I just got finished watching To Kill a Mockingbird; I read the book by Harper Lee through my book club about a year ago. I think Atticus Finch is about as clear an example of strength with grace as I can think of right now. I’m reflecting on the scene when the guilty-as-sin Bob Ewell spits on Atticus after the trial. Even though I know the outcome, I’m really wanting Atticus (played by Gregory Peck) to cold cock the son-of-a—–gun. But, instead–in front of his children–he slowly retrieves his handkerchief, wipes his face, walks around Bob to his car, gets in, and calmly drives away. Wow. Strength and Grace.
Think there wasn’t emotion? There had to be emotion. He got spit on in front of a whole group of people including his children after losing a controversial trial, defending a black man who was essentially proven innocent but an all white jury found him guilty in spite of the evidence to the contrary. What a GREAT example of, “between stimulus and response there is a space; in that space lies the ability to choose our response; in our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Covey). OK, OK…I know. It’s only a movie. But, I want to use it to demonstrate a point. Getting spit on was the stimulus. Atticus stands there for a good 15-20 seconds and does nothing–that was the space. He slowly retrieves his handkerchief and wipes his face and then calmly walks around Bob to his car. That’s his response. In that space do you think he wasn’t wrestling with his emotions and contemplating his response?
Thank God for emotions. What would we be without them? And we can’t avoid the bad ones–hurt, anger, embarrassment, frustration, grief. And we can’t always reframe thoughts in split seconds in order to make the bad emotions go away. Death, abandonment, losing a job, having a child get in trouble…all these things cause POWERFUL emotions. Most of these events trigger many different emotions that you process over time. Most people have heard of the grief process you experience after the death of a loved one. The process usually starts with disbelief, then acute pain, then numbness, then anger, and somewhere down the road if you’ve processed through all those emotions–acceptance. You can’t just reframe thoughts and make the grief go away. But, you can create space in almost any situation to minimize the regrets of a response born of the emotions you’re experiencing.
Let me illustrate using a more benign example of what I see women–particularly in my generation–do all too often. We’re in a business setting and someone questions a decision we’ve made or an action we’ve taken. We almost immediately become defensive and then spend time touting our resume of experience, education, awards, accomplishments and so forth. That would be a great place to create some space. In that space, we need to reframe thoughts like, “I can’t believe they’re questioning me” to “Let’s understand the question, listen to the concern, think about what I decided and explain the rationale.” It seems so easy to believe the negative–that’s where our insecurity comes roaring to the forefront. The space allows some time to talk yourself down from the ledge and deal with the question or situation in a grace-filled way. The person asking the questions may indeed have impure motives–they may be trying to “catch you” or make you look bad. The grace results by not allowing it to happen. The strength comes from handling situations with grace on a regular basis.
Consider Atticus…what would you be thinking if some lying scum bag you just faced in court spit on you? Now contemplate the strength and dignity in calmly walking away. Who looks like the fool?
For those that are Christians–on this Easter Sunday consider how often Jesus demonstrated strength with grace. Think about how many times He “let it go” and did not cling to pride or ego.