Have you ever been mean to someone simply because they were mean to you? But getting even doesn’t end the cycle of hurt, does it? So instead of getting even, let’s get ahead.
- Describe a situation where you had to deal with a mean person in your life. How did you respond to them? Looking back, are you satisfied with your response?
- Why do you think it’s so hard to repay unkind acts with acts of kindness?
- Do you have a story in your life to serve as a reminder that you don’t always need to take matters into your own hands? (Maybe a friend stood up for you when you least expected it, or you received a promotion at work just when you thought you couldn’t work that way any longer?)
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So today is part one of a two-part series, entitled, Mean People, and What to do About Them. Mean People, and What to do About Them. I thought about entitling this series, Bad People, and What to do About Them, but we hesitate to call anybody bad. We say things like this, “He’s really not a bad person,” and this is what we say, “He’s really not a bad person, he just does bad things, a lot,” which I think that’s what it means to be a bad person. So we’re not gonna do bad person, we’re gonna do a mean person, we’re gonna stick with mean people, mean people, and specifically what should we do about the mean people in our lives. And by mean, I mean, mean. These are the unpleasant people, these are the deceptive people, these are the people that control us with time or money or with our children, these are the users, they’re just unkind. It may be that person that, when you see them coming, you just don’t wanna interact with them because well, there’s just no other way to say it, they’re just mean. And, to be clear, this isn’t to say that we’re not often mean, all of us have been mean at some point. In fact, there’s somebody maybe who’s gonna see or hear this message, and unfortunately, we’re gonna come to mind.
But generally, what we talk about when we’re together is, how to live a life in such a way, and to live our lives in such a way, that we’re not the mean people. So we’re not discounting the fact that from time to time, we can be mean and certainly have the potential to be perhaps as mean as the meanest person we’ve ever met. But these two messages are gonna focus on how to respond to and how to react to the mean people in our lives.
Now, the reason this is so important is this is, if you don’t have a plan, and if I don’t have a plan, if we’re not prepared, and honestly, as we’re gonna see, if we’re not somewhat proactive, here’s what happens, and we’ve all experienced this. The mean people, the mean people in our lives, ultimately, they gain a measure of control over our lives, and before we know it, we’re actually acting like they do, and it feels in the moment, as if we have no choice. In fact, if somebody were to hear your story, or when you tell your story and you talk about how you’ve reacted to or responded to the person that is mean to you, the person that hears your story is like, “Well, who could blame you? It’s almost like you have no choice.” And the reason it feels like we have no choice is this, that mean people, and we don’t think in these terms when we’re in the relationship, but mean people, without even meaning to, they just keep us off balance, we’re just always off balance, we don’t know what we’re walking into, we don’t know how to respond, they kinda lean left and we kind of lean right, because when we’re off- balance, what happens, we’re forced to compensate. This is why, in these relationships, you feel like you’re not even yourself. In fact, somebody may have said to you, “You know, when you’re around him, when you’re around her, when you’re together, I feel like you’re not even yourself.”
Why? Because, well, when we’re around these kinds of people, we are forced to compensate. If somebody walks up and pushes you off balance, everything in you, you compensate to regain your balance. But the problem with a mean person is, it is impossible, it is virtually impossible to maintain and keep your balance. I’ll give you a quick illustration, that actually is a long illustration, I’m gonna try to keep short. When my mom, who died when she was 82, when my mom was in her late 30s, she met a young woman in her late 20s, that she helped out, and they became life-long friends. Her name was Alice, So then when my mom was in her 70s and basically, she couldn’t drive anymore and she really needed some help at home, Alice would actually drive 45 minutes from her home, every single week, to go through my mom’s mail, pay my mom’s bills, balance my mom’s check book and just answer any questions and just spend time with my mom, which I was so grateful for.
So as my mom neared the end of her life, and as she was less and less able to take care of herself, Alice began to lose her sight, and before long, she couldn’t drive any longer, and she was basically a shut in in her own home. And then Sandra, my wife, began doing for Alice, what Alice had done for my mom. So as time goes by, it becomes clear to us, that Alice can’t stay in their house any longer because technically, she was living alone. We’ll come back to that in just a minute. And so Sandra convinced Alice that she needed to move to assisted living. Now, if anyone here has ever moved a parent or a spouse’s parents to assisted living, it is so complicated. But it’s even more complicated, when we’re trying to move somebody who is not a family member.
