What to do When You Know You’re Right!

What to do when you know you’re right by Robynn

There are times when I know I’m right. My passion lines up with solid morality. I’m thinking about justice and the poor. I’m convinced about the rights of the underprivileged. I’m concerned about global issues…big things, heart things, just things, right things. I have the answers to many of life’s big questions.

Certainly, there are lots of times I don’t have a clue….but there are other times when I’ve really got this. I’m really right.

I believe strongly in climate change.

I am convinced that war is wrong.

I am absolutely positive that we need to have mercy on the poor.

I know grace is vital to the health of the church.

These are just some of the things I know.

I also know that our definition of “pro-life” is too narrow, the role of women in the church needs to be broadened, the word, “evangelical” has been muddied by culture and politics. People long to have purpose and to be loved. I know it’s good to eat fresh foods. A good book is a great escape. Another person’s insomnia is not something I can solve. There’s nothing better than a good cup of coffee…unless it’s creamy masala chai! And Pakistani food ranks among some of the finest on the globe.

And these are times when I’m right. And I know it.

But sometimes it’s hard to know what to do when you’re right and (it seems like) everyone else is wrong. Being right doesn’t amount to much in the bigger scheme of things. If I’m marked by my own rightness I quickly become arrogant and obnoxious. No one likes a know-it-all…even when it’s me that knows it all. How can I be right without slipping into self-righteousness?

Ages ago I was at a women’s retreat. A group of women had come together for a break just outside New Delhi. The retreat included times of teaching and worship, times of laughter and fun, times of intimacy and vulnerability. I remember it fondly. The speaker at the retreat was teaching through one of the epistles from the New Testament. While I agreed with her on the broader themes, I was confounded by her particular emphasis on a few of the minor points. She seemed to major on those minor points though and that exasperated me. And much to my surprise, some of the women attending the retreat really seemed to be moved by her message. I was annoyed. I was distracted. I was right.

I left one of the sessions to walk around the gardens. I was seriously convinced of my own rightness. In the center of the gardens there was a large peepal tree. I walked around and around it, laying out my exasperation to God in prayer. Suddenly mid-way ‘round the tree I was stopped in my tracks. The Holy Spirit welled up in me a conviction of uneasy sin. I wasn’t allowed to be consumed by my own rightness. It was choking me. It was strangling love for my sisters in the other room. It was eroding unity. It was destroying the tree.

It was like I was suddenly shown this picture of a big, big tree, not unlike the one I was madly circling. The tree was the church universal, spread out, stretching, reaching, growing, alive. The massive trunk stood tall and strong. Branches divided and subdivided. Some twisted and turned. Others grew together and then split out again reaching for a different piece of sky. I was reminded of denominations, of Catholics and Protestants, of Orthodox and Calvinists; of Lutherans and Charismatics. The tree was huge. It was multi-ethnic. It crossed cultures and communities. The leaves danced in the breeze: old women, young men, children, the broken, the wounded, the lame whispering in different dialects, laughing in various languages. Instantaneously I knew I was just one small, shaky leaf on a very large, deeply rooted Ancient old Tree. I was pronouncing judgment on parts of the tree that I had no idea about. I was arrogant. I was haughty. I was wrong.

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I might have had insight into my little corner of the wild branches, but I dared not guess at what pruning needed doing on the other side of the tree. I had no idea where fertilizer was needed, where branches needed lopping off, where grafting was going on. I was ignorant and it was not becoming.

There was a Gardener who loved that Old Tree. He knew what He was doing.

I shut my mouth. I apologized to the big tree. I confessed my pretentions and my toploftiness for what they were: sins ugly and horrid. And I returned to the retreat.

Years later, I still struggle often thinking I know what’s right. I still am sometimes so convinced of my own perspective. My opinion feels like gospel truth.

The other night I heard an interview on the radio with author, R.J. Palacio, who wrote the children’s book, Wonder. In the book she quotes author and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer who says, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

That stuck. That really is our only option. We aren’t allowed to be consumed by how right we are. We have to push past it. We have to “choose kind”. Love must be our modis operandi, our language of negotiation. Kindness must dictate our humble response.

The apostle Paul understood that if he could speak all the languages of earth and if he understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge but didn’t love others he would be nothing. He went on to say, “Love is….kind. It doesn’t demand it’s own way….Special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever…!”

So what do you do when you know you’re right? You move past it. You love. You choose kind.

I have a long ways to go. I should probably go find a tree to pray around.

18 thoughts on “What to do When You Know You’re Right!

  1. I love this, Robynn, and it brings me back to one of my public relations professors when I was at University of Texas. He said, “Sometimes you will have to choose between getting something done and getting credit. I hope you choose to get something done.” His word have resonated throughout my life and I would like to say I have fulfilled his hopes. I would also like to think that that was mostly the be-kind option.

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    1. Thanks Stacy. I appreciate your spirit and your humility. Your professors words ring true for me too. Thanks for all that you’ve been willing to do and not receive credit for…thanks for choosing that quiet kindness.

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  2. Learning that my job is not the gardener’s has been my way of dealing with I am right. Unless you are hurting someone I will not interfere. Can you tell one of the things I know I am right about is hurting is always wrong. I spend most of my time trying to help those who have been hurt by others and challenging people to stop hurting. I have many opinions I am not willing to die for, therefore yours can be totally different. Knowing how very many of my opinions have changed over the last seventy years I am not dogmatic about much.

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    1. The perspective and wisdom that must surely come with age….thank you for your comments. Thank you also for the work you do for the ‘hurting’. Grace to you.

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  3. Augustine said it: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
    The trick is to learn what the real essentials of faith are, and to hold our strong convictions in humility as well. I too “knew” a lot more when I was young!
    Thank you Robynn for good thoughts well expressed. I love the tree picture, the photo as well as your comparison with the Church.

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  4. I knew a lot more when I was young than I do now. I shudder when I recall some of the pronouncements and judgments I made, and I’m grateful for people who gently (or not so gently) gave me other ways of looking at the issues. Major personal failures have given me compassion on other people who struggle and fail. Having lived in several countries and worked with people from all over the world helps me see more than typical American viewpoints on issues. With friends who work in government, I have learned that what is reported in the media isn’t usually the whole story. There is so very much I don’t know.

    I’ve been surrounded at different times by very convinced Calvinists, Catholics, Orthodox, charismatics, and evangelicals, all of whom have compelling arguments for at least some of their beliefs, and I’m grateful for all of them, but in each movement I find things that seem not quite right. The one thing I’m sure of is God’s grace, realized by the birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit, and that this grace is vastly bigger than most of us realize. It ought to be the basis and motivation of all our thoughts and actions.

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    1. It is funny…the older I get the less I know about some stuff….but the older I get the more I know about other stuff–and it’s in that stuff that I feel even more convinced. Interestingly most of what I’m passionate about is usually about Christ-crucified and Applied. Certainly the humility of Jesus must accompany that kindness I wrote about.
      Thanks for commenting today.

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    1. I could write that book Jill…but then we’d have to cut down the tree to make the paper to print the book….:) Thanks for your perpetual encouragement! I appreciate you.

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