June 3, 2006 | 13 comments

I think that one of my biggest challenges as a Christian is going to be forgiveness. Not even necessarily forgiveness for major transgressions; in some cases I’ve found it easy to forgive people who have done me great wrong since it’s easy to see that they just have major problems in their own lives. But little, petty things often get me really fired up and full of vitriol, and it’s extremely difficult to imagine that I’ll ever get to the point that I can be one of those people who lets minor offenses roll off their backs, simply promising to include the offender in their prayers. For example:

Since I never see any of my friends anymore I decided to have a little get-together to celebrate the impending arrival of baby #2. On the invitations I described it as a Potluck & Baby Shower, and I included a note asking people to bring a dish for the potluck in lieu of gifts. I thought it would be a nice idea to have people bring food instead of gifts since I have all the stuff I need for the baby and have NO room for new stuff (80% of our belongings are already in a storage unit). I hate for my friends and family to spend their hard-earned money on things that I don’t have space for and probably wouldn’t even use.

Anyway, my mother-in-law has some friend who evidently thinks my son is just too cute. She has no children of her own and evidently likes hearing about and seeing pictures of our family, including putting a picture of my son up on her refrigerator. Because of this my mother-in-law is always adamant that I invite this woman to all my events (my first baby shower, my son’s birthday, etc.) even though I’ve never met her. Great, no problem. So I sent her an invitation to this get-together. My mother-in-law called this morning and mentioned that this friend received her invitation, and that her comment about it was, “What’s wrong with these people that they can’t even afford to provide food for their guests?” So, how would my priest say I should respond to that?

RIGHT: “I’m sorry that she isn’t familiar with the concept of a potluck. I do hope she’ll join us anyway. I’ll keep her in my prayers.”

WRONG: “What’s wrong with that [expletive] that she’s never heard of a [expletive] potluck? What an [expletive] [expletive] [expletive]!”

Guess which one was my reply, as I ran to my computer to delete her contact info from my address book to ensure that she never receives another invitation or Christmas card from me again.

I have been on fire and full of ill wishes for this woman all day. Clearly she touched a nerve, probably because I actually can’t afford to provide food for my guests and I feel bad about that. Ever since my husband and I totally realigned our priorities in life we’ve had a lot less money at our disposal, and it’s something I’m self-conscious about.

So that is going to be my spiritual challenge and thought project for this week: trying to conquer my hot-tempered nature and actually practice the whole “as we forgive those who trespass against us” part of the prayer I say every night. Especially for things like this that are really minor in the grand scheme of things, I should be more spiritually mature than to stew about this all day. This woman was created in the image of God just like me and I should let her comment go.

Even if she is a total wench. 🙂


  1. Colleen

    And you thought the tough challenge would come in the form of being tossed to the lions?

    Hah, Hah! Fooled ya. Now that you are one of us, I can tell you that being eaten by lions is much, much easier than being nibbled to death by ducks. And the lady is a duck!

    Actually, she is what is known in evangelical circles as a “grace builder”, i.e. learning to love her, as God does, will help you perfect your imitation of Christ.

  2. Julie D.

    So here’s the prayer I use in these %&$*#&$%% situations.

    “Lord, have mercy on me and bless (insert name).”

    I am always thinking that I need the mercy because I no doubt have been just as annoying to someone else and probably recently. The blessing part goes with St. Augustine’s observation that when God blesses us it is rarely in the way we would expect so he will bless your enemies by changing them.

    Mostly I pray this through tightly clenched teeth with the fist of death held in tight control … but it is an amazing prayer for helping me be who I should be in these situations.

  3. Jennifer

    My thought is that it was rather uncharitable of your MIL to pass on that rude comment.

    Being angry is not a sin–I think her comment was rude.

    Praying for her helps you to forgive and so does time.

    The funny thing about those kinds of slights is that they usually teach me something about a vulnerability I didn’t know I had—which sounds like the case for you with this one. What can you do with that info?

    After spending 10 days with my in-laws I discovered all sorts of vulnerabilities and raw nerves I didn’t even know I had, or that I thought I had over come.

  4. majellamom

    Yep…this is the hard part!

    As for your MIL…I hope she responded “Well, nothing is wrong with them…they are young, living on one income and about to have another baby! It’s always tight times when another baby comes along!”

    Don’t feel bad about not providing food…don’t feel bad that a woman who has never had any kids of her own doesn’t relate to the pressures of raising children (particularly on one income!)

    My hubby used to work with a woman that just drove him NUTS!!! She didn’t do anything in particular…her personality just rubbed him the wrong way! Everytime we went to confession, he’d have to confess about her…and without fail, for penance, he would get a “everytime she starts to get on your nerves, stop and say a prayer for her” kinda thing. (I, on the other hand, from this particular priest always got “Go pray and reflect on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary”…)

    So, that may be a tip for you…after you find yourself cursing people like this…stop and pray for them!

  5. Elena

    I’m with Jennifer – why did your MIL pass this along? I think I’d cut the lady some slack as you don’t know what exactly was said, how it was said, and in what context. I can think of two times in my life when something I innocently said was totally taken out of context – one time it even cost me a job, so unless you’ve actually heard it from this lady’s own mouth, I’d let this one go by.