So Sandra got an attorney. She became Alice’s official legal power of attorney, and then she got another friend of Alice’s, to become Alice’s medical power of attorney, so there’s kind of a team Alice. So the goal was, get her in assisted living, in fact, Sandra found a place two miles from our house, because we’re committed to Alice for the rest of her life.
Well, anyway, about eight or nine months before that process began, an old friend of Alice’s showed up at her front door, a gentleman in his late 60s, keeping all this straight, and he said, “Alice, I’m destitute. I don’t have a place to live. I’ve been living in my car. It’s getting cold. Would it be okay if I moved in with you for just a few months?” This guy’s name is Roger. But she allowed him to move in to one of her spare bedrooms, and actually, honestly, he was pretty helpful because he could drive and he could take her to her doctor’s visits, he would bring us the mail sometimes, he seemed like the nicest guy, and I couldn’t imagine this was gonna be a problem. Besides, he knew we’re gonna sell her house, and so if we sell her house, you’ll probably have to move out by that point.
And so, we finally have… Alice moved to this assisted living place close to us, that was an event. We get the house cleaned out. We do this big garage sale. Sandra put signs out, that the house is gonna go up for sale, and the real estate market right now, is so hot, so she starts getting calls.
And so Sandra is riding point on this whole process, and then we gotta show the house, but the problem is, there’s… Come see this house, it’s completely empty, except, “Oh yeah, don’t go in that bedroom, there’s an air mattress with some clothes in the closet and a computer on the floor.” Don’t mind the guy camping out in the house.” So it’s gonna be kinda hard to show this house. Well, so she starts showing the house, and so we’re like, “Roger, okay, thank you, you gotta go,” and he just ignores us. So Sandra gives him a deadline, gives him three weeks, by this date. He agreed that, “Hey, on that Monday, I’ll be gone.” Monday comes, Monday goes, he’s still there. And it becomes apparent, he’s not moving out.
So this begins to escalate and escalate and escalate.. So we’re sitting on the couch, late one afternoon, Sandra calls Roger, I said, “Put it on speaker phone.”
So they have this conversation, speaker phone, and he is so rude to Sandra. I’ve never heard anyone speak to my wife this way, I was so angry, and she’s kind of leaning this way, and I’m reaching for the phone, I just wanna take the phone, and say… And she’s like, “No, no, no, no.” And he said, “I’m gonna sue you. You can’t kick me out. The law doesn’t allow you to kick out a renter.” I’m like, “Renter? That assumes rent?” This guy has paid nothing, he’s taking advantage of an 80-year-old woman, we’re trying to close her house so we can put put money in the bank, because there’s a monthly gap between her pension and social security, to stay in this assisted living place, and he is so rude to Sandra.
Now, how do you think we responded to all this? What’s our response? Well, you can imagine, because you can imagine your response. Do you know what we did? And this is kind of embarrassing, and I’m not even gonna give you the details. It’s so embarrassing. We sat around, day after day, night after night, coming up with the most devious, manipulative ways you can imagine, to get Roger out of the house. I’m telling you, there were times we just listened to each other and think, “Who are we? Who have we become?” But we realized what was happening. We’re starting to become like Roger, we’re gonna come in like him, we don’t even like him. It was all we talked about, to the point, honestly.
It was as if Roger had moved in with us, because it so focused our attention every single day, “How do we get Roger out of the house before this closing?” We couldn’t even believe somebody would give us a contract… Give Alice a contract on the house, because they’d never seen the house empty, because there’s a guy camping out in one of the back rooms. Now, in part two, I’m gonna come back and tell you how that story resolved. So yeah, I know. Okay, okay, sorry to do that. But the point is simply this, and you know this, it is so difficult, it is so difficult to be good to people, who just aren’t good.
