Oh, Grow Up!

Have you ever had a moment when you were dealing with a difficult person, and you said to yourself, "I wish they would just grow up!"?

I was at my son's basketball game the other night and made the mistake of sitting near some of the parents from the opposing team.  

The guy sitting behind me would not stop chirping at the refs, shouting in my ear, and saying awful things about the kids on my son's team.  At one point, he focused his ire on one of our players, shouting derogatory things about him at the top of his lungs. 

As fate would have it, the boy's mom was sitting not far away, and she came over to confront the man.  "That's my son you're talking about," she said to him calmly.  "Maybe you need to remember that they're just kids playing a game." 

What ensued was a lot of blustering from the unruly guy, whose wife actually stepped in and pushed him farther down the bleacher away from the other woman. 

He kept at it after she returned to her seat, mouthing off about her and how he had the right to say what he wanted. 

At that point, I stood up, turned around, and gave the guy the sternest and most baleful glare I could muster.  We locked eyes, and he fell silent.  

Then, I quietly moved to another part of the gym.  

I thought a lot about that encounter afterward.  I also had some repenting to do for my own blabbermouth at my son's athletic events in the past.  I also realized that simply enjoying the game and watching the kids play was a joy.  

It had nothing to do with me.  My playing days have long ceased to exist.  

I also thought about that guy and how his refusal to act like an adult kept him from truly enjoying the moment and ruined it for everyone else around him.  

The whole experience brought to mind a quote I wrote down from G.K. Chesterton, a 19th-century theologian and writer: 

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.  

There are probably more than a few of us who read that quote and then offer a resounding "Amen!" We can all think of people in our lives, political or public figures, that we wish would stop playing games and grow up. 

I also thought about how the moment at the basketball game could have gone down.  The blustering guy got rebuked for his behavior, for sure.  But it was done quietly, first by the boy's mom and then (in a very small way) by me.  

I'm sure she thought long and hard about what to say to the guy and probably didn't say all of the things she was thinking.  Instead, she calmly pointed out the truth of the situation.  

And instead of telling the dude what I thought of him and his incessant blathering, I could make a point without saying a word.  I no longer needed to be around him because he was stealing my joy. 

Maybe he learned something.  Maybe he had a moment or two afterward when he repented.  Or maybe his wife had words with him in the car.  It could be that he learned nothing.  

What I'm advocating for here is a kind of restraint when interacting with difficult people.  This doesn't mean we should let injustice happen or not step in when people are harmed.  

It simply means that we don't always need to be in control or dominate every situation, and (as stated in an ancient Hebrew proverb) "a soft answer turns away anger." 

Fr. Richard Rohr once wrote: 

One has to wonder, do we really want people to grow, or do we just want to be in control of the moment? 

It seems that if we want folks to learn to grow, practicing restraint and using wisdom in our responses to the difficult people in the world will go a long way toward helping them to do so. 

God knows we all need that kind of restraint and wisdom in our lives, and we also could use it from others when we're not at our best.  

May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 


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