Bench 'em!

One day as I was reading the online version of the Chicago Tribune, I came across a big controversy about whether the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears football team should keep his job or whether he should be benched.

I'm a Bears fan, so I found this an interesting debate. They were taking an online vote: Should he or shouldn't he be benched? I was aware of his recent poor performance, so as I voted to bench him I almost relished the opportunity to voice my strong disapproval.

But then a little voice in my head said something surprising: "Don't you have something better to contribute than your strong negative opinion?"

I thought about that question for a few minutes. Yes, I had to admit that I did have something better to give. But what was it?

The answer came: support. When someone is struggling – particularly a professional athlete or a politician – it's easy to join in the cacophony of voices that drag a person down.

The issue for me wasn't so much whether the player should be benched. The issue was whether I would choose to contribute something positive. And I've learned that in any situation my mental voice does count; it does make a difference because it contributes to the overall mental climate.

So I decided to take some positive action. My direction was: Apply the Golden Rule, which says, "Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them..." (Matt. 7:12, J.B. Phillips). I knew that if I were struggling, I'd want support and help, not destructive criticism.

So with that direction, I dropped my criticism. And I prayed, knowing that God gives each one of His children what they need to move forward, to be themselves, to express their God-given talents. No one is stuck. God made us to glorify Him, to express Him in whatever we are doing – whether we're playing football, painting a picture, or driving a truck. The Bible says, "It is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose" (Phil. 2:13, J.B. Phillips).

Supporting others doesn't necessarily condone whatever they are doing. But it does mean willingness to see them as God's children, as loved by God, guided by God. And willingness to admit that they deserve God's love just as much as we do and that they're just as loved as we are.

Criticism and condemnation may seem insignificant, almost harmless. But they're not.

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, described destructive criticism as mental malpractice. Mental malpractice is the opposite of the right, loving practice of Christianity, which blesses everyone. She described it this way: "Mental malpractice is a bland denial of Truth, and is the antipode of Christian Science. To mentally argue in a manner that can disastrously affect the happiness of a fellow-being – harm him morally, physically, or spiritually – breaks the Golden Rule and subverts the scientific laws of being" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 31).

Condemning another – even when it appears to be justified – was not the way Jesus lived. One time he faced an angry mob who was going to stone a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. They brought her to Jesus and asked him what he thought. After quietly writing with his finger in the dirt, he responded: " 'The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.' ... Hearing that, they walked away..." Then Jesus said to her, "'Does no one condemn you?' "

She said. " 'No one...'

" 'Neither do I,' said Jesus. 'Go on your way. From now on, don't sin' " (see John 8:3-11, Eugene Peterson, "The Message").

By the way, even though I and the majority of Tribune voters decided to bench that quarterback, he has led his team to the second round of football playoffs this weekend. And as for me, I've learned a little bit more about consistently supporting those who make mistakes as well as those I disagree with.

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