No matter what kind of faith you have, in the moment, it is so difficult to be kind to people who just… Seems like, in their heart, they’re just unkind or sensitive to people who are insensitive. The golden rule, it just doesn’t seem to apply. You know the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have others… What is it? Do… Yeah, “Do unto you.” And this is great, until somebody mistreats you, and it’s great until somebody mistreat me or mistreats somebody that I love. And for me, in this particular story, it’s a double edged sword, because I love Alice and I wanted us to help Alice, but I was watching my wife be mistreated at the same time, and I’m supposed to do unto Roger as I would have Roger do unto me? And suddenly, the golden rule is out the window. Now, it’s the iron rule.
I just made this up, but you understand the iron rule. It’s do unto others as they have done unto you. And this doesn’t only feel natural, it doesn’t always just feel natural to treat people the way they’ve treated us, in the moment, it just seems right, it just seems fair. In fact, I were to go into detail, about some of these crazy ideas we had, to get Roger out of the house, after hearing just the part of the story I’ve told you, you would be like, “Well, yeah. Why wouldn’t you do all that? It just seems right. It seems fair, it seems just, it seems even.” And then there’s this when we’re mistreated in a relationship and we feel powerless to do anything about it, again, we’re off balance. We compensate, but sometimes we compensate, not in the relationship with the person that threw us off-balance. You’ve seen this happen. We compensate in another relationship, we compensate somewhere, or with somebody else.
I’ll take it out on you, because I can’t take it out on him, I can’t take it out on her, I can’t get back at them, I can’t go back into the office and take it out on the people that mistreated me at work, but I’ve got all this energy, I’m off balance. And then, it’s do unto others, it’s do unto others, as someone else has done unto you. So, round and round and round, it goes. And you know what, we’ve all been there at some level, maybe not a big level, but at some level, we’ve all been a part of this dynamic. So here’s the question, here’s what we’re talking about. What do we do? What do you do about the mean people?
You can’t ignore them, that’s impossible. And if you ignore them, you know what they do, they just keep chipping away, chipping away, chipping away, and eventually, we break and we react, and then it’s like we’ve given them even more power over us. So ignoring them isn’t the way forward and getting even isn’t the way forward, but fortunately, there’s a third option. It’s a third option that, it’s not intuitive, it’s a third option that actually decreases their power over us, and honestly, it’s the third option that allows us to guard and protect our hearts, and it positions us when this is said and done, to tell a much better story. Of course, the way forward is taught and modeled by Jesus, but it’s also modeled in the old testament, by a relatively unknown individual, whose life intersects with the life of David.
Now, many of us, if you go up around church or in church, are familiar with who King David was. But this event doesn’t take place when he’s King David, or even shepherd boy David, this event takes place when he is fugitive David. After David, as a teenager, killed Goliath, you remember that story, he becomes a hero, a national hero in Israel, in ancient Israel, and so King Saul, the King at the time, draws him in close because David’s a leader, he’s a national hero, you wanna keep your friends close, you wanna keep your potential rivals even closer. And then King Saul gets word, that some rogue prophet has gone to David’s home, as a little boy and anointed David to be the next king of Israel. Now, this is a real problem, if you’re already the king, because not only do you wanna finish out your years as King, you want your son, in his case, Jonathan, to become the next king. So this is now… Now, this is messing with his dynasty.
So King Saul tries to kill David, David escapes, he becomes a fugitive, he’s living out in the wilderness, he’s had to leave his family over time because he’s a leader, he attracts other men like him, other angry, mistreated outlaws. They’re outcast from society, they have no place to call home, and they’re all angry because each of them have their own story of being mistreated and the injustice that had happened under King Saul. So David’s got all this anger and all this frustration, and of course, like any of us, he’s looking for a place to sort of take it out, somebody to take it out on, because King Saul is untouchable. And in this story, he finally finds a victim, and that’s where the story picks up.
So I’ll read part of the story and then we’re gonna stop in the middle, pick it up next time. So here’s what happens, a certain man, this is in 1 Samuel 25, and Samuel is essentially David’s biographer in a sense, “A certain man in Maon who had property there in Carmel was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats.” And when you read this in ancient times, it’s just like, “Hah,” for us, it’s like, “What would you do with a thousand goats?” Anyway, so he had a thousand goats, garage is full of cars, think of it that way, he had three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. And his name was Nabal. Now, sheep shearing season in ancient times, this is when wealthy people found out how much wealthier they had just become, this was like… It’s like a financial report, an annual financial report.
