After this trial broke, I spent the first six or eight weeks getting a foothold. Standing. Resolving not to retaliate, not to sin with my mouth. But as time went on, I realized that obedience to God meant more (but not less!) than outward kindness. God was also concerned with my heart.
I remember a conversation where CJ exhorted me: “Carolyn, we must not only respond with loving words and actions, but we must also honor God with the thoughts and attitude of our heart.”
This was a defining moment. I knew I must move beyond simply standing; I must cultivate a heart of love. This meant, above all, that I had to “Let all bitterness…be put away…forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). I must not harbor or cultivate angry, bitter, or vengeful thoughts and attitudes. I must not allow my soul to harden toward people or toward God.
To begin with, this meant I needed to spend less time reading, following, and focusing on the constant stream of slander against us. The more I read or listened to, and the more I thought about what I had read and heard, the more difficult it was to guard my heart, the more difficult it was to cultivate a heart of compassion and love. So I had to make a conscious choice to stop reading, stop paying attention to the words and actions against us.
This very practical advice came to me from one of the John Piper biographies about the life of Charles Simeon. “Simeon was no rumor-tracker” explains Piper:
”[He] was deeply wronged in 1821. We are not given the details. But when he was asked about his response (which had, evidently been non-retaliatory) he said, “My rule is – never to hear, or see, or know, what if heard, or seen, or known, would call for animadversion [criticism or censure] from me. Hence it is that I dwell in peace in the midst of lions” (Moule, 191).”
This is a very good, godly rule. Charles Simeon made a deliberate, conscious choice to ignore those things that would tempt him to an ungodly response in his heart or actions. And look at the fruit this simple decision produced in his life: he dwelled “in peace in the midst of lions.”
For those of us who feel that we are in the midst of lions today—-maybe your family is hostile toward you, or your co-workers or classmates are critical of your Christian witness, or you are a pastor’s wife whose husband is being slandered—we can dwell in peace. We can choose to stop tracking, following, focusing on the opposition of others. This is the first step toward guarding our heart against bitterness and glorifying God in the thoughts and motives of our heart.