The most uncomfortable spot in my world is sitting on my own therapist couch. Just like most people who have sat on the couch, I waited too long before deciding to have a seat. It took me so long to realize there was a problem because it wasn’t just one bad decision which landed me in my painful situation. I became complacent about being bullied, and in an attempt to avoid confrontation, I found license to ignore the bullying of those I loved and respected, which ultimately turned me into someone that I disliked. After a pattern of poor decisions and ignoring the destruction that resulted, I finally sought out change.
Nonetheless, there is some merit in my victimization. Not only did it give me a topic for this month’s article, but it also taught me that whenever I do not do what is right, by default, I do what is wrong. Consistently acting inappropriately had an adverse impact on me over time and resulted in self-loathing and displacement – an unconscious response involving the transfer of emotions, ideas or wishes from their original object to a more acceptable substitute.
As I attempted to council myself from my own couch, I considered myself the most handsome and intelligent man who had ever sat on it – my humility even impressed me. But this wasn’t really the truth. Despite all this I hated myself. I had been bullied by an authority figure and that relationship motivated me to lie, conceal and resent my situation. Although the bullying had stopped, I was not able to revert back into the person I believed myself to be.
Another dangerous result of being aware of my suffering was the belief that somehow suffering had made me righteous. This false belief was untenable, however, when confronted with the reality that, in addition to being abused, I was also sitting by while my friends and colleagues were belittled. It was this cowardice that I hated the most. What I originally believed to be an act of righteousness turned out to be one of my greatest offenses: doing nothing.
Matthew 21 and Luke 19 talk about Jesus driving out the venders from the temple, turning tables over and angrily rebuking them. Jesus understood that allowing the church to suffer at the hands of the bullying religious elite was wrong. Jesus also understood that turning the other way was not meekness or righteousness, but was sinful. Jesus got angry on behalf of the average believer. Jesus refused to allow His people to be bullied. He stood up to the religious authorities for their sake and for ours. Jesus embodied the truth, as articulated by John Wesley, that there is no “negative good” – justification earned by avoiding wrong. Failure to do the right thing is actually doing the wrong thing.
It would be easy enough to push the blame on to my bully and his unenlightened management practices, but it would be accurate to also acknowledge that, as a Christ-follower, I did not walk in His way when I was given the choice. Instead, I cowered.
I have not really come to a lot of conclusions through my line of work – Christian counselling. Every time I think I have an answer, God sends me circumstances or Bible verses which thrash my assumptions. This has happened enough that I usually don’t bother trying anymore. But I still have a few hypotheses intact. One of these holds that most reasonable people, in a reasonable state of mind, want to do the right thing. What makes that hard is when they have to sacrifice something in order to do right thing. People are rarely brave enough to sacrifice what they are for what they could become. The problem with that is in trying to preserve ourselves, we compromise ourselves.
I made so many excuses for not intervening when I should have that once my opportunity had passed; I forgot what I was trying to protect myself from by my passivity. In doing so, I lost my sense of self and hated what I had become. By repeatedly failing to do the right thing, I eventually lost my sense of moral direction. If you can spare yourself from the inevitable agony I experienced, it’s worth taking the high road.
In my first meetings with clients I always give them the choice to sit in the chair or sit on the couch. Almost everyone chooses the couch but a few have chosen the chair. People usually assume that the choice I give them is some kind of psychological test. I’m not nearly that insightful. I’m just being nice. The point is that I have occasionally sat on my couch, and found that while it is physically comfortable, it is emotionally uncomfortable for me. I do not mind reflecting or even changing, but what I do not like is having to admit that I am wrong about something, especially after spending considerable time in prayer regarding it. I feel even worse when I consider the damage to others my ignorance or cowardice may have caused. But that is just what we can expect when we refuse to do what is right for the sake of what is safe or for the sake of what is considered right enough.
In his book Drops from a Leaky Tap, George Verwer writes, “The good is the enemy of the best.” Given this, we should not settle for what is only good enough while praying for the best. When I suffer I need to ask myself, “Am I suffering out of service to God or neighbour, or am I suffering out of fear of my own loss.” There’s a big difference.
We should seek the blessings which are ours when we boldly chose righteousness, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened,” (1 Peter 3: 13, 14).
A Veggie Tales retelling of the story of Esther holds some good advice to adults alike, “You never have to be afraid of doing what is right.” We shouldn’t be with our Father cheering us on and enabling us with His power.