He’s about to find out how much profit he turned. So the story continues, “His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was harsh and mean in his dealings.” In fact, his name, his name actually means heavy, and this Hebrew word here actually means heavy. He was basically a pain to deal with, he was a burden to deal with, he was, in fact, the text tells us, he was just a mean person. Text continues, “While David and his men were in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep.” So he was like, “Hey, this rich guy is about to get richer.” “So he sent 10 of his young men and he said to them, I want you to give Nabal a message, Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. So when you show up, let everybody know you’re coming in David’s name and say to him, greet him this way, say ‘Long life to you Nabal, good health to you and your household and good health to all that is yours.'” This was a formal ancient greeting that basically said, I come in peace. “And then make sure you give him the message.”
And here’s the message, “When your shepherds, when your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them. The whole time they were at Carmel, nothing of theirs went missing.” In other words, while your shepherds were out watching over their flocks by night, night after night after night, during that season, our men were all around them all the time and we never stole anything, so there’s a sense in which your profit, your profit is due in part to our protection. Not only did we not allow our men to steal anything from you, we didn’t allow the other rogues in the area to steal anything from you as well, and he said, “And if you don’t take my word for it… ” This message continues this way, “Ask your own servants, and they’ll tell you. Therefore, be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. And please, if you would. Please give your servants and your son, David, whatever you can find for them.” In other words, you’re gonna have extra, we kinda helped you create that extra, if you wouldn’t mind shearing with us, that would be, that would be great.”
So when David’s men arrived, they went to Carmel, when they arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name, and then they waited and they waited, and they waited, because Nabal was making them wait.
But eventually Nabal sends his answer, or perhaps he comes out and gives the answer himself, it’s not clear, Nabal answered, and here’s what he said, “Nabal answered David’s servants, who is this David? You come in David’s name, who is David? Who is this son of Jesse?” So he knew who David was, but he’s like, “You know what? Yeah, we’ve heard of David, and you think he’s such a big deal, he’s not such a big deal. Who is this guy? Hey, come on. He’s just one of many. Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Your master is a nobody. Your master is an outlaw. I didn’t ask for his help, I didn’t need his help, I don’t owe him anything. So no, I’m not gonna shear with David and his band of merry men. You are dismissed.” Why, he says, “Why? Why should I take my bread and water and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers and give it to men coming from… Where did you come from again? So, no, you’re dismissed.”
So David’s men turned around and they went back and when they arrived, they repeated every word. And then David said to his men, “Oh, wow. It was worth a try.” No, David actually said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword.” So they did. And then an interesting detail in the text, “And David strapped his own as well,” in other word, you mess with me, and you will see, you mess with me, and you will pay. Now, there’s a reason, I think, why the author highlights David arming himself with his sword, because David’s sword was like no other sword. David’s sword was actually a reminder that he did not need to return evil for evil. David sword was actually a reminder that he did not need to take matters into his own hands. In fact, I’m just curious. Do you know where David got his sword? Anybody?
Goliath, that’s right. He got his sword from Goliath. So Goliath sword is a visual aid of God’s promise of protection and provision to David. God had chosen him. God had raised him up as a teenager. God had anointed him as King, he did not need to take matters into his own hands. Of anybody on the planet at that time, David was the one person who could turn to God for help, and God would in fact intervene on his behalf. But David is hurt, David is angry, and he can’t see any of that. And to him, it’s just an oversized sword. The story that goes with the story, he’s forgotten the story. He’s forgotten God’s provision because he’s so angry and he’s so hurt, and he redirects his frustration with King Saul, who’s untouchable, toward Nabal.
We’ve all heard that hurt people, hurt people, this is a case of haunted people haunt people. So he sets out. And it’s so interesting because the biographer once again let’s us get inside David’s head. He begins internally to build up a head esteem, to build his case. He’s gonna build a case to justify what he’s not a 100% sure he should be doing. You ever, ever do that?
