When friends don't act right

Polly just wasn’t acting right. 

We’d arrived home after a long day at work and opened the backyard gate to let her into the house. Once inside, she and my husband began their “we’re so happy to be home again” ritual. It involved a lot of ear scratching and fur ruffling on my husband’s part, and a lot of happy barks and tail wagging on Polly’s part. Because she entered into their nightly greeting wholeheartedly, wagging her little stub of a tail so hard her back end swung like a metronome wound too tightly, we didn’t notice that anything was wrong until much later. 

The climax of their nightly ritual was Cookie Time. David would choose a Milk Bone treat (the green ones were her favorite), while Polly watched expectantly. But the cookie was never bestowed casually. Oh no, cookies must be earned. Cookie Time was an opportunity to demonstrate the latest trick the two of them had been working on. 

“Sit,” my husband commanded. Polly obediently sat, which was quite a feat, since her backend was still wagging happily. 

“Good girl! Now roll over.” 

Down on her belly Polly went, but instead of following through with a roll, she stopped halfway and jumped to her feet again, looking at my husband hopefully. 

“No, Polly, that wasn’t a roll,” my husband said with a frown. “Roll over!” 

She dropped again to her stomach, did a half-roll, and stood back up. Puzzled, my husband scolded her, “Lazy puppies do not get cookies unless they roll over. Sorry. No cookie for you.” 

It wasn’t until bedtime that we realized why Polly wouldn’t roll over. Scratching her ears and running my hand down the length of her body, I was surprised when she yelped in pain. Closer inspection revealed a 2-inch gash in the flesh of her left shoulder. Because it hadn’t bled and was almost completely hidden by her buff-colored fur, neither I nor my husband had noticed the deep wound. 

“That’s why Polly wouldn’t roll over!” my husband exclaimed, looking at me with stricken eyes. “I feel so bad!” 

We guessed she must have torn her shoulder on the roll of chain link fencing we’d recently stored in the backyard. Our suspicions were confirmed the next day when we discovered a bit of blond fur clinging to one of the sharp pointed ends. 

Our experience with Polly that day reminds me of similar exchanges we sometimes have with our human friends. When Polly failed to respond to my husband’s simple request, she acted out of character. Because she was normally a well-trained and well-behaved dog, we had come to expect a certain type of behavior from her. When she responded differently, we were surprised and confused. Sometimes people do this as well. 

A normally generous husband suddenly says no to his wife’s request for money. A typically conscientious coworker overlooks details and misses deadlines. A generally kind-hearted friend says something insensitive and rude. When this happens, we’re often quick to set a person straight without considering that there may be more to the situation than what’s obvious. 

Like poor Polly, our coworkers, friends, and family members may be carrying hidden hurts that cause them to act out of character. The normally generous husband, not wanting to worry his wife, may be troubled by rumors of company layoffs. The typically conscientious coworker, preoccupied with concerns for her son’s future, may be embarrassed to admit her teenager was expelled from school. The generally kind-hearted friend, already struggling to balance her responsibilities, may be trying to figure out how she’s going to care for her aging parents and do everything else as well. 

With this in mind, here are a few suggestions for how we can respond when someone acts out of character. 

1.  Take a deep breath before responding. 

2.  Say, “You don’t seem like yourself today. Is something bothering you?” If they open up, listen sympathetically, offer assistance if you can, and pray for them. If they respond in the negative, say, “Well, if I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to let me know.” 

3.  Pray for her. 

4.  Remember how we like to be treated when we’re having a bad day and pay it forward.

5.  Look for opportunities to serve them in love (not because you’re trying to get back at them or make them feel guilty). 

6.  Extend grace. 

Even the most mature, kind, and level person has a bad day every now and then. When we extend grace and respond to out-of-character behavior gently and graciously, we model Christ’s patient, unconditional love. Receiving undeserved kindness is often what helps someone self-correct when they lose perspective. 

“. . . Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4). 

Have you been the giver or the recipient of grace in the face of uncharacteristic behavior? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts?

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1 comment:

  1. That is a really good point. Maybe if we focus on "why" they are doing something and not on our own hurt feelings, we would be a lot better off. I try and think of this with strangers too, at the store, in line, on the phone. Maybe they are going through something I can't even imagine.