)

Meekness is “an attitude of humility toward God and gentleness toward people, springing from recognition that God is in control.”1 Meekness is power under control. She helps us govern our anger when provoked, and patiently bear the anger of others. She lets us keep silent when the heart is hot, and put up with insults. 

In a June, 2013 Revive Our Hearts broadcast, Nancy Leigh DeMoss shared this wonderful example of meekness.  George Whitefield was an 18th century English itinerant preacher and evangelist. During his ministry he received a malicious letter accusing him of wrongdoing.  He replied:

I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.

With love in Christ, 

George Whitefield 

Such adornment! Meekness makes us more attractive, certainly to our Lord, and likely to our neighbor. Adorn yourselves with a meek and quiet spirit, wrote Peter, which is very precious in God’s sight.  We must remind the Father of his beloved Son when clothed with meekness.  Learn of me, Jesus said:

for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29)

No wonder a meek spirit is so precious to God.

Are you a spiritual bee? (#4 below)

Matthew Henry offers these “good principles which tend to make us meek and quiet.”  

  1. He has the sweetest and surest peace who is the most master of his passions. Whoever controls his temper is better than a warrior…He that rules his spirit than he that takes a city. (Prov.16:32)  Application: At the start of the T-ball season, our son seemed to be parked in the outfield, without much fielding opportunity. Were the coaches following rotation protocol? (Wo! to the Tiger Mom in me.) My spirit was vexed. In prayer, the Spirit convicted me to wait before I spoke or fretted more. Sure enough, sweet peace was restored-and before the next game when Gabe rotated to pitcher.
  2. In many things we all offend.  We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2) Henry adds, [Knowing man’s tendency to sin and stumble] should not be used to excuse our own faults and take the edge of repentance…but to excuse the faults of others and take the edge off our passion and displeasure. Application: Sometimes when others do not acknowledge “personal” emails, I (wrongly) take offense. Was it received, read, meaningful? I was just recently working into that peevish state after two unrequited notes, when what should appear?  Scrolling through “marked as read,” I spotted a few of my own. No excuses and no edge off this repentance!
  3. Men are God’s hand, as it is said in Psalm 17:13-14.  Men’s reproaches are God’s rebukes and whoever he be that offends me, I must see that the Father corrects me.  Application: Exhibit 1: Gabe’s quote above. Out of the mouth of men and babes, God speaks.  I stand corrected- again. 
  4. There is no provocation given us at any time, but if it be skillfully improved, there is good to be gotten from it.  It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable. Application: Last Friday a dear friend suggested I was being deceptive during a discussion.  I wasn’t.  I was being gracious, ambiguously allowing the possibility that the subject of our conversation had no ill intent. That’s all, not being deceptive.  I (defensively) explained. Then, buzzed the bee. I zipped my lips. Maybe I could be more forthright. 
  5. What is said and done in haste is like to need repentance. As when Abigail suggested to David that repentance would be needed if he avenged Nabal’s household. Application: An email again.  The tone of the email was sarcastic and accusing.  I drafted my response.  Not mean, just clear and direct.  Then- two sentences in- I paused. Don’t add gas to a fire. Or, to borrow Henry’s word picture, be soft sand, not loud rock, when the waves hit

In case we’d need something more concrete than “principles,” Matthew Henry ends his essay with these “Rules for Direction” (AKA: “9 Tips To Be More Meek “):

1. Sit loose to the world and everything in it. Break a piece of new china when it arrives so you won’t be too attached to the set.
2. Be often repenting of sinful passion. If we confess our sins…
3. Stay out of the way of provocation. If possible.
4. Learn to pause before speaking.  Count to 10 if you must.
5. Pray that God will work a meek spirit in you.  Amen and amen!
6. Be often examining your growth in this grace. As my head hits the pillow.
7. Delight in the company of meek persons. So grateful for the meek, quiet friends God has given me.
8. Study the cross of our Lord Jesus. Who, when insulted, opened not his mouth. 
9. Converse much in thoughts with the grave. Death will quiet us shortly; let grace quiet us now. (p. 143)

“Patient and meek beneath affliction’s rod,
And why her faith and hope were fixed on God.”
-Engraving on tombstone of Bridget Kilroy,
who died in 1848 at age 50 in County Clare, Ireland
Gabe’s comment wasn’t my only tip-off.  I need more meekness. So, I tip my hat to Lady Meekness, and pray she’ll adorn me more and more ’til this life is past.  
1. Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary

    Dressing Up

    Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, 

    and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  

    Romans 13:14

    Aahhhrrrgh! (Pronounced: MAD!)

    The boys’ bikes were sprawled across the front sidewalk AGAIN. Three times in 30 minutes, we’d gone over bike parking protocol. But here they were AGAIN; obstacles to the front door during the birthday bash.

    But, just as the words migrated from thought to tongue, I GOT DRESSED.

    Don’t get me wrong, I was still in the fuchsia top and green skirt I wore to church. I mean- really dressed up:  I held my peace. It felt weird and unnatural, it did: putting off sword thrust words and putting on peace. A lot like the restrictive, itchy feeling I get when I let Jim get the last word in matrimonial tiff.

    Fake it ’til you make it, my sister-in-law says.

    Act like success you’ll be. Play the part. Pretend like it fits.

    We stood, saluting our veterans at the Memorial Day parade this morning. Some carried flags, others shuffled along barely keeping step. Most rode in shiny convertibles. All were in uniform. 
    I bet each one remembers the first time he dressed in his Army green or Dress white.  And I bet the uniforms felt stiff and uncomfortable at first. They were dressing up. 
    C. S. Lewis wrote Mere Christianity in 1943. It contains one of the best descriptions of Christian growth penned since Paul:

    Whatever else you say, you will probably say the Lord’s prayer.  Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean?  They mean, quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God.  To but it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending…In a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.

    Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending.  The bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing.  

    When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were.

    Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important.  They are always pretending to be grown-ups-playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits, so that the pretense of being grown-up helps them grow up in earnest.

    Now, the moment you realize, “Here I am, dressing up as Christ,” it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretense could be made less of a pretense and more of a reality…Well, go and do it.

    You see what is happening. The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to turn your pretense into a reality.  

    C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 160-162 

    It almost hurts; this putting on Christ, or maybe it’s the putting off the old self that’s so uncomfortable. Eustace was in pain when Aslan peeled away his dragon skin.

    I dress up when I refrain from anger and turn from wrath. The clothes are stiff and itchy. Still, I act the part. I pretend to be adorned with a gentle, quiet spirit. 

    And instead of an 80 dB

    Boys, get over HEEERE this instant!  

     the dressed-up me, calmly calls, at maybe 40 dB:

    Boys, would you please come help me move your bikes?

    Pretense becoming reality. Faking it ’til we’re remade. In all things growing up into Christ.

    Instead, speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up 

    into Him who is the head, that is, Christ. 

    Ephesians 4:15

    Justin Taylor offers a good, quick summary of the NT language of putting on and putting off.