“Hey, Andy, I got an idea,” I think this was Sandra’s idea, “Hey, let’s go into the house when Roger is not there and slice his air mattress, let’s fold it up, put it on the street with his cloths and his computer and change the locks.” It might have been my idea. Anyway, you just visualize, what can we do to get back at this person that has done so much to us? In fact, here’s what the biographer says that David had just said to his guys, “It’s been useless, all my watching over this fellows property, kind of building up his case, in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. All this I’ve done for him. Think of all the things I’ve done for him, think of all the nights we’ve stayed that, think of all the things we could have stolen, think of how wealthy we could already be. But what has he done? He has paid, he has paid me back evil for good.” Then he invites God [chuckle] into the equation. “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave one male of all who belonged to him alive,” in other words, I’m gonna murder him, I’m gonna kill his male servants, and I’m gonna kill his sons, that will teach him to treat me this way.
So we’re gonna pause the story there. But here’s what we have so far, we’ve got two characters, we have two responses, and we have no hero, right. We have Nabal. We have David. Evil for good. David did good, he responded with evil. David, who’s about to do evil for evil. Nabal is somewhat maniacal, and David is about to be predictable. Who could blame him for what he’s about to do. And sometimes, again, it just seems like evil for evil is the only option. It turns out, as I said earlier, it’s not. There’s a third option, and we’re gonna talk about that in part two. But here’s what I want you to do between now and part two. I wanna give you four questions to think about. And again, I would prefer you not to think about these through the filter of other people, but just through what’s going on right now in your life with the people that are difficult to deal with? You may not consider them mean people, it may not be an extreme, or it may be very extreme.
Question number one is this, do you wanna be even with someone you don’t even like? No. I already know the answer to this question. No, we don’t. But our natural response to mean people oftentimes is an attempt to get even with people we don’t even like, to be like someone that we would readily admit that we dislike. And again, we think somehow once we get even, that ends it. But that doesn’t end it, right, that doesn’t end the cycle, it actually perpetuates it. It just goes on and on and on. So do you wanna be part, or do I wanna be part of perpetuating that cycle? Question number two, wouldn’t you rather be ahead? Do you want to get even with someone you don’t even like, or wouldn’t you rather be ahead? Wouldn’t you prefer to be unlike the person or the people that you dislike? And this is so, I said earlier, this is so not intuitive, but here’s the thing, and when I say it, you know it’s true, unlike any other arena of life, you actually relationally pull ahead by refusing to get even.
And that leads to our third question that we ask a lot around here within a several different contexts, And the third question is this, when this is nothing more than a story you tell, what story do you wanna tell? When your response to this current relationship is nothing more than a story you tell, what story do you wanna tell them? Do you wanna help a story that I ended up just like the person that I dislike because I allowed them to infuriate me into acting just like them, it’s not a good story, it’s not the story that any of us wanna tell them. And then the fourth question, the fourth question is the onramp to the solution. The fourth question is the onramp to pulling ahead. And the fourth question sets us up and puts us in this uncomfortable space that we know we probably should step into, and if you’re a Jesus follower, if you’re a Christian, you know with certainty you’ve been called to step into, but it’s so uncomfortable.
The fourth question is this, what would it look like… And you don’t have to commit to this, you just have to have an internal conversation. What would it look like to return good for evil? Not just refuse to react or to react in like kind, but to be kind. Not just refuse to be bad, but to take seriously the words of Jesus, because he was so direct about this. There’s is a lot of things Jesus said we have a hard time figuring out, that this is too clear. He said, “I want you to do good to those who mistreat you. Don’t just put up with them. Don’t just forgive them. Don’t just ignore them. Don’t just try not to be like them.” Jesus says, “No, that’s not enough. I want you to think through how to do good to those who mistreat you.” Because Jesus knew that doing good to people who have not been good to us is ultimately what frees us, but protects our heart. Getting even is natural. It’s predictable. Jesus has invited us to be unpredictable.
Jesus has invited us to do something extraordinary. It’s as if he’s saying, “Don’t be predictable. Don’t write a predictable story. Write a remarkable story. Write that story that’s worth telling.” And what will determine whether or not that story is worth telling, is not what the other person does, ’cause you have no control over that. It is 100% right here in our decision, whether or not to respond either in light kind or to be kind to do good for those who have mistreated us. Remarkable begins with an honest answer to this question, what would it look like, what would it look like to return good to people? What would it look like to do good to the person who has mistreated you? Because you don’t pull ahead by attempting to get even. And we will pick it up right there next time in Part Two of Mean People.