"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way consider it an opportunity for great joy." - James 1:2
This past week I came home to a violation notice stuck to my front door. A Community Service Officer noted that my husband and I were in violation of code 9-13. In the town where I live, other than trash day, we are not allowed to leave our garbage cans where they can be seen from the street. Who knew? Not me! The previous week we were blessed with over 19 inches of snow. So I told my son to put our two garbage cans in front of the garage, instead of wheeling them around to the back of our house. Thus, our garbage cans were visible from the street, and we were in violation of code 9-13.
The minute I saw the note I encountered a wave of emotions, first was fear, Oh My Gosh, what is this about, what is wrong, what happened? The second emotion was confusion, what does code 9-13 have to do with us, what is this all about? The third was disbelief, seriously, on a freezing cold winter day in the mid-west, our community officers have nothing better to do then drive around the city streets to see if they can see our garbage cans? My tax dollars in action! Finally what I felt was anger. For some reason it just welled up in me and took over my thinking. We have been wronged! What an injustice!
I always tell my students, whenever you feel a strong emotion, take a deep breath, let it out and try to figure out what you are really feeling. Do not re-act by acting in haste, but give a little time before moving forward. Say a prayer or a one minute meditation to get your feelings in check. I tell them to focus on the words of Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."
Did I head my own advise? Nope! I ran to the phone and called the community officer, who so graciously left his name and number on the citation. I did not just dial the phone, I punched each of the digits in the phone number with a bit of directed force. Alas, he was not available, but his voice mail was! So I left him a message along the lines of - What were you thinking? You seriously had to do this now, in the middle of a cold snap after a large amount of snow? Was any thought given to circumstance or even Acts of God! (to give myself some credit, I did hold my voice to a terse but civil tone, at least I think I did).
I kept thinking about the injustice of it all. I needed to defend my stand (and my garbage cans!) I have been wronged and I wanted to be sanctified. I wanted justice!
After my call, I went upstairs to my husband's office to tell him that I had just called the city about the citation. He shared that he knew that I called and that he heard every word that I said loud and clear. He also suggested that I might want to watch my back whenever I leave the house in the coming months! (he was just joking. I think?!)
After I had some time to quiet down my wayward emotions, I tried to figure out why I was so mad. The citation was just a note to let us know that our garbage cans were not where they should be. There was no fine or penalty associated with it. To be absolutely honest about it, I chose to put the cans in the front. In my defense, I did not know about code 9-13, but ignorance is not an excuse.
When I tried to figure out what I was really angry about I realized that it was guilt that I was feeling. Like having a teacher single me out in class for some unacceptable behavior. I did not like being told that what I did was wrong. Instead of following the Psalm 46:1 "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." I chose the Psalm of an angry King David. Psalm 74:11 "Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!"
The first thing I thought was, what a waste of my energy. I should have done nothing more than acknowledge it, get my son to move the cans to our backyard and get on with my life. Lesson learned. I can not take back what I said and did. I can move forward with a better understanding of my emotions. I need to choose my battles and be able to justify them, not let my emotions rule them.
I started to think of situations where others have felt the need to share their frustrations with me. I work in a customer service environment, often our customers feel the need to verbalize their frustrations. Our church is going through some stressful times right now, and it is often that someone feels the need to share their views on the the decisions that are being made. I have two teenage children, enough said on this front.
I can now see that I need to use these times as an opportunity to be present and show care. To give some time and space for them to get to a "better place" in their emotions. A time to remind my friends and children the words from Psalm 34:19 (Msg); "Disciples so often get into trouble; God is there every time."
I want to share with you the words Jesus spoke in John 14:27, "I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn't fragile like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid."
Those are the words that I hope to remember the next time an injustice comes knocking at my door.