The room was filled with conversation, laughter, and the scraping of forks on plates as we celebrated a birthday. But one member of my family was quiet. I looked closer and noticed the shiny eyes that indicated hurt feelings. When I asked my child what was wrong, he said, "When you served the pie to everyone, you gave me my piece last."
There was plenty of both kinds of pie. He did not miss out on getting a piece, nor was his smaller than others. He was simply the last one to receive his plate, and that bothered him.
We live in a "me first" society. Long lines form hours ahead of showtime on opening night of a highly anticipated movie. People arrive early at a school concert to get good seats. Not to mention the shocking incidents we read of among people battling for first chance at the bargains on Black Friday.
We want to make sure we get our "fair share" of what is available and we want it first.
When it comes to our fair share of the responsibility for a conflict or a mess up. Then we are quite content for others to go first.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who has waited in stony silence for my husband or my child to apologize first. Or for the other party in a miscommunication to own that they must have been unclear or heard things wrong. Or, especially, for a person that I share a rocky relationship with to change their attitude or approach.
When it is time to apologize, to forgive, or to change, I have no problem allowing others to go to the head of the line.
There are some issues with that.
First of all, I am the common denominator in all of my interactions. If I am frustrated with several different people, there is a good chance that I am a sizable part of the problem. Though I sometimes fight this truth, I am also the only part of the equation that I have the power to fix.
More importantly, I don't see anything in Scripture that endorses focusing on other peoples' behavior.
What I do find are the words of Jesus that say we are to forgive "seventy times seven", and his pointed parable of the unmerciful servant. Remembering how much we have been forgiven, we are to extend grace early and often.
The apostle Paul says to be transformed, not to transform others. He also says in Colossians 3:12 to bear with others, and to forgive as Christ forgave us. The Biblical record is clear that Jesus forgave, first, while we were yet sinners.
In his words and by his deeds Christ was telling everyone, especially the self-righteous, "You do you." We are to quit hiding at the back of the line when it is time to eat humble pie. It's no good waiting for others to make the first move.
At the top of every few pages of my daily journal is the phrase, "Lord, change me." Those words that I read in a book many years ago have become a regular prayer of mine. I know I need to go first. I need to set aside my pride and hurt (and yes, sometimes, fear) and take the first step to make things right.
My first response is usually still to expect others to change, to wait for them to make the first move to heal the relationship. Sometimes, though, I get it right. I take a deep breath, ask, "Is this a good time to talk?", admit my fault in the situation, and say I'm sorry.
It's not easy. But when the other person smiles in surprise, with defenses down, and willingly accepts my apology it feels so good. It's like hearing the first robin sing after a long, cold winter.
There are a lot of situations where a Christ follower should gladly put others first. But when it comes time to take responsibility for a problem, to apologize, or to be willing to improve our attitude, we have permission to jump up and say, "Me first!".