    It might be interesting next time your MIL says something like that to ask her, “Mom, why would you ever tell me something like that?” see what she says.

  6. Jennifer F.

    Jennifer/Elena –

    Yeah, my MIL shouldn’t have repeated it. Although it was probably the least controversial thing she said all week. I could devote an entire blog to stories about my crazy MIL.

    It was actually kind of funny, when she realized she’d slipped up she tried to make it better by explaining that Mrs. T is just a “really classy lady” who “has a lot of money and is used to the finer things in life.” That, of course, pissed me off even worse than before, as if us unclassy, po’ folk should be more aware when we have quasi-royalty in our presence. The whole conversation was such a train wreck.

    I’m working on the prayer thing, trying to make my prayers more charitable and mature than, “Lord, help Mrs. T not be such a haughty wench.”

  7. SteveG

    I want to agree with all the great advice you’ve gotten here, but also point out something I think is important.

    Please don’t overlook the fact that the simple act of even asking oneself what is the right and wrong way to respond is a MAJOR victory in itself. Think about the transformation that has occurred in how you are at least attempting to respond.

    If you were anything like I was before converting, you’d have been satisfied to stew in your own righteous anger and only see how this affected ‘me’ and would have moved on.

    But now look. You’re new response is….’My gut reaction is not right, is not Christian.’ Are you living out the correct Christian response perfectly? Not likely. Nor is it likely any of us commenters are doing so. BUT, the fact that you and we are at least making an effort is really the biggest step in the process.

    From here, for all of us, it’s a matter of continuing to make that choice, and bit by bit, despite ourselves, we will make progress if we are faithful to that ideal.

    But please don’t blow past the fact that asking yourself these questions at all is the first and biggest step in the process. IMO

  8. GLouise

    Aww- that stinks. How odd for your MIL to pass along something that would only annoy and hurt you.

    LOL at her “classy lady” comment, too. A “classy” person surely wouldn’t make fun of a potluck.

    Sounds like it will be a fun party! Some of my favorite parties have been potlucks with friends.

  9. Georgie Tamayo Clemens

    I love potlucks…especially when pregnant….

    Hang in there Jen, don’t let them ruin your day.

  10. KathyJo

    “I’m working on the prayer thing, trying to make my prayers more charitable and mature than, ‘Lord, help Mrs. T not be such a haughty wench.'”

    LOL Jen, you are cracking me up on this. 🙂 I have serious issues in this area too, and I’ve definitely mumbled a few prayers like that. And I think the next time I run into a Mrs. T, I’m going to be quacking in my head. :} Maybe out loud, if I’m annoyed enough…

  11. Colleen

    You know, I completely forgot to say something about the pot luck aspect to this.

    Not only should you not feel bad but I am pretty sure that at least for some of your friends this is their favorite sort of get together. It is mine. I would far rather do pot luck than go to a formal meal.

    There is something profoundly joyful in a group of women (and it will always be the wimmin folk) getting a meal ready communally. Likewise the clean up. Everyone pitches in, there is always much talk and laughter… what on earth could be better?

    I and my friends always thought when we got out of grad school (i.e. out of poverty) we would have “regular” parties. Some do, of course, but we still choose to do pot lucks because they are just plain fun.

    Don’t feel the slightest bit bad. Be glad! Mrs. Duck doesn’t know what she is missing.

  12. Prospero

    I realize this comment is woefully late- but I had been searching on google and pulled up this post. I agree with everyone else: a.) You MIL was way out of line when she passed this woman’s comment along to you – does she not think about how things can hurt others before she says them?

    However, you need to be called out for throwing yourself a shower. Baby shower, wedding shower, whatever- people should not throw showers for themselves. A potluck party- super fun and a great idea… but to assume that people should give you gifts (even in the form of a dish to pass at a shower thrown by yourself) ranks as an error in your etiquette judgment.

  13. Bonnie

    I just became aware of your blog and have been reading archives, so this response comes only 6 years after you wrote this, (LOL). Since I haven’t gotten to your subsequent posts, I’m sure you’ve addressed this issue again, and have more to say about dealing with the off-hand hurtful comment, but you know, I often wonder about this very touchiness over minor things that seems to be everywhere these days. I’m a baby boomer and was raised a Catholic, so maybe it’s the way kids were raised pre-1965, but as a kid my temper tantrums when I was insulted were, shall I say, frowned upon. I learned not to get myself worked up when insulted, and I learned I was supposed to not react; to “turn the other cheek” because that’s how my parents acted. They typically didn’t get all worked up over snarky remarks by anybody. They just let it go. If I started ranting about some insult or injustice, my parents looked on impassively, as if, big deal. I also learned if you think about the insult, or take it to heart, and worst of all, roll it over in your mind, it just hurts more and grows and grows. The best thing is to not take it in at all, as if someone spoke an untruth. I remember as a little girl an older teenage neighbor told me my very naturally curly hair was “a mess.” I remember thinking, “Only to you.” I never said anything to her, and never cared what she said. My naturally curly hair was a thing envied among the females in my poker-straight haired extended family, so this girl obviously didn’t know what she was talking about. It’s not good become so touchy people have to walk on egg-shells around us. People should know they can speak their minds, and if they misstep, they won’t be flogged for it. We should be at least that nice. Just my two cents worth!

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