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Steps to Hope

Joyce Shutt is Former Pastor at Fairfield Mennonite Church and author of “Steps to Hope.” Her column appears in the Connection every Monday. Find her at StepsToHope.net.

My husband and I have very different thermostats. He tends to be cold while I tend to be hot. Summers when I am miserable, he is chilly and resists our using fans. In winter, he prefers the thermostat to be set at a minimum of 75, too warm for my comfort. Since his temperature sensitivity is health related, I try to accommodate his needs, but I confess that often leaves me quietly simmering.

Our differences raise an important issue; how much do we cater to the needs and preferences of others? When do our personal needs take precedence? When is setting boundaries the most loving thing to do? One of the first things that comes to mind as I write are the anti-maskers who are causing so much trouble for our public schools. Even if their complaints are valid, what right do they have to be violent and nasty to anyone who disagrees with them? Why should we cater to them when our schools are simply trying to negotiate the special challenges of the pandemic? When does it become appropriate to tell them to form their own separate schools and leave the rest of us alone?

The Apostle Paul responds to something similar within the early church —  when he discusses whether or not Christians should eat meat sacrificed to pagan idols. Paul concludes by saying he sees nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols since he doesn’t worship those pagan god. Besides, all food comes from God. But then he adds that he also chooses to refrain when he becomes aware his eating will be a stumbling block to his weaker brother. Like choosing to drink booze around someone who is trying to get  or stay sober?  

While his response has been helpful to me, I am also offended by his use of the term “my weaker brother.” Isn’t that being judgmental, assuming someone is weak and less able to deal with life’s challenges? Do we actually need to give in to the anti-maskers and accommodate those who feel threatened by the unveiling of systemic racism?  When does saying “no” become the most loving thing to do? When is it important to challenge those who want to stay with the status quo or are unwilling to make room for others? Returning to my husband and I, does Paul’s teaching mean that I must always adapt to his comfort? Isn’t it also important that he willingly move outside his comfort zone at times to accommodate my needs…such as when I am working over a hot stove?  

I wholeheartedly agree that love is patient and kind, slow to anger, etc. but, I confess, I am sick and tired of a selfish minority trying to make decisions for the rest of us, especially when they resort to violence to do so. How did we get to this place where negotiating our differences and finding compromises has become an anathema?  

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