Visiting Alma

The Problem With Pickles

How we respond is what really matters.

Did you know that when you go into McDonald’s that you can custom order your burger? McDonald’s is one of a few favorites for my girls. For a long time I would order the Quarter Pounder with cheese meal. When I would sit down, I would then open up the burger and proceed to remove the pickles. I am not sure why, but I have never been a fan of pickles on my burger. I don’t mind relish, but pickles is a totally different thing. I do like ‘bread and butter’ pickles on the side when eating a cold meat sandwich. But I digress. Back to McDonald’s… after a while, I remember standing in line at McDonald’s and someone making a special request for their burger. I was confused. I was amazed. You can special order your burger? Well I am all about that! So when it was my turn, I ordered the Quarter Pounder and asked “can I get that without pickles?”. Next thing I know I had my tray of food, and my burger was there with a special piece of paper, marking it as a special order – a Quarter Pounder with cheese with no pickles.

Since then, I have tried to remember to always ask for no pickles. Sadly sometimes I forget. When I forget, wouldn’t you know it, there I am pulling the pickles off of my burger. I don’t yell at anyone, I don’t complain, but I give myself a hard time. How stupid of me. Why did I do that? Why would I let them ruin a perfectly good burger?

Now I share all of this, because I have come to realize that many of us in life don’t like pickles. Perhaps not literally, but figuratively. Examples of life’s pickles could include any of the following; someone is late to a meeting, the waiter gets your order wrong, someone brings home the wrong brand of ketchup, someone forgot to put out the garbage, the food is cold or over done, you think someone might be ignoring you because they didn’t say ‘hi!’, a decision was made you didn’t agree with, and the list could go on and on. Pick your pickle.

I had a mentor who shared with me once that our unmet expectations are what can lead to conflict. It has taken me a while to think that one through. Conflict doesn’t start when someone puts pickles on my burger. Conflict starts when we express to them our discontent about what they have done. Even if I have asked for no pickles, the conflict doesn’t start with them giving me my burger with pickles on it. The conflict starts when I decide to make an issue of the fact that they agreed to leave the pickles off, but didn’t. In other words, people make mistakes all the time, and for that matter, people sin all the time. When people make mistakes or sin, there is a problem, but it is how we react to others that can create the conflict. We can choose to not argue over pickles and when we make that choice the result is that we don’t have conflict.

So what are we to do with the pickles? Well, the answer is not simple. You can’t just tell people what you want, and then assume everything will go well. There are really three things that we need to do. Listen, love, and unite.

From those three things, the first is to listen. From a biblical standpoint, the exhortation is always to think of others before ourselves. (Philippians 2:3) So, before we start voicing all of our own concerns, we need to do a lot of listening. James 1:19 tells us that each of us should be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger”. This does not mean just finding out what the other has to say. True, effective listening means that we ask a lot of questions, and that we also be open to any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions that the other person might offer. In other words we need to really understand what we are hearing. If you can’t explain it to others then you have not heard. If we go in to a conversation only to hear, but don’t have an open mind, or a desire to understand than the effort is really empty. If we go into a conversation only to express our opinions, all we do is prove our own arrogance and frustrate those around us.  So when it comes to pickles on my burger, before I complain and make a fuss, I need to talk to someone and find out why the pickles were still on the burger.  Or perhaps I had asked for a whole wheat bun instead of a white and they still gave me white.  I need to find out why first.  It may be that they didn’t have any whole wheat buns.  So we can learn a lot by just listening and in so doing prevent the conflict from even starting.

The second step in the process should only happen after the first. It has everything to do with love. If you hold an opinion or expectation that you believe still needs to be expressed, then you need to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) But let us be careful to not use the speaking of truth in love to push our own agenda. What you say after listening, needs to be bathed in love.  In fact not only what you say but also how you say it matters.   Think of 1 Corinthians 13. What you say needs to reflect a love for others and not a selfish concern. What you say needs to be reasonable, and expressed in a gentle fashion. What you say needs to be free from any resentment and not be vengeful. Probably our biggest concern should be that we not try and change people for our own benefit. Our job is never to change people.  For that matter, we should also never try to change people according to what we think God is calling them to.  Part of love is embracing who they are as a person and helping them become the person that God is calling them to be.

The third and final step is to seek unity. If you listened well, then it is possible that you learned something new and changed your opinion. That is a great way to find unity. When you have two conflicting opinions though, finding unity may not be easy. At that point, we need a gentle and humble attitude. We need to make sure that we are all pursuing the same goal. We should all be desiring to see God glorified. We are told in Ephesians 4 that we need to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The heavy-handed use of power or coercion are not effective in creating unity. If someone feels pushed or marginalized then we have done exactly what we should not do. Jesus showed us that unity can be created through a gentle and humble attitude. He created the ultimate unity possible by the sacrifice of His own life. What a great example for us. We should also have a gentle and humble spirit.

I don’t know about you, but I am far from perfect on this. There are a lot of little things that I know I should do, but don’t. I really need to spend more time thinking about how I am going to respond the next time I find pickles on my burger. In the meantime, I am praying that people will be especially gracious with me – God knows I need it.

How we respond matters!

Mark McCready
Senior Pastor