Picking Your Battles (Part 1)

One of the most important truths I have learned is this: “You have to pick your battles.” This phrase seems so simple, but in it I find a wealth of wisdom both in my relationships and in my Christian faith, if only we would unpack its meaning.

What this phrase means is that I have to prioritize my personal values and beliefs. Most of our relationships involve an important and constant dance between give and take, compromise and integrity. “You have to pick your battles” thrusts the responsibility back to me. In that moment of choice, I am deciding whether this is a moment to stand up for my beliefs or to relinquish them for the sake of the relationship. And when is standing up for my beliefs being “full of integrity” and when is it being “full of me.” When is “compromise” a positive, relationship-building word and when is it a negative, character-demolishing word?

For many of us, we have a very flat value system. We believe that most of our beliefs are central to who we are and so we will fight for most of them. To challenge my beliefs is to challenge me, to challenge my identity. And if you challenge my identity, I have to fight (or more accurately, I have to defend or “be defensive.”). I would argue, however, that this way of life is exhausting. It is like having 10 item to-do list and always believing that they each one is the most important thing to do.

Not only is it exhausting but it also makes having relationships quite difficult. When every belief you hold and every part of you is equally important then every relationship will be like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. There is no part of that peg that is willing to “give,” all of it is equally rigid, equally defensive.

Now, let’s Christian-ize this. Unfortunately, Christians are often the worst at this. We often have an extremely flat value system. If you pick on beliefs about Genesis, it is just as offensive as if you denied the existence of Jesus himself. If you disagree with my “pre-millenial pre-tribulational rapture view of Revelation” (if you are reading this and you say, “what’s that?” you are in a good place my friend and need not Google it) you are just one quick move away from burning the Bible entirely. Those are good examples of a flat value system.

It’s no wonder why we are always fighting. Fighting with everyone, the gays, the liberals, the conservatives, the liberals in my own denomination, the conservatives in my own denomination, the literalists, the fundamentalist, the mainliners, the communists, the capitalists, the Republicans, the Democrats, the  _________ (insert almost everyone but yourself here). We have not learned to “pick our battles.” That is to say, we have not learned which of our values make up our identity and which are important but not central, which ones are ours but simply not important. We are the square peg that, instead of being willing to budge, will search endlessly for 300 others who can be our square hole. And we will call this Church.

4 responses to “Picking Your Battles (Part 1)

  1. I just had a “Pick your battle” moment with Good News Club at my kids’ school. I knew, with it being sponsored and run by a child evangelism organization, that it would mostly likely have a theological bent more conservative than my own…. just wasn’t prepared for my internal reaction to Lesson 2 (God hates sin and must punish it because He is holy). I had a ‘Oh, please, let me rewrite this curriculum before you psychologically damage my children’ moment. But I decided to prioritize relationships with people over theology —- because my kids are SO excited about this club and just love it! They desperately want to know who the other Christian kids are at school. I keep telling myself to just breathe and be gracious. Sometimes it’s hard to turn my brain off.

  2. Jared,
    It seems to me that battling anyone is an issue of control. The people you listed off (gays, conservatives, liberals, etc), whenever we “battle” these people, could it be the battle is really about us trying to control, manipulate, fight them into our corner? I think this is what you mean when you say that these things are “full of me.” When I look at the concept of grace, in order for grace to be grace it requires two things: 1. An existential receiving of not only the gift of grace itself, but of the wound, or absence in which grace is required. 2. Grace is a living reality. Therefore, grace must not only be accepted in us, but must also pass through us. Those who cling to this life, lose it. To me, this is why the spiritual journey is not only personal and existential, but deeply communal.

    If this reality is true, then we no longer hold the message, we become the message. In this sense, the response of the battle against others is not what we choose, but of something we are. We do not threaten them, we are the threat. To me, this is why Jesus was a subversive master. Jesus did not threaten others (the ethics and politics wouldn’t allow that), rather his very life, his very being, threatened the social orders.

    Just a thought. Great post!

    • I absolutely agree. But I think the reason “control” is even an issue is because of fear. And this is related to how we define ourselves and where we find our identity. Do you think these are all related?

      By the way, great thoughts on grace.

  3. ““pre-millenial pre-tribulational rapture view of Revelation” (if you are reading this and you say, “what’s that?” you are in a good place my friend and need not Google it)” <—- This made me laugh out loud!

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