To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well. Luke 6:29
For years, I thought that Jesus’s words in this passage meant that I needed to be a doormat, receiving insults and asking for more instead of protecting myself: to cower to an aggressor instead of fighting.
Some years ago, I watched Robert Barron’s excellent Catholicism series. Bishop Barron did an incredible job of explaining this passage in Episode 2. I cannot do his explanation justice, but essentially, he says Jesus is teaching here about nonviolent resistance. By turning the other cheek, a person forces her attacker not only to look her in the eyes, but also, should he choose to strike her again, to use his non-dominant hand.
Still, it took me years to understand how to apply this in my everyday life. Being married to a problem drinker, I certainly have seen my fair share of emotional slaps on the face. It is part of the disease: alcoholics highlight the faults of others and blame their problems on those around them. It helps sustain the disease.
For a long time, I thought my options to these attacks were to fight or cower in response to these emotional blows. I tried both. Once, I fought for an entire evening, insisting I told him the dinner reservation was at 6:00, while he in turn, insisted all evening that I told him 6:30, and it was my fault he was late. Other times, I would just say, “You’re right” or “It is my fault” when it was untrue, just so that he would stop screaming or insulting me. Whether I fought back or conceded, I didn’t win. Either way, I felt like a victim at the mercy of his behavior.
After a lot of prayer, spiritual direction, therapy, and meetings with other loved ones of alcoholics, I have finally started to discover what turning the other cheek looks like in my daily life. Some days, it is calmly saying, “I don’t remember it that way,” or “I’m just not going to argue with you about this,” when he insists on arguing over trivial things. Other days, it is quietly leaving the room when he says something mean-spirited. Sometimes, it’s waiting until he is sober to tell him something so he will remember it, or texting him so he can’t say I never told him. Some days, it’s simply saying, “you hurt my feelings when you did that.” Other days, it’s saying what I need to say just one time, instead of repeating it over and over in the futile hope that the repetition would somehow make things different.
As I learned what turning the other cheek meant for me, I came to realize that I am no longer a victim. No matter what he says or does, I no longer feel like I am at the mercy of someone else’s temper. I don’t have to choose between being a shrew and a doormat. In turning the other cheek, I found a way to maintain my dignity.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that, slowly over time, I have had fewer occasions where I needed to turn the other cheek. Although our situation is a long way from perfect, my husband is picking fewer arguments and being less mean-spirited these days. I like to think it’s because of how I respond. Who knew following Jesus’s command to turn the other cheek could lead both my husband and me away from sin?
What does turning the other cheek look like in your life?
Copyright 2018 Monica Portogallo