By Ruth Koch
Sometimes it seems like life is uphill all the way. Someone is rude to you, verbally abusive, takes advantage of you—whatever—and you, being raised as many women are, to ‘make nice,’ just don’t know how to handle the situation. If you make a big effort to ‘make nice’ with the person who is doing wrong, you will encourage the behavior and participate in their wrongdoing. You don’t want to be the doormat woman who forfeits the respect of those around her.
And I’ll bet you’ve seen too many women who hold it in and hold it in and then just blow up, raining nasty words and red-hot anger and even hatred that has been fermenting for way too long. You don’t want to be that woman who behaves aggressively—hurting others and later regretting it.
And, besides, you’re a Christian woman and that is at the very center of your identity. You want to represent Christ well in all your interactions with others, but you may not be sure just how to balance the whole counsel of God which tells us, for example, to put the needs of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:3) but also tells us to ‘look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,’ (Philippians 2:4), affirming that it is appropriate to look to our own interests. To untangle some of these competing instructions, we need to look at the concept of assertiveness, the healthy antidote to both passive and aggressive behaviors.
And thus we look to the Word, and to Jesus’ life, for the answer to this important life dilemma. In the gospels, you can observe Jesus’ behaviors, His attitudes, His loving, compassionate interactions and His sometimes direct, fiery interactions as well. Jesus embodied a higher law, the law of love. Jesus was beautifully assertive in His interactions with others, discerning what would most effectively accomplish His goal of salvation and service. The heart of assertive behavior is that it embodies both self respect and respect for others.
Mark 10:17-22 is the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus. Quite proud of himself and determined not to be vulnerable, the rich young man asked Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus knew his heart, wanted him to know salvation and began where the young man was by telling him that he must obey the commandments. “No problem! Been doing that all my life,” the young man answered. And Jesus looked straight at him with love (v.21). How easy it would have been to dismiss this arrogant young man! But Jesus loved him and wanted him to be a part of God’s kingdom. So He looked into the young man’s heart, saw how it was tangled up in riches, and spoke assertively and directly to him: “Sell it all, give it to the poor and follow me.” Jesus did not compromise His mission to bring salvation to this young man, nor did He mince words and try to make nice. Too much was at stake! His loving engagement reinforced His words.
Alas, we are told that the rich young man’s face fell, and “he went away sorrowful, because he was very rich” (v. 22). Important to note that Jesus was loving, direct, focused on His own mission of redemption and fully engaged with this young man. All that, however, did not guarantee that the man’s response would be to repent, sell and follow Jesus. Behaving assertively does not guarantee success, but it greatly increases the likelihood that a genuine and authentic encounter will take place
At its heart, Christian assertiveness is dedicated to the welfare and respect of others as well as honoring a commitment to the mission and ministry set before each Christian. An assertive Christian is not asserting rights, but is instead choosing behaviors that support, enhance and celebrate that Christian’s call to love and serve God and others, living out respect for self and the person God has created you to be—and respect for the other person as beloved and precious to God.
Christians can wade into messy situations and gather up our courage, knowing we are called to imitate the beautifully, lovingly assertive Christ.
Ruth N. Koch, M.A., NCC is a mental health educator and National Certified Counselor. Trained in both social work and counseling, she specializes in conflict management, grief education, and everyday mental health issues that impact personal and family relations. She is the co-author of Speaking the Truth in Love: How to Be an Assertive Christian, Stephen Ministries, St. Louis, MO. Come to the Gifted to Influence Conference in Milwaukee, WI September 29 – October 1 to hear Ruth’s presentation, “Neither Passive nor Aggressive: The Assertive Christian Woman.”