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Human Shock Absorbers

shock absorber

By Dennis Pollock

Shock absorbers and struts are a vital part of insuring that you have a comfortable ride as you drive your car. Without them, you would feel every little bump, every small pit in the road, and your ride would be jarring and tremendously unpleasant. The shock absorber’s job is to absorb the energy of the bumps and holes so that you do not have to. One auto expert wrote: “Without shocks, the wheels on the car or truck will actually bounce off of the road surface and vibrate erratically down rough roads.”

I’ve sometimes thought about the concept of shock absorbers as it relates to human relationships, particularly close relationships which will nearly always come with bumps, large and small, and potholes, large, medium, and small. Just as a ride in a car would be miserable without good shock absorbers, so any relationship is bound to fail, or at least be pretty miserable without some kind of shock absorption, to soften the negative energy, critical words, and occasionally poor attitudes that are bound to appear from time to time.

The obvious relationship which requires some pretty serious shock absorption is of course marriage. But in truth any strong friendship or relationship is going to need it. With literal shock absorbers, we can say that there is one situation in which they would be totally unnecessary: if every road we ever drove upon was perfect, and as smooth as glass, we could live without shocks or struts on our cars. They would have no purpose. But any person who buys a new car assuming that every single road they will ever drive on will be that way: flawless, bump-less and pothole-less, is living in a fantasy world. Roads come with bumps, holes, and cracks, and the only way to avoid running over these things would be to leave your car in the garage and never drive it.

Relational Shock Absorbers

And so it is with human relationships. Marriages, friendships, partnerships, sibling relationships (even in the adult years), parent-child relationships (from the child’s infancy to his adult years), boss-employee relationships, co-worker relationships, teammate relationships, and any and every other kind of relationship will inevitably involve friction and road bumps.

We could say that we need shock absorbers within ourselves, and this is true. But equally important, and something we may not ever consider, is that we need to be shock absorbers. We need the grace of Jesus Christ to absorb negative words, negative attitudes, and major differences of opinion without reacting harshly and destroying the relationships. God is fully aware of our humanity, our imperfection, and the imperfection of every human relationship that will ever develop in our lives. And because He is very much pro-relationship, He has given us instructions about how we can be the shock absorber in the relationship.

The key word involved in this concept is the word bear: B-E-A-R, not the bear that lives in the woods and eats berries, but the idea of bearing with, putting up with things and people and attitudes that we find annoying. The apostle Paul writes: “…with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love…” (Ephesians 4:2). To bear with someone means to put up with them, to tolerate something they say or do, perhaps frequently, which you do not especially like, or maybe even hate. And yet rather than rebuke them, shout at them, criticize them, or get into an angry clash with them, you say little or nothing, and pass over the whole thing. Rather than immediately return their vitriol with some major vitriol of your own, you absorb the negativity and it goes no further. This is bearing with someone.

Action and Reaction

In the natural world there is a law which says that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. If I throw a golf ball at a brick wall, it will not simply fall quietly at the base of the wall. It will bounce back at me with as much force as I exerted in throwing it. It may even hit me in the head and give me a big lump. My throwing the ball was the action, the ball bouncing off the wall and coming right back at me was the reaction. Action and reaction. It works every time. Every golf ball I throw comes right back at me.

I suppose this law of action and reaction is a good thing in physics, but in human relationships it spells disaster and ruin. If for every word and every critical attitude that is “thrown” at me, I immediately return the fire with equal velocity, that relationship, to use the words of Abraham Lincoln, “will not long endure.” But here is another scenario. Suppose I throw that same golf ball at a soft blanket hanging from a tree branch. The ball does not bounce back at me. It falls harmlessly to the ground, with all its energy spent. The softness of the blanket made it the perfect energy absorber. All the force and energy involved in that thrown ball, regardless of just how hard it was thrown, has been absorbed and there is no more energy left for the ball to do any bouncing back whatsoever. How amazingly different is a soft blanket from a brick wall!

Our Lord Jesus calls us, His people, to relate to other believers, to our families, and to our spouses, in loving relationships that endure. He knows our warts and flaws and weaknesses. He is never surprised when disagreements erupt, or critical words sometimes slip out of our mouths. Still He calls us to love, to forgive, and to carry within ourselves some Holy Spirit-enabled shock absorption. Not every critical word needs to be answered, not every trace of anger should be met with an equal and opposite anger, not every hurtful statement must be followed up with another equally hurtful statement.

