More often than now and then, I get defensive about what I imagine someone else thinks of me. Usually, it is what I’m afraid they may have good reason to think of me. This situation arises before I’m aware of it and feelings have already been hurt. It is insulting to assume that someone else, especially someone beloved, is constantly judging me or disapproving of me.
I do not pretend to know what makes me this way. Flip Wilson used to joke that “the devil made me do it.” He may be right, although it isn’t all the devil’s fault. Paranoid delusion might be a clinical diagnosis I’d claim if I wanted to absolve myself of this particular responsibility, but that would be dishonest. I bear a lot of the responsibility for shortcomings in my relationships.
Practice is a key element of my spiritual life, but this problem with the projection of my fears onto others is a habit formed by years of bad practice. It’s hard to work on a problem I don’t recognize, though, and this problem is particularly resistant to my self-improvement efforts. Identifying this bad habit requires painful introspection. Admitting fears and doubts about myself, and accepting responsibility for correcting them is not easy.
Fortunately, I do not confront this all by myself. God has made provision for my work. He gave me His son, Christ the Lord, and His perfect example. His word provides numerous examples of others who have dealt with their own imperfections by the grace of God. The apostles wrote about how we should live and deal with the troubles of life. There is also, living in me, the Holy Spirit of God Almighty. He comforts and guides me to greater understanding and better ways. I am able to pray for help and insight, and I thank God for revealing to me my shortcomings. I also thank God for those he has sent to point out my weaknesses and who he has equipped with grace and patience, so essential for maintaining love with a man such as I am.
“Don’t go away mad,” someone used to tell me. Anger and fear go hand in hand with defensive behavior. Defensive language and behavior are often harsh and hurtful. Beware of the harm of defensiveness. Try hard to resolve the matter with kindness and do not neglect a sincere apology. When I am wrong I must say “I’m sorry," and I must not wait too long. Sometimes the apology needs refining to include specifically what I’m sorry for. It’s hard, but it is good for me and good for you.
Let us consciously live our lives as children of God.