Could being a nice person be harder than it looks?
When I was young I went to a good school, lived in a nice area in a comfortable home. My life was secure and happy. I joined the local Church of England choir when I was ten, not because I felt a need to go to church, but because they paid.
As I grew into my teens, I swapped the Church of England for the Baptist church because they had a youth club where they played darts and ping pong, and gave out snacks. They also had an epilogue that you had to sit through to get to the hot chocolate and doughnuts. Here I heard about the life of Jesus, and how He died to save me from my sins.
Mean to my mother
I wasn’t sure I had any sins, actually. I didn’t steal, cheat or lie. My school work was done on time and done well. I was pleasant to people. But I did like the idea that Jesus was my bridge to God and I didn’t have to go through vicars or pastors. So I began to talk to Jesus about small stuff; when I was scared or confused, upset or annoyed.
And I found something out.
I wasn’t very nice to my mother.
If she asked me to do something, I ignored her. If she told me off, I snapped back with a clever and sarcastic comment. But now that I was talking to Jesus, I had begun to read stuff that He said in the New Testament, And He said:
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:37.
So, it mattered how I spoke to my mum in our kitchen! I hadn’t known that. “OK,” I said to myself. “I’ll stop.”
Trying to be good
I started the experiment well, full of confidence and purpose. If I could just get through one day without snapping at my mum… how hard could one day be? The thought of praying for help didn’t even enter my mind – I thought I could easily manage one day by myself. I approached the challenge like complicated maths homework: keep trying and eventually you will succeed.
The day had gone well; I was pleased with myself. That evening I made myself a mug of hot tea, tucked my book under my arm and started up the stairs. Just then she called me from the kitchen to do the drying up. But I had cleared the table; what more could she want! This was so annoying.
I ran upstairs to my room, sat on my floor, and cried.
Then, out it came, just when I thought I was home and dry. The sarcastic refusal that was spat out of a girl who was still selfish and lazy. When I looked at my mum’s face it was like I had slapped her. I ran upstairs to my room, sat on my floor, and cried.
I was angry with myself. My “good person” had turned out to be simply a people-pleaser that knew how to behave in public but not at home. I was lazy, and I was selfish, and no amount of good intentions could change the basic fact that I couldn’t even obey one word of God for one day. I felt like Simon Peter after Jesus told him he would deny Him three times. Peter had been so full of confidence that he could “lay down his life” for Jesus, only to find soon afterwards in the heat of the moment that he couldn’t even admit he knew Him.
Help from heaven
It wasn’t working for me, either. But did Jesus really care so much that I was lazy and selfish? If I tried really, really hard to be nice, wouldn’t that be good enough in the end? “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Luke 22:61. I felt like Jesus was looking deep into my soul. I couldn’t fool Him with my efforts. I had to admit I needed help. Help with the burden of a selfish nature that was dictating how I should behave. I realized that “trying hard” to be nice just wasn’t enough.
We are told to “put to death” our nature which is revealed as jealousy and anger and malice and filthy language. This means we have to hate these reactions and ask God for help to deny and reject such thoughts so we do not react from our feelings. Instead we are encouraged to “put on the new man who is renewed in the image of Him who created him…” (Colossians 3:5, 10) Then we become new people who do not fall in temptation. Though this is a gradual process, it is true. But we fall in temptation less and less.
That day I humbled myself and asked Jesus into my heart to help me be a completely new person. By doing this I realized that God was there, willing to give me full power to follow His commandments and Jesus’ example – this time under the direction of the Holy Spirit, not just my own, well-meaning efforts. I am no longer the teenager crying on my bedroom floor, but a middle-aged Christian who has learnt that I need God to give me the power and grace I lack in my life. And He gives it to me! Power and grace to live a new life, being set free from the burden of sin.