by Paola Barrera
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
Maya Angelou famously said that you may forget what someone said to you, but will always remember how their words made you feel.
I don’t recall my co-worker’s exact words, but I remember how embarrassed I felt; how my stomach turned, after my colleague answered.
I had asked her about a work process I wasn’t yet fluent in. Something I couldn’t decipher on my own. Younger in years but far more seasoned in our industry than I was, she made a cutting remark leaving no room for doubt about how she felt about my lack of knowledge. I felt beyond stupid.
In our open space concept office my humiliation was evident in the facial expression of colleagues whose desks were an earshot from mine.
Someone closer to my desk spoke softly part of the information I’d asked about. Visibly uneasy, I think he felt sorry for me. Grateful, I grasped what I could and tried to move on with the rest of my day till the clock marked 5 pm. I got home exhausted from holding back all the emotions.
Hot tears rolled down my face as I talked with my best friend later that night: ”Doesn’t she know I have the power with my words, to make her feel so small? That I can really wound her? Did she need to be so cruel?”. My best friend sighed in empathy..
This was one of many phone calls during a hard season of adaptation to a new job, in a new industry, in my new life in a new country I was still learning to call home. It was my first (and much needed) job after immigrating. Nothing felt grounded. The last thing I needed to add to the moving pieces of my life, was a colleague humiliating me in front of team members whose names I was still learning.
Despite what I cried to my best friend the truth is I felt powerless. Muted by the embarrassment of not knowing basic answers and the fear of not quite yet fitting in a high performance team, I felt like I was fair game for someone to belittle with polite enough blade-sharp remarks.
Only recently have I been able to see differently that painful memory through the lens of Scripture.
Sometimes we don’t turn the other cheek, we simply turn our face to hide the tears.
The truth is I felt like a doormat. Yes, I could have shot back some snide reply. But I didn’t. Not because “I’m better than that”, but because I couldn’t. The shock and hurt made it difficult to think fast enough to say something.
Yet, in Scripture I see the One who is better than that. And he’s not a doormat but a doorway. Being meek is not the same as letting someone walk all over you.
I think of the life Jesus lived. I think of him standing before Pilate and saying nothing to defend himself. Having the power to rebuke a storm, Jesus, who overturned tables in anger also bent down to wash the dirty feet of twelve men, including the one who would betray him.
The man who declared at his friend’s funeral that he was the resurrection and the life, right before bringing that friend to life in front of everyone present (John 11:25-27), was the same Jesus who stood before worldly authorities and remained silent when accused unjustly. Because he willingly restrained his power in surrender to the Father. That’s meekness.
I notice this conversation where Jesus said that he would return, “... that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas objected, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” And Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:5-6) Essentially saying, Look to me for how to live between now and when you arrive home.
When I look at that memory, nearly a decade later, using Jesus’s life as a filter, I see something I couldn’t see at the time: a glimmer of meekness. To be sure, it’s incomplete, but it’s there nonetheless.
While I didn’t hold silence out of strength or conviction, but pain instead, that situation helped me understand the posture of meekness.
Wounded by my colleague, I felt powerless. Silenced by the sting of her words, I had no come back; clever or otherwise. But it’s what I would have done had I felt strong enough that helped me see the beauty of Jesus’s meekness with fresh eyes.
Unlike me, he wasn’t powerless. Yet he who had the power to command storms and dead people back to life, didn’t use it to retaliate, insult, or attack when mocked and humiliated. He didn’t even defend himself. He trusted his Father’s plan, and in obedience walked all the way to the cross.
As painful as that day was, I’m thankful I was powerless to respond. The wound of humiliation prevented me from lashing out and saying words I’m sure I would have regretted later. While I’m certain that God doesn’t desire for us to be verbally (or in any other way) abused, I’m amazed how in his economy I can learn from Jesus’s perfect life in the broken one I live with other broken image bearers. While I felt like a doormat that day, the lesson would be much deeper and life-giving than I could have imagined.
Paola Barrera writes and speaks about the intersection of faith, life, and theology. Canadian through the gift of immigration, she and her husband Gustavo call Montreal home. Her weekly newsletter, Food for Thought is where she writes more frequently and personally than anywhere else, and where Paola most loves to connect with readers. It's free and you can subscribe here.