I thought about my mom's coworker as I found myself in the middle of a similar situation this week. I confess I get so stressed out at these things. Everything that went on in conversations seemed like personal attacks; maybe I just took it all personally. The only thing that calmed me down coming out of that meeting today was reading the passage below. It had been following me all week, but it took me walking through my own troubles to begin to understand it.
I Thessalonians 5:15-18
15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Paying back wrong for wrong is perhaps one of the biggest temptations that arise out of these situations. And yet when you find yourself backed into a corner, we are told to look out for the other party, even to do what is good for them.
I want to skip down to verse 18 for a second - what is the "this" he's talking about? I think part of what the author, Paul, is trying to tell us is that "this" is that situation where you're tempted to pay back wrong for wrong. "This" is both our troublesome situation, as well as our prayerful, thankful, rejoicing reaction to it. Meaning it both God's will that we go through these circumstances, and it is also His will that we react in a loving way to them.
Why should we??
Let me tell you about these circumstances - they have a greater and bigger purpose than we can ever see while we're still in the midst of them. The bible is full of passages that tell us and show us how troublesome circumstances are actually working for our benefit. James 1 for example:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
What about Joseph who was sold by his own brothers into slavery, only to rise to great prominence in Egypt, enabling him to later save them and a nation? (Genesis 37:12 to 48) Or David, who fought Goliath, battled constantly against enemies, and then friends who became enemies - and then became the king of Israel? Or Jesus himself, crucified - but who is our Savior who sits in Heaven?
So the Bible is full of stories and passages that tell us how God uses our circumstances for a greater - and to us, unimaginable - purpose. What Paul tells us here in 1 Thessalonians is about our attitude as we go through these circumstances.
He calls us to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful.