"But, Dad, why can't I?" "It's not who you are."
It's a conversation I've had with my children through the years. It happened when they wanted to do what a friend was doing that wasn't a good idea. It happened when they weren't handling a sport loss well. It happened when they wanted to sleep in on a Sunday morning instead of going to church. It happened when ridicule came and they wanted to retaliate.
"But, Dad, what's the big deal?" "It's not who you are meant to be."
Did they always listen? No. And sometimes the conversation came after the action. But, as the years went on they came to the conclusion that maybe Mom and Dad were right. It took longer at times, but eventually they came to an understanding.
In those moments of instruction I was learning too. It was a reminder to me of who I am supposed to be. I want to retaliate. I want to pout and sulk. I want to get lazy when it comes to my faith. But when those conversations occurred, it was God reminding me, "Doug, that's not who I meant you to be."
What always struck me in those moments was that my children's focus turned from themselves to what others were doing or thinking, but it didn't, and doesn't, matter. You must do what you do.
David is struggling with that in Psalm 35. He is pointing out to God how he has compassion on those around him in verses 13-14. He fasted, wore sackcloth, lamented, grieved, and bowed down when others were sick, but they in turn rejoiced and gathered against him when he stumbled. (vs. 15-16) He is asking God to "contend with them" on his behalf.
Paul addresses this in Romans when he says, "If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Rom. 12:18) Note whose responsibility it is. It is up to you. He doesn't say, "Only if they are kind to you and treat you well." No, he says, "as far as it depends on you." The behavior of the crowd doesn't matter. If everyone else is doing it doesn't give permission. If everyone turns on you it's not for you to counterattack.
"Remember who you were meant to be."
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Jesus says. (Matt. 5:44) That's who we were meant to be. "Enemies" and "those who persecute you" don't sound like the nicest people around, but it doesn't matter.
Paul says in 2 Timothy 3, "evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed." (vs. 13-14) Paul knew the nature of humanity. On our own, we go from bad to worse, but those of us who follow Christ walk a different path.
"Do what you do," God says. "Remember who you were called to be."