He was stealing flowers, so I punched him

Today’s contributor shares spiritual ideas that not only helped him gain the upper hand over a tendency to react aggressively, but also led to the healing of a hand he’d damaged in a moment of anger.

Some years ago, I owned and operated a number of retail flower stores in New York City. One day while I was at the cash register of one of my stores, two women informed me that a man had just taken a bucket of roses off one of the outdoor display stands and was walking away. Impulsively, I thought the worst. I ran up behind the thief and hit him. He went sprawling, and the roses flew all over the sidewalk.

As I stood in a combative position, I warned the man never to show up around the store again. But instead of confrontation from this thief, I found a scared man covered with water and deeply humiliated.

As we went our separate ways I felt totally shamed by my actions. I was active in church and prided myself on being a good example in the community. But I felt all the good I had done had been entirely undone in that moment of anger.

Not only was my sense of integrity severely injured, but so was my hand! It was apparent that I had broken or displaced several bones.

I had learned through past experiences that when faced with an injury, it is more helpful to keep my attention on God than to focus on the appearance of the injury. So I turned away from inspecting the hand. But I did inspect my thinking and discovered that there was a need for change. I had spent too many years, from my childhood on, assuming that there were times when physical aggression was necessary to show the strength of my convictions.

More than dealing with sad feelings over what I had done, I saw that I needed to replace this desire to react aggressively with a different kind of response. This required reforming my thought. These words from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, state it clearly: “Sorrow for wrong-doing is but one step towards reform and the very easiest step. The next and great step required by wisdom is the test of our sincerity, – namely, reformation” (p. 5).

I thought of how Jesus never endorsed acts of violence as solutions to anything. As he was being betrayed by Judas, one of his own disciples, another disciple cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, who was among those who had come to arrest the Master. Jesus rejected the violence by healing the servant (see Luke 22:47-53). This rejection of violence was what I needed to embrace myself.

Christian Science explains that the divine Mind, another name for God, wisely provides each of us, each instant, with an inspired opportunity for a loving response to whatever needs correction. This God, ever-present divine Love, can never momentarily disappear. We can never be separated from Him even for an instant.

As I prayed with these ideas, not only did my aggressive impulses soften, but my hand straightened out and took on a normal appearance. Today, decades later, I continue to have full use of it.

I have come to understand the value of staying mentally alert to thoughts and feelings that steal away virtue and lead to wrongful actions. In “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” Mrs. Eddy advises: “Examine yourselves, and see what, and how much, sin claims of you; and how much of this claim you admit as valid, or comply with. The knowledge of evil that brings on repentance is the most hopeful stage of mortal mentality. Even a mild mistake must be seen as a mistake, in order to be corrected...” (p. 109).

Though I never again saw the man I’d hit, I’ve thought of him many times. I’ve questioned how things might have been different if I had followed the Scriptural admonishment “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). I’ve wondered what his response might have been if I had approached him with spiritual love rather than aggression.

Each day brings with it fresh opportunities for each of us to demonstrate moral courage over harmful impulses.

Adapted from an article published in the Jan. 12, 1998, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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