Doormat Mythology and the Gethsemane Option

As we've been working through a Peacemakers series with the DJY team and thinking through our responses in and to conflict, the subject of "being a doormat" has come up.  As Americans, we have a cultural tendency to want to insist on our (inalienable!) rights.  As followers, we're told, "Do not resist the one who is evil... love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you..." (Matt 5:38-48)  Some of us in the group have a tendency to avoid conflict by running away from it, literally or figuratively.  Some have hearts that are passionately opposed to injustice.  

We have a lot of good conversations.

Concurrent with this study, I've been working through material for Wheaton classes and studying Matthew.  As my mind works on synthesizing everything, I've been thinking through the mythology that underlies my interpretation of responses to conflict.


photo by Chris Lawton
[First, a note on mythology: "No single accepted definition of myth exists, but the general sociological approach is to consider myths to be culturally derived instruments which serve as paradigms of behavior. The primary issue with myth is not whether it is truth, but how it operates in the belief system of the culture. Not necessarily tied to any single story, myths are large, controlling images which give meanings to the events of life. They are inculcated in the fabric of our lives through stories, values, morals, etc."  ~ from Dr. Moreau, adapted from Paul Hiebert.]

Here, I think, is the American mythology of response in conflict: flight, fight, or doormat.  You can run away, counter-attack (or preemptively attack,) or stay and get walked all over.

But as I've been thinking and reading Bold Love by Allender and Longman and talking with people and listening to what they've been learning, I've been wondering about a fourth option, one which may look like being a doormat but is completely different.  I don't know what to call it -- maybe Gethsemane -- the option to intentionally remain for the good of another.  He asks for another way, but He submits.  And He stays.  He asks for the storm to be averted, but He doesn't move Himself out of its path.  As I read about His silence through His trial, my American heart is moved to something between confusion and scorn and distraught lack of understanding.  Do something, I want to say to Him.  Say something, they're all wrong, why don't you say something?  

I always think that Peter and I would not have gotten along very well, but it's probably because we're a little too similar.  When a crowd comes to drag off your best friend, and He's not running away, and He's not fighting, you should fight for Him.  Obviously.

I read the command and promise in Matthew 10: "...do not be anxious about how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you," and I assume that means plenty of words.  As many as I'd like to say in such an instance, only, you know, more eloquent and effective.

From the story of the supremely unjust trial, and His very very few words, I'm led into the uncomfortable realization that I might be profoundly mistaken.  I squirm at seeing the extent to which, although it's easy to brush off His non-resistance as "being a doormat," as passive in this conflict, it's anything but.  He is actively choosing to restrain His authority.  His apparent failure to respond is an engagement; rather than becoming ashamed of their envious,  malicious motives, the others continue in their mockery of a trial and go on to crucifixion.  It looks like defeat.  It looks like failure.

But in fact, it's the most glorious reversal.  In the resurrection, the brilliant strategy of His plan becomes evident and He emerges as the Victor.  

This, in turn, gives an option to His people of a weapon -- a tool -- for conflict that the enemy seems unable to fully grasp, anticipate, or counter: the choice to love sacrificially.  To surrender your own short-term apparent well-being for the long-term, even eternal, good of another.  We can choose to stay, not out of fear or because you think you're worth so little that you deserve nothing but abuse, but because our identity as beloved children is secure forever, because we have been drawn into the fellowship of the One who loved us even unto death.

As I think about this in my own life, the implications for how I engage in relationships and approach my role in the many instances of conflict that arise in a broken world full of broken people, I remember back to an instance about a year ago when I was in Bloomington.  There was a massively huge storm happening in the evening as I went home from Crumble, as happens in the spring in Indiana.  It was glorious and breathtaking and I was drenched.  The winds and lightning and thunder could have been terrifying (and maybe it would have been healthy to be a little bit more terrified...) but I was mesmerized.  Rather than heading into my apartment, when I got to our courtyard, I simply went into the gazebo to watch and enjoy the storm.  

If I felt safe there -- secure and awed and dizzy with happiness over the stunning beauty of the storm, a force that's so much stronger and greater than me -- how much more should I feel safe in the rest of my life?  I have a far greater shelter than a flimsy wooden gazebo.  Although I knew that there was maybe danger in staying outside, I was so drawn to be in the midst of the beauty of the raging storm that I didn't want to leave.

If I really trust that He works all things for good, how much more often will I want to stay, even in the midst of messy situations and relationships, so that I'll have the joy of being witness to the good that He brings?


...

Your thoughts are warmly welcome.  

(Books that I've read that I continue to see shaping my thoughts on these topics are Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp and The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.)

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