We all have a bad habit from our childhood. I’m sure you remember it. And if it’s hazy, just watch your kids for a minute or two and I’m sure they’ll provide a much needed trip down memory lane! Some kid slaps, pinches, or simply touches another kid and the victim feels compelled, even duty-bound, to hit the other back. It’s one of the oldest games of all time—the game of “Tit for Tat.”
Allow me try to illustrate what this looks like for us, as adults. Let’s say you’ve had a really bad day. If something could go wrong, it did. Your kids were extra needy and messy and . . . mischievous. Finally the evening rolls around and you and your husband have a chance to relax. But instead of pleasantly chatting, he criticizes you for how little you picked up around the house that day. You can’t believe his nerve! So you immediately shoot back at him, “Well, if you’d help out a little around here, maybe it wouldn’t be so cluttered!” You feel an instant rush of justification and the high that comes from venting your stress and frustration (a powerful and intoxicating combination!). But instead of it setting your husband straight, it instantly ignites a long and heated argument. Just what you needed to end your long, hard day!
Do you remember the old motherly saying, “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” It makes perfect sense when you say it that way. No one wants to do something stupid simply because someone else did it first. But we do it all the time. We do it in hopes that our offender will learn his lesson. But they never do. And we never do—at least as long as we play this awful and destructive game.
The biblical story of David is a great example of refusing to play this game. In 1st Samuel 24:1-22, David was being pursued by King Saul who erroneously and arrogantly believed David was out to get him. So when King Saul went into a cave to relieve himself, he didn’t realize that David was hiding there in the shadows. And instead of killing King Saul—something David’s men urged him to do—he chose to rise above the situation. He chose to not return evil for evil. Instead, he crept up and cut off a part of Saul’s robe without him ever knowing. And when the king left the cave and was a safe distance away, David revealed his act. He reminded Saul that he could have killed him, but he chose to trust God and be merciful instead. This convicted the king beyond any point that a harsh and mean-spirited lesson would have taught.
David refused to play the game of “Tit for Tat.” He chose not to lower himself to his enemy’s standard. Instead, he rose to the standard of Christ—one of mercy and grace. Remember that example above? What if it went something like this instead, “This house is a mess. What were you doing all day?” “I know the house looks a mess, but it’s been a really challenging day. Do you think we could do a little straightening together this weekend?” (Of course, you can’t say those words without graciousness on your lips and a prayer for compassion in your heart.) It’s not easy resisting that urge to play the “Tit for Tat” game, but when you refuse to lower yourself, everybody wins.