Mea Culpa

February 26, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

“Miss, I think I’m going to cry.” These words from a proud, young athlete drop into the silence around my desk. He’s here to practice one of the human race’s favorite strategies—guilt manipulation.

It’s the day after grades have been turned in, but I can make a few last minute changes in extenuating circumstances. Our students have deduced the true deadline to the last second. This procrastinating teenager has a sixty-eight and has come to beg for two points.

He has made his case, and I have turned him down. Lest you think I am heartless, let me point out that he has a zero for cheating on a test and a fifty for incomplete work even when he knew his grade teetered on the borderline of passing. His pitiful claim hangs in the quiet, disturbed only by my clacking computer keys. The awkward silence stretches over several minutes.

I waiver.

I like him and I don’t want him to be miserable. I bolster my melting heart. This is a relatively painless way to learn an important lesson. Not to mention that a part of me cries, “Unfair!” at the exploitation of my sympathies.

Stopping my work, I break the tension. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“I don’t know what to say either, Miss.” Still, he lingers, hoping against hope I’ll crumble. The uncomfortable moment lengthens until he finally drops his shoulders and drags himself away.

Torn, I feel his pain, but I’m also proud that I stood firm. Many a time I’ve ranted against fictional characters in books and movies who let themselves be manipulated into pandering to someone’s whims. My righteous indignation has spread to live victims, too—friends maneuvered by spouses, parents beguiled by children, administrators hoodwinked by students.

Yet again, however, God uses his still, small voice to draw me up. One of this week’s SAT vocabulary words is hypocrite. Did I not just knead my daughter’s conscience to get my way over her lack of special Easter clothes? I just couldn’t let it go. Even after excusing her for forgetting, I had to get in a couple of digs. Just like the oh-so-irritating mother-in-laws on television.

Guilt and fear of punishment work as motives, but they are not the motives God desires for us. Nor are they the motives we should thrust onto others. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18 NIV).

Comment prompt: Share stories where you’ve realized your own manipulation of others so we can all ask forgiveness together.

About Jane Thornton

Jane Thornton, English teacher, wife, and mom of two almost grown children, strives to break free of the automatic boring label attached to those roles. Her two suspense novels eagerly await a willing publisher, and her articles search for inspiration in the humor and tears of life.
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3 Responses to “Mea Culpa”
  1. Lee Carver says:

    I’m more of a negotiator than a guilt-tripper, maybe in reaction to my mother’s way of doing things before people even spoke of guilt trips. My approach is to lay the cards on the table and ask, “What can I do for you such that you would be willing/want to do this for me?” It’s a bargain; a swap. And BTW, you, in a weak moment, agreed to take notes for July minutes at the next Ready Writers meeting. Now, what’s your price?

  2. Mary Gallagher Williams says:

    Umm… you got me. I humbly admit at times I’ve not used the motives that God prefers me to use. Thanks for reminding me to think about what my motives are before I speak, Jane.

  3. Julie Marx says:

    Love this, Jane. God is such a pro at bringing conviction in the midst of our ignorant ways. But this was also a great example of a different kind of mercy–not letting him think that winning/success in life comes from knowing how to manipulate. A small act of justice like that might just keep him out of trouble in the future. AMEN!

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