Why Am I So Defensive?
“Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?” My friend kindly cut me with her question, because she wanted more for me than what I was choosing. We’d spent almost an hour sitting and talking, and I was using our time to explain that someone I cared about was hurting me. I had offered my case, qualifying each piece of my pain with a justification for why they needed to see things my way and change. Right or happy? Were these mutually exclusive? Was my demand to be clean and without fault keeping me from being happy and at peace? Could I expect to be happy when I was so wronged?
A few days later, the question still stung. Jesus invited me to a picture of my heart. In Hugo’s Les Miserables, his character Javert is propelled and controlled by a thirst for justice. He served as a prison guard during his early years in the Paris police force. During his stint, he came into contact with a prisoner whose crime and freedom would haunt him until the day he died. From the day the released prisoner broke parole, Javert began to obsessively follow and track him. Javert’s life was tragic. Any rest or freedom he may have enjoyed disappeared in his hunt to try to force Valjean to repent. Copping Valjean cost Javert his humanity and eventually his life. Conversely, receiving the gift of grace and pardon allowed Valjean to really live.
Jesus showed me how exhausted my heart gets and how twisted my vision gets when I demand that others agree, or live life a better way, or see me as wise, right and good. In this place I rely on my wits and my will to protect me instead of allowing God to do the protecting. In the end, Javert was pinned to the ground by his vigilance. I do not want to end up there. I want to walk in freedom. Others have the right to disagree with me, be disappointed by me, and feel differently than I do.
Relationships are complicated because people are complicated. We have our own hopes, and they often do not coincide with the desires of the people we love. I have lived from a place that demands: “If I can do everything right and help you do the right thing, then I can know that I am good.” Yet, I’ve come to see that I am not the law. I do not have to live for others to think that I am handling life well. Others do not have to conclude that I am wise or righteous.
You and I do not have the strength necessary to defend our own fragile selves. We do not have the strength to keep constantly covered, vigilant about the places where we get seen and are really uncovered. We do not have to defend or demand. And we are not strong enough to defend and demand. It will bend us to a breaking point, as it did Valjean. When we are hurt, gotten to, judged, misunderstood, and we stand there powerless, we can turn and look into the face of the One who takes our defending and demanding and gives us our humanity back. It is a restoration we cannot secure on our own, but He is ready to be generous with us.
Meredith joined The Barnabas Center staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her Bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. Meredith, her husband Jon, and daughter Charlotte live in Fort Mill, SC.