For many years I operated under an ideology summarized by the mantra, “as long as my side of the street is clean.” In other words, other people will make poor choices, sin, and do wrong. But that shouldn’t affect me as long as I make sure I am not doing the same. The focus is on myself and ensuring that I am doing what is right. It becomes a division between me and all of “those” offenders. Of course, I can’t control others and the choices they make. But does that mean that I also stop caring about them?
I perceive this thinking filtering into my parenting too. When I pick my children up at school, sometimes they might tell me about another child who spoke inappropriately. I tell my kids, “Well, just make sure you aren’t doing those things.” Of course I don’t want my children making sinful choices. Does that mean I shouldn’t care about the other children who are?
What is “my” side of the street anyway? Should I really wrap myself in this self-righteous cocoon, tending my hurt feelings by assuring myself that at least I haven’t done anything wrong? I wonder if the Pharisees felt that they kept their side of the street clean by arranging for Our Lord’s crucifixion.
Even if (and that’s a big if) I don’t personally ghost someone or hurt or annoy another, that doesn’t mean someone else’s poor actions justify my cutting them off, leaving them to tend their— apparently much dirtier—side of the street alone.
Maybe justice says I can ignore the friend who first ignored me, who never responded to my text message or email. However, mercy says otherwise. Mercy says: perhaps there is a reason why this friend didn’t reply. Instead of admiring my own side of the street, priding myself on never being the one who doesn’t respond, I could cross that empty space, reach past my hurt pride of being ignored, and extend a word of friendship.
Sometimes offering a smile to someone who hurt you is a tremendous sacrifice. He or she may never know what it cost you to give that smile. Our Lord knows though. And He knows that, deep down, you were really smiling at Him, present in that person who hurt you.
In the grand scheme of things, someone else’s mess is my mess too. I am called to care about the salvation of everyone’s soul.
Do I really win when someone else loses? It is so tempting sometimes to make lists of someone else’s offenses. It justifies my pain, resentment, and anger. “Look at everything that person did to me!” But instead of self-satisfaction, this kind of thinking should invoke feelings of sorrow and concern. It should also remind me: “Look at everything I’ve done to God.” I cringe to think of a list of my own failings toward Him. My side of the street? It’s not always so clean.
Christ rose for that person who hurt me. More important than my wounded feelings is the salvation of this other person’s soul. More important than feeling justified or the “winner” of some argument is making sure this other person knows the joy, peace, healing, and freedom of living as a son or daughter of the Risen Lord.
I will strive to have this influence my approach to parenting. The next time my children mention another child at school speaking inappropriately, I can say, “Make sure you aren’t talking like that. But maybe next time you can help your friend by changing the subject, quietly saying a prayer for him, or gently explaining that’s not the best topic of conversation. Perhaps no one ever took the time to explain that your classmate shouldn’t talk like that.”
So in this Easter season—the time when God’s mercy pours forth upon poor souls— spend some moments pondering those people on the “other side of the street.” Is there someone to whom you can extend mercy? In reality, we are all on one street and in this one world God gave us. Let’s do everything possible to make sure everyone is traveling together, cleaning up as we go along, purifying our souls to enter into the heavenly home Christ’s Resurrection has opened for us.