Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Little things

Sometimes, I think we can let little things affect us too much. Let me give you an example from my real life.

This happened my senior year of high school. We had a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands come and live with us. He and I both used the same bathroom in our house. Alongside the mirror/medicine chest there were fluorescent lights that would come on along with the ceiling light when you turned on the light switch. But these fluorescent lights could be turned off with a separate switch on the side of the medicine chest, so that they would stay off when the ceiling light was turned on.

I preferred having these lights on. Our foreign exchange student liked them off. I would get annoyed when I would turn the light on and the fluorescent lights would not come on, as well. I expressed my dismay by putting a note on the wall by the light switch asking that the lights be left on, or at least turned back on when he was done (passive aggressive much?). That didn't work. In fact, I found the note crumpled in the trash can in the bathroom and the lights were turned off. So I resorted to my next course of action which was to put an ungodly amount of scotch tape on the switch so that it was immobilized in the "on" position. That worked nicely until the next time I came into the bathroom and the tape had been removed and thrown away, and the lights were off.

I was sure that he was doing this just to make me angry. And maybe he was. Or maybe he was sure that I was doing what I was doing just to make him angry. Either way, we both thought that the way that we wanted the lights to be was the way they should be. And neither of us was willing to budge.

When I think back to it now, I think that's extremely silly. How hard was it to turn the little knob to get the lights to be the way that I wanted them to be? So what if they were off when I came into the bathroom? It was not that much effort to turn them on. Unfortunately, because we both let this little thing mean so much to us, it only made things worse. We ended up arguing about just about everything. We were seldom in the same room of the house at the same time. I remember one afternoon my parents had had enough. They sat us both down at the dining room table and we were going to talk about what was going on and figure out how to solve it. They had good intentions, but both of us maintained that it was the other who was unwilling to make the effort. Ultimately, my parents decided that what was best for both of us was for him to go and live with the family of one of his friends from school. They didn't think it was fair for either of us to live in that situation, and so for both of our sakes he went to live elsewhere.

I have deleted and rewritten parts of this post several times. I've debated whether to post it at all. I think it portrays me in a fairly negative light, as the kind of person that I don't want people to think that I am. The me in this story seems intolerant, unforgiving, obstinate, self-centered, and fairly obnoxious. And to top it all off, this side of me was brought out by a light switch! There's a part of me that doesn't want the story portraying me in that way to be posted for anyone to read.

It's definitely not something I'm proud of, but I've decided to post it because I think it might describe more people than just me. We get so caught up in the way that we think things should be and the way that we want people to do them, that we often forget that those are people are just that - people.

I started this blog post and I was thinking about things like toothpaste and toilet seats. A friend of mine on facebook posted a status about how she was having to have the toothpaste tube conversation with her partner, meaning one of them was squeezing the tube in the middle while the other preferred it to be squeezed out from the bottom. Now, I don't believe at all that my friend was posting this as a life or death, take it or leave it situation. But it got me thinking of the people I have seen get upset about stuff like that. Or by someone leaving the toilet seat up, rather than putting it back down. Now, I might be seeing this from a different viewpoint because I am a male and, therefore, often the culprit for leaving toilet seats up. But, really, in all honesty, how hard is it to take a tube of toothpaste that has been squeezed in the middle and squeeze the toothpaste up from the bottom? Or how hard is it to look at the toilet and see the seat is up and then put it down (for either side of the issue, really). But these things get blown out of proportion and we see that our way is, obviously, the right way.

But the more I thought about it, and as I started writing this post, I began to see that this not only affects little things in our lives, but it also affects big things, too. Like who's allowed to be in our country, or who's allowed to be legally married or to be a pastor. Or who's allowed to have access to healthcare.

We get so caught up with what we want, and how we like things, and we decide that those are the right and correct ways to do them. We can begin to vilify or demonize those who do them differently. We think that because they are not like us and they don't do things the way we do them that they are evil or bad or ignorant or whatever comes next on our list of bad things. We fail to look at that person who squeezed the toothpaste from the middle of the tube and think that we really have more in common than we have differences. So what if I want the toilet seat down and they left it up. That doesn't mean that they are a bad person or that they have nothing good to offer.

I think I missed out on a great opportunity. I had a person in my house who was from another country, who spoke a different language, who had grown up with different customs and traditions, who saw things differently and heard things differently and understood things differently than I did. It was someone who I could have learned from and shared things with. He could have helped me see things from a different perspective. But because I got so caught up and angry about that stupid light switch, I stopped seeing him for who he was and what he could offer, and I only saw him for what he did that I didn't like.

And that is not what we are called to do. That is definitely not seeing Christ in our neighbor, or loving our enemy, or any of those things that Jesus said were so important.

What would I have said if it were Jesus who was turning off the lights in the bathroom? Who am I to say it wasn't?


  1. I don't know how I stumbled upon your blog, but I did several months ago, and just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post. It's so true how much we can let petty annoyances cause us to forget about the importance of each other's humanity and individuality and about the inherent worth of all people... no matter their habits or traditions or customs.

    Wouldn't the world be a much more peaceful, loving place if we all were were able to better practice patience with each other, honest communication with our neighbors (who might initially appear very different from ourselves), and respect for experiences and opinions that are different from our own, seeing them as opportunities to expand our grow our own soul's horizons instead of viewing them as a source of friction and frustrations in our lives?!

    What a great reminder this story is to not 'sweat the small stuff' when it comes to our interactions with others and to keep our mind and heart focused in a place of compassion, empathy, and love for the diversity of humankind. Thanks for this :)

  2. Mark I think we need to get you setup to blog on our church website. Not to replace this blog, but instead to bring these types of posts to our church family.

    You have a real gift for writing and I think it would be beneficial to everybody if we looked at expanding how you share that gift.