The Discipline of Relent.

We live on a very narrow street.

It is the kind of street that is “technically” two lanes however, due to its actual width and the fact that one side is perpetually lined with parked cars, it is functionally a one lane road with cars attempting to go in both directions. Add to that the Italian knack for “creative parking solutions” and you don’t have to imagine too hard how often our street is frozen in a good ole fashioned western stare down. Daily we see cars coming from both directions engaged in a game of who’ll flinch first.

On more than a few occasions I’ve mindlessly started up our road to head somewhere only to come face to face with another car. But one occasion in particular was a stare down that, *ahem* shall we say, “got a little heated.”

Like, neither car budging for a long time heated.
Like, stare down the other driver with the coldest of gaze heated.
Like, “you better move or I will literally run you over” heated. 

Now, in the aforementioned face-off I found myself a little further down the road than the other person. Behind me was literally no space on either side of the road. I could not pull aside and let her pass. So, I felt as though I should have had the right of way…and yet, I was stopped face to face with someone who had “that” look on their face.

That “there’s no way in Hades you’re going before me, back it up buster” look. So, naturally I repaid that stare with an equally icy and unwavering stare. 

Now, to be clear, for me to back up, because of the way the street is and the lack of space, it would have required me go in reverse all the way to where I started from. So, I started waiving my hands wildly in disbelief and yelling out loud (to myself, in my car) that this person had the audacity to not back up into a perfectly open space so as to allow me to easily pass. All they had to do was back up a smidge. I had to back up a much longer distance.

Oh the injustice and horror of it all.

As I became more agitated and the stand-off continued for what seemed like minutes, I heard the voice of God ask a simple question, “why is it so important for you to win?

As I ran through the litany of reasons in my head of why SHE should move I suddenly realized how ridiculous I was acting. I took a breath, and with a slight tinge of bitterness I relented. I put the car in reverse and naturally went backwards as painfully slow as I could until I arrived at the place I had begun. 

She drove right past me. No look. No wave of appreciation. Nothing. 

I’d like to say I just drove on to my destination without giving it another thought. Didn’t happen. I fumed the whole way there and then upon returning home recanted the entire event in vivid and impassioned detail to my wife. 

While an incident like this doesn’t happen every day, there are countless opportunities like it for me to “assert” myself and make sure that I get what I want when I want it. Often times this comes at the expense of my view of another person. How quick I can be to, in a sense, discount the woman (whom I didn’t even know) as some monster who wouldn’t budge or get out of my way. In those moments I’m much more concerned with myself and my “rights” than I am another person’s.

When I practice backing down in instances like these I am actively and purposely allowing others to “win.” I am, in a sense putting others needs and desires ahead of my own in a way that releases my need for justice and the “right thing” to be done. 

I’ve found that it requires a great deal of intentionality. To submit to the will and desire of another means I have to relent. I have to purposefully choose to let them win, to let them have what they want, at the expense of my own will and desire. 

When I actively look for ways to practically and intentionally relent I am struck by the sheer number of times within a given day I am plagued by selfishness and a desire for my own brand of justice mitigated by my own personal motivations. When I relent, I am practicing a way in which I put the needs and desires of another before my own. It’s not natural, it’s not fun, it’s not even always rewarding, but it is a way in which I can actively choose the good of another and in it, grow in my love for others. 

The reality is, I don’t need to win. Whether I have the right of way or not, it doesn’t really matter. If my need to win leads me to view someone else as a “monster,” then it’s a problem. When I purposefully relent and allow another to have their way, I move towards love and a proper view of my neighbor. As we look for ways to love our neighbors well, I’m reminded that one small way we can do that is to relent and intentionally choose the good of another.

To relent, as Paul says in Philippians 2, is to consider others more important than myself. It is, to look not only to my own interest, but also to the interest of others. And in this way, we actually live out and work out our salvation in Christ. In other words, it’s in the relenting of our will and way to another that we practically live out the reality of our salvation daily.