Hard and Soft

Hard, rough surfaces destroy. If I drop a fragile crystal teacup on my living room floor, with its three-inch soft carpet, no problem. But if I drop it on a concrete floor, that teacup will be shattered in many pieces, beyond all repair. In our relationships, in our marriages, in our friendships, we must be that carpeted floor, never the concrete floor. Paul writes: “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good…” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Rather than reflecting an angry tone for an angry tone, a critical comment for a critical comment, a cutting remark for a cutting remark, we are to pursue what is good, and what is good is to be merciful, to be gentle, to show a kindly attitude even when our friend or our children or our husband or our wife shows a not-so-kind attitude.

This is not natural. The law of action and reaction is natural. Mercy in the face of harsh, angry words is distinctly unnatural and requires grace. And of course that is what Jesus is all about. It is His grace in our lives that produces the fruit of the Spirit, also called “the fruits of righteousness.” Paul writes: “…being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11).

This does not mean that we become doormats for all the angry, accusing, critical people of this world. It is not wrong to defend yourself from slander or to strongly deny false accusations, nor is it necessary for us to smile in a silly fashion when someone is screaming at us or cursing us. But our friends, our spouses, and all the people who are close to us need to know that we have a tender, forgiving, merciful heart that will not remember their wrongs very long, and that our great desire is that our relationship should thrive.

Uncontrolled Anger

Many years ago, when I was a pastor, a lady from our congregation came to me and shared that she had a terrible time controlling her temper, especially with her husband. She was subject to frequent outbursts and could not seem to control herself. I asked her, “When you lose your temper with your husband and then feel bad about it, do you go to him and apologize?” I have never forgotten her reply. She told me that she used to do just that, but then one day her husband responded, “I don’t know why you are apologizing. You know you’re just going to turn around and do it again.” And she said to me, “I knew he was right. And after that I stopped apologizing.” Later, after I no longer pastored that church, I heard that the two had divorced.

I can’t help but feel that her husband was wrong in what he said to her. Not that it wasn’t true, but it didn’t need to be said. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love says, “I’m eager to reconcile, and whether you apologize or not, and even if you do this thing a thousand more times in our lifetime, I will always love you and bear with you. When I said ‘I do’ this was part of the contract, and I will live up to it.

To some, this may sound wimpy, weak, and pathetic. But in the eyes of God it is true strength – the strength to forgive, the strength to love, the power to be the primary shock absorber in the relationship through the grace of Jesus Christ working in us. In most relationships one of the individuals will need to be a shock absorber far more often than the other. Ideally, both would absorb the bumps, critical words, harsh attitudes, and angry tones about equally. But it rarely works out that way. Most of the time one will have to exercise shock absorption more than the other. And if you are that one, you may feel that this is highly unfair. But then nobody said that marriage or friendships, or any relationships are going to be totally fair. But they are worth it! Think of how poor you would be if you had no relationships! How poverty-stricken to live as a solitary, lonely island, never arguing because you never talked to anyone, spending your life watching television in the otherwise silence of your empty house.

Soft Answers

The Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Some people can get angry easily, but it’s hard for anyone to stay angry with someone who consistently answers softly and does not return their anger right back at them. Like a golf ball thrown at a soft blanket, their anger falls harmlessly to the ground. Escalation is impossible, and peace soon reigns again. James writes:

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18).

God’s wisdom is more than just being smart about divine things; it is about being peaceable and willing to yield, and constantly planting the fruits of righteousness and peace in our relationships. In modern terms, it is about being human shock absorbers in the relationships which God establishes in our lives.

Jesus – The Ultimate Shock Absorber

The ultimate example of this is, as always, our Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross Jesus absorbed all the sin, all the humiliation, all the mocking, and the ridicule that was heaped upon Him. And yet, “like a sheep going to the slaughter He opened not His mouth.” His only word for His persecutors was a prayer breathed to the Father in the midst of His pain, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” The Bible says of Jesus, “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

We can become shock absorbers in our relationships because the ultimate Shock-absorber lives in us. We don’t have to scream when we are screamed at, to humiliate when we are humiliated, to mock when we are mocked. Like David’s classic portrayal of godliness in the first Psalm, we do not “sit in the seat of the scornful.” We surrender our right to react in kind to the angry, cutting remarks that sometimes come our way. We will take the high road and love as Jesus loved. Some may call us weak; some may think us wimpy, but God calls us blessed, as “those who make peace,” and possess the true wisdom of God.



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