Catharsis of Pet Topics

Picture the scene…I am in an American military wife, living in Germany. Less than 24 hours ago, I gave birth to my first baby in a German hospital—while my husband is deployed in Iraq. Holding my new son is amazing, but bittersweet because I am unable to share these incredible moments with his father. In fact, my attempts to get word to him that he even has a son have been unsuccessful.

As I recline in the hospital bed, sipping on my room temperature carbonated water, I feel at once relieved, joyful, anxious, weary, lonely, and generally overwhelmed. This is my condition when the obstetrics doctor on duty enters the room and begins firing questions at me in German.

Now, I took conversational German classes. I learned how to ask directions, order food, make purchases, and greet people. But I did not learn anything having to do with biology or medicine. I can barely understand the good doctor, much less answer him. I freeze and stare at him helplessly. A kind nurse intervenes and informs the doctor that I do not speak German.

“How long have you been in Germany?” he barks in English. 

“About two years.”

“And you don’t speak German? Why not? Do you think everyone in the world should learn English?!”

I felt cornered and vulnerable. He just sighed a huffy, frustrated sigh, shot a couple questions at me in English, performed a quick exam, and stomped out of the room.

Wow! Clearly this issue was something he was already passionate about—a pet peeve, if you will. Maybe his frustration was totally valid. Perhaps I should have been more proactive about immersing myself in the German language. Maybe I was an arrogant American who had too little appreciation for the country I was living in. But I was in a foreign country, my husband was away at war, and I had just had a baby! The doctor could hardly have picked a less appropriate time or place for his little cathartic outburst. Come on, buddy…get a blog or something!

I wish I could say that I never let my own pet topics make me an imperceptive jerk, but alas, I cannot. I am given to assuming that my latest life-altering discovery is what every one else has also been lacking. I tend to think that the error or injustice I am frustrated with is the catalyst for or somehow related to all ills everywhere. I become eager, greedy to have an excuse to bring my pet topics into conversation. Unfortunately, this makes me blind.

It’s hard to see people when what I’m really looking for is an opportunity to voice my wisdom or my complaint. Even if I am right, I stand to frustrate, alienate, or bore others to death, if I am not sensitive about who I share what with—and when.

That doctor in Germany was a jerk. However, he has given me a vivid illustration of what can happen when I get too hung up on a pet topic. His lack of restraint should remind me to ask myself a few questions before I speak.

Is this really what these people need to hear or am I just running everything through the filter of what’s been on my mind lately? Will it help or fix anything, or edify anyone if I say this right now or am I just eager for a soap box? Is my zeal for this topic blinding me to other people’s feelings or needs?

I think I tend to do this with issues of theology or relationships. Some people do it with politics or current events.

Anyone else have pet topics they have a hard time saving for the right time or place…or for someone who cares? 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Catharsis of Pet Topics”

  1. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were talking about me. Thanks for sharing. At least I dont feel so all alone. You have closed in on something I’m aware of in me. This does remind me to be a better listener. Thanks Crystal

  2. Mark Buchanan (The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath) speaks of how easy it is to put rightness over relationship. It strikes me that out pet topics become more important than love. Jesus was always more concerned about relationships than rightness. I don’t do so well! (Great book by the way.)
    As I see it, even if I am right and you’re wrong, it’s not my job to put you right at the cost of intimacy. Jesus called us to love one another not beat each other into right understanding/practice/belief. Righteousness is God’s work, not mine.
    But fighting it out on theological and intellectual battlefields is much easier than love. Surely we need to say more to the woman caught in adultery than just, “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Or to Peter who denied, than just, “Do you love me, Peter?” I would have had a lot more to say to Saul when I found him blind and at my mercy in Damascus than Ananias’s, “Brother Saul.”
    Oh dear…….

    1. ” It strikes me that our pet topics become more important than love.”

      This gets right at the heart of it! Well put.

      However, even though I fear it could be considered gross hypocrisy (considering the nature of this discussion), I am going to challenge the statement that “Jesus was always more concerned about relationships than rightness”.

      Jesus also said to Peter,”Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

      Many times he blew chances for relationships with religious leaders for the sake of exposing false motives and showing what was right. It just depended on who he was talking to. See this post and my comments.

      The trouble is–my motives for speaking true things aren’t always pure or selfless like Jesus’ were, and I’m not nearly as good at discerning what others need at any given time. I think this one’s about learning to hold hands and walk with the Holy Spirit.

      I do appreciate your thoughts. I’ve no wish to be nit-picky…it’s just that I find these sorts of discussions terribly interesting and fun! Makes me think.

      I’ll have to check out the book!

  3. Have no fear, good debate (the truth in love) is great.
    Good points, but your comment on the post you pointed me to shows we agree more than disagree. I also left a comment there. Like you, I find that the way Jesus interacted with his disciples and those he reached out to was very different from the way he responded to the hypocritical, self-righteous religious leaders of the day, who put stumbling blocks between the people and their God.
    I have another thought about Jesus and Peter but either way, Jesus had developed a relationship with his disciples, and in the context of that love he spoke the truth.
    It’s not that either “side” is right or wrong in this, it’s just that I would rather (in this violent and unloving world)learn to err on the side of grace than on the side of judgement–intimacy rather than rightness.

    1. I see. Personally, I’d rather not err at all. 🙂

      We most certainly agree more than we disagree.

      Relationship is key to earning the right to speak into people’s lives (even tough things) when the time comes.

      What is your other thought about Jesus and Peter?

  4. Ah, but if you find a way not to err, be sure to let me know!!
    I think Jesus heard in Peter’s words an echo of Satan’s continual challenge to an easy way–a Messiah with power and no pain. It was the temptation in the wilderness and followed him throughout his ministry to the Garden of Gethsemene and even to the cross: “Come down from the cross; save yourself.”
    Hebrews tells us that Jesuss was “tempted just as we are” so these were real temptations for Jesus and he resisted them with all his strength: “Get behind me Satan”. Interesting that Mark says that he was looking at his disciples, not at Peter.
    But I wouldn’t hang any great theological debate on the matter. Just my thoughts.

  5. Yes, I certainly think Jesus was responding to a temptation from Satan. (I like your thought about it being the same one that Satan had been throwing at him all along). I don’t think he was calling Peter Satan.
    But even if he was sort of “looking past Peter”, it seems unlikely that Peter would have heard it as anything other than a strong rebuke. It was in response to his comment. Relationally and practically speaking, I wonder if it would matter that much if Christ was ultimately rebuking Satan.

  6. I agree, that’s why I don’t set much store by it. Peter would certainly have felt the rebuke. But the ongoing relationship meant that any misunderstanding, any hurt, could be dealt with as they walked together. Not easy, not nice, but real, and ultimately healing.

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