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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