“If you look for the fatal flaw, you’ll find it.”
I remember a Sunday School teacher saying this in our adult class over thirty years ago, but I don’t remember the context or what we were studying at the time. His point, though, was that none of us is perfect and even the best of us has feet of clay. He was not promoting nitpicking and fault-finding; he was encouraging realism.
That saying has come back to mind many times in recent years with the advent of social media: some people use their online voice primarily for airing their for fault-finding. Sometimes one mistake is bandied about such that a person’s life or opportunity for further work or usefulness is destroyed.
Recently as I read an acquaintance’s impassioned but cryptic account of overcoming issues in her upbringing. I knew the family years ago, and the mother was a lovely woman, someone with several attributes I admired and wished I had. I’m not saying the daughter was right or wrong, but I wondered what could possibly be the problem. On the other hand, every individual family member has its flaws, resulting in the whole group being in real life something less than their perfect, smiling Instagram photos might suggest. I don’t think this is always a case of hypocrisy, though sometimes it is. Some families do hide dark secrets. But usually our collection of flaws is just real life.
As our faults bump against each other, it’s hard to know sometimes when and how to deal with them. Some sins are crimes and need to be reported as such. In cases of abuse, protection of the abused is the first order of business: then the abuser needs to face whatever punishment is due.
But with what we might call our less flagrant, more every-day flaws, we struggle with when to confront the other person, as Matthew 18 describes, and when to cover over each others faults in love (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). One former pastor suggested that when we have tried to overlook something another person keeps doing and it keeps bothering us, maybe that’s an indication that we need to have a talk about it.
It’s better to discuss issues with other people than to assume. And it’s better to address an issue than to seethe inwardly. Back in college the only microwaves in the dorm were in the snack room with the vending machines. We weren’t allowed any other kind of cooking in the rooms besides a “hot pot” for heating water for instant coffee. One particular roommate liked to use my hot pot for loose herbal teas. I didn’t mind that except that she’d forget to clean her tea out: so in the mornings when I made my coffee, I’d have to clean out her leftover tea with the leaves floating in it. I don’t know why I didn’t just speak to her about it. I could easily do so in the same situation now. But then I just (wrongly) fumed about it to myself.
It’s far better to confront the one person whose flaw is bothering us in some way than to gripe about it to everyone else. We need to consider how our words will hurt the other person and damage our relationship. Years ago Clearwater Christian College had a song on one of their CDs with a chorus that went like this:
You can tell the Lord all the things I’ve done
that didn’t seem right to you,
but don’t tell your neighbor ’cause
he can never give me the grace to see me through.
You can tell Him all about how weak I am
and pray that He’ll strengthen me–
you can talk about me any time you wanna
but please do it on your knees.
Sometimes dealing with a person’s flaw is the most merciful thing we can do. But we need to speak the truth in love.
We also have to consider whether we know the whole story and understand the other person’s context. A long time ago my husband was acting uncharacteristically short-tempered and irritable. Instead of asking what was wrong, I just got irritable back. When we finally did talk about it, he told me there were some issues going on at work, particularly with one man that seemed to have it out for him. He had been under tremendous pressure enduring all this and trying to figure out how to respond, but he didn’t share with me what was going on because he didn’t want me to be upset about it as well. In a “prodigal daughter” story I’m reading, the daughter saw her parents through a critical, rebellious lens that colored all their actions and motives. In later years when their relationship improved, she could see more clearly. She then understood them better and appreciated them and was able to discuss the one or two areas she did have problems with in a more constructive way
We need to remember that a person’s flaws are not the totality of his or her personality.
Some years ago one of my sons brought home a report card that was fine except for one low grade. He had evidently been bracing himself for my questioning of that grade, because, when I did, he exploded: “Why do you have to focus on the one grade that’s not good?” Well, because that’s the area where there is obviously a problem. So we need to see what the problem is: do you need help understanding, did you do the assignments, etc. His response did remind me, though, that I needed to praise the good marks and not just notice the one bad one.
When someone is wearing a white shirt with a black spot, the eye is naturally drawn to the black spot. Some of us just cannot rest when we notice something not “right”: we either have to do something about it, or we’re lost to all further conversation and interaction because we’re so distracted by the one thing wrong.
Yet we can’t handle people that way, or we’ll wreck all our relationships. We’re quick to defend ourselves with “Well, nobody’s perfect” when someone points out our flaws. Or we couch our traits in the best terms while casting the other person’s flaws in the worst. I’m persistent, but she’s stubborn. I have a take-charge personality: he’s bossy. We should instead be more generous with other people and more wary of our own elevated self-evaluation. “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:31).
We know not to expect perfection from other people, but we do. We react in anger, dismay, or disappointment when we come across their imperfections. We need to give them grace and make sure we understand where they’re coming from. We need to decide whether to deal with the issue in some way or overlook it, and we need to do either in love. We need to deal with others in hope for their best. We need to look at the whole person and not write them off because of one failing. And we need to realize our own flaws as well.
But most of all we need to remember how our gracious God deals with us.Just this morning as I sat down to have my quiet time with the Lord, I was in a snippy, irritable mood. I’m not sure why: I had not even been awake long enough for anything to influence me that way. But I confessed that to the Lord and told Him I had not one iota of goodness of my own and I needed to be filled with His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22). Then I opened my Daily Light on the Daily Path, and the very first verse was a phrase from Isaiah 62:4: “The Lord delighteth in thee.” In the midst of my sins, faults, and failure, He loves me and delights in me. My heart melted.
Jesus died so that all our sins could be forgiven when we believe on Him. He has forgiven us so much more than anything we need to forgive others for. When we’re filled with His love, we can see others’ faults in perspective and love them in spite of them.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9, ESV