My atheist neighbor offended me this week. He said I was “bereft of intelligence.”
Some interesting dynamics came out of his valuation of me. An agnostic friend witnessed the exchange leading up to the offense and understood immediately that damage was done. He came to my house the next day to help dress my wound and formulate a strategy for protecting my friendship with my atheist neighbor.
As expected, I felt this compelling urge to dismiss my neighbor’s insult because it would be the “Christian thing to do.” I’ve done this a great deal over the years so have a routine for managing emotional pain. I take long walks, journal, think a lot, and build additional layers of protection. I hunker down and absorb the hurt. In other words, I internalize the conflict in order to keep my outward appearance consistent with the expression expected of me as a Christian: smiling, nice, tolerant, peaceful demeanor; you know the drill.
My agnostic friend offered interesting counsel. Sitting by the fire with me, he said, “Preston, you have to embrace the security that must exist between you and your God and live there, untouchable as a person, regardless of what anyone might say about you.” Pretty astute spiritual counsel for an agnostic, wouldn’t you say? I knew God was speaking to me, offering me encouragement, and using the sharpest tool in the drawer at the time: an agnostic buddy.
Next he counseled that I must not tolerate being run over. “I’ve known our friend (my neighbor) for twenty years. He’s never said he was sorry for anything that I know of, but if you let him get away with this, he will lose respect for you. That would be a shame, because then you will lose your voice.”
While taking a long walk, I realized that pretending everything is okay when it is not is a lie. I haven’t taken the time to check this morning, but I think there is a guideline about this in the Bible. I also realized that keeping to myself—in this case, keeping my wounded soul locked away—prevented me from taking the risk of loving and sheltered me from the potential benefit of being loved. Doing what I’ve always done—hiding behind a contrived theology—would stop me from loving myself and would eliminate the chance to love my neighbor as myself. That sounds like a Bible verse as well; will check later.
Spiritual insight and all, my relationship with my atheist neighbor is still compromised. How it resolved is next up.