Many years ago, a young man was transferred to my department. During his first annual review with me, he asked why his raises had been consistently lower than the company average. I said, “Well, you’re kind of a jerk.”
And he was. If a colleague asked for help with our software, he’d sigh, look at his watch, and then bark, “Don’t you know that by now?” If a client asked how a software feature worked, he’d huff, “Didn’t I explain that last month?”
But he was smart. He dissected software bugs with scalpel-like sharpness. His technical keenness took the edge off his social rudeness. But just barely. His low annual raises reflected the mixed feelings his previous boss had toward him.
When I told him he was a jerk, he seemed stunned and simply squeaked, “Really?” Then he read several books on human relationships, and he began to change. Something really seemed different.
Different enough, that he got a huge raise the following year. He then asked his former boss (a Christian) why the boss hadn’t been honest and direct. The boss admitted, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” My new employee retorted,
“Damn it! Your cowardly Christian niceness cost me thousands of dollars. Thanks for nothing.” (Hey, he was a recovering jerk; I never said he was cured.)
You see, most of us Christians are cowards. I mean nail-biting, knee-knocking, lily-livered, chicken-hearted, spineless, yeller, scaredy cats. If we were angels, we’d be Rubens’ chubby cherubs. If we were spirits, we’d be Casper the friendly ghost.
Nowhere in scripture will you find the command: “Go ye into all the world and be nice.”
As Grape Nuts are neither grape nor nuts, so Christian niceness is neither Christian nor nice. Jesus showed no hint of spineless, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” niceness. To the woman caught in adultery, he said she had sinned. Black and white. Unambiguous.
But he also spoke with grace. He said to the same woman, “Neither do I condemn you.”
We All Share the Same Longing
Everyone you meet deeply desires real friendships with real people. We are unsatisfied by sanctuaries populated with mannequins wearing plastic smiles. We want real heart-connected friendships, not artificial acquaintances.
We also have to be authentic.
However, we express our authenticity with grace. My former employee’s boss could have said,
“I’m really a little nervous to say this, I don’t want to hurt your feelings … but it seems to me you are often rude with clients and colleagues. Your career would advance quicker if you weren’t. But perhaps I’m missing something.”
Both would have gained a friend. And the employee would have made more money.
It Takes Inner Strength
The greatest offense ever given to anyone in history was given by Jesus. His death says that we have all been such jerks, that a little advice at our annual review cannot fix it. His death is offensive. If we don’t feel that offense—really feel it—we miss the heart of the gospel. If we don’t gulp in astonishment and say, “Really, me?,” we miss the cure.
If anything, Christians should be the most real. We should have the courage to let people see beyond our fake niceness to our real inner-jerkness. We’ll have friends who see us to the bottom and still love us.
How do we get this boldness?
The cure for our cowardice is this: He swallowed agonizing death because of the great joy he had in giving us life. He so deeply wanted a true relationship with us, he became ultimately vulnerable and real, vulnerable to death, and ultimately real to new life.
If we really know this, we can quit hiding behind the fig-leaves of cowardly niceness (or behind the fig-leaves of insensitive jerk-ness). And if Christians lived humble, authentic, grace-filled lives, it would be a far better world.
And wouldn’t that be … nice?
For more information about connecting with God in normal conversation, read my book, Hearing God in Conversation. It is written for personal connection with God.