The Mean Man

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
— Colossians 3

A little while back, we posted a short article of Kara’s about being weary of unkindness. It struck a lot of our hearts, and I’ve been pondering her words ever since.

Then the other day after church, I made a short trip to Trader Joe’s with my babies, our weekly trip to stock up on Trader Joe’s necessities, and Von loves pushing the “kid kaht”. He steers very carefully and tries very hard to watch out for other people and not get in anyone’s way. He is a defensive little kaht driver. On this day, I made the right turn onto the main road that TJ’s is on. A few moments later, a car behind me in my lane that was clearly speeding passed me barely in time to make the turn into TJ’s. The parking lot was crowded and I ended up parking next to that car.

The driver got out just as I did and started yelling at me. It was a surreal moment: Was he yelling at me? Surely there was a mistake. Why in the world would he be yelling at me?!  I finally realized he was indeed yelling at me. He was accusing me of cutting him off. My first response was to apologize; he was belligerent and angry, and I didn’t know what he was capable of. Also, maybe I had cut him off! I told him I was sorry, but he didn’t stop. His wife tried to calm him. In those few moments, I snapped back into the reality of the situation—hadn’t he been the one to cut me off? Hadn’t I mumbled a quiet, “Thank you, Jesus,” when I braked fast enough to avoid a collision when he had cut me off?!

Defensive, I turned to his wife. “Actually, HE cut ME off…” I said rather meekly.

“Oh, dear,” the wife said to no one in particular. “Just come on,” she begged her husband. The Mean Man called me a moron and they walked inside the store.

For the second time in five minutes I prayed, “Thank you, Jesus.” I was so glad God had spared my children that confrontation as they waited patiently in the car. I knew it would have scared them, and I would have had to answer hard questions.

By the time we walked inside, I was shaking. I was fighting back tears. All I could think was, “Why was that man so unkind to me?!” I struggled to engage the babies as I loaded Von’s kaht with strawberries, milk, and cheddar rockets. Ann whined a bit in her after-church weariness, and I stopped to comfort her. I wished someone would comfort me. Why had he been so unkind?

I was nervous we’d run into him in the store; I kept my eyes open for TJ employees to run interference, but we never saw him. We finished our shopping and walked outside. The Mean Man’s car was still parked next to ours. I loaded the groceries, loaded the babies, gave them their lovies and cups. Then I sat in the driver’s seat and wrote:

Dear Ma’am,

I am sorry I angered your jerk of a husband. I hope he doesn’t take it out on you. You seem lovely.

But by the time I finished the note, the couple had come back to their car, and I missed my chance to leave it.

Driving home, the tears just fell. That man had been so very mean! As I cried in confusion over why a stranger’s words would hurt so much, I realized that unkindness—even from a stranger— can do so much damage, just like kindness can bring so much healing. I realized that while my response to him was pretty unremarkable and my undelivered note was just plain silly, I could have made a difference in that moment—I could have been kind. Just like St. Francis said, as Kara quoted in her blog post, I could have been an instrument of peace. The Mean Man won’t remember me like I will remember him, but I could have made it a memorable moment by extending kindness, grace, love. By living out the Gospel to him.

I missed that chance, but I hadn’t missed an opportunity—God softened my heart and filled it with compassion for The Mean Man. I prayed for him and his heart, his anger, his fear. I prayed God would meet him and show The Mean Man love and grace, like he has shown me. I prayed for healing and redemption. I prayed for his wife and their marriage. And I prayed that if I am ever in such a situation again, I would respond as an instrument of peace, kindness, and love.

I will never know The Mean Man’s story this side of Heaven, but I know mine—that despite what The Mean Man and the world say, I am not a moron; I am loved, delighted in, redeemed. And because of that, I can love others and extend the kindness and grace of Jesus, even in the midst of wearying unkindness.

Has someone mistreated you in unkindness recently? How did you respond? Did you trust God in that moment? Were you able to extend kindness and grace? Have you been unkind to someone? Have you sought out that person to reconcile and seek forgiveness? How has God shown kindness to you recently? How has his grace made an impact on your everyday life?