Reflections on Constraining Others
By Ding Li, USA
A few years ago, I was practicing songwriting at the church. As I got more of a handle on this work and the principles, I got better results in my duty. Over time, others started to think well of me. They’d come to ask me when they ran into problems in their songwriting. Everyone generally agreed with the opinions I shared, so I would pat myself on the back. I thought I was better than them, that I was the genius the team couldn’t do without. I always had this sense of superiority. Then, Sister Sheila came to do some songwriting with us. The supervisor assigned her to work with me, and asked me to guide and help her. At first, I really tried to teach her. I summed up my experience for her and said what to look out for, but she still messed up some of the things I’d stressed. I was kind of annoyed with her, thinking how I’d already told her these things but she still always made mistakes. Was she putting her heart into it? After that when I pointed out her mistakes, I’d scold her impetuously, “I’ve told you about this problem before. Why are you still making the same mistake? Are you even trying?” Once during a gathering, Sheila said she was afraid of making mistakes in her duty, and of being dealt with. Hearing that left me unsettled. Recently, I’d been pointing out issues in her duty a lot, and chiding her, too. Was I making her feel constrained? But then I thought, she was always making mistakes, so it wasn’t wrong of me to point them out. If I didn’t speak up, would she be aware of them and change quickly enough? It’s not like I had bad intentions. I just wanted her to get the hang of things and avoid compromising the work. With time I gradually saw that when Sheila had difficulties in her duty, or had any thoughts or ideas, she wouldn’t tell me anymore. Plus, she was negative and never felt she was up to the task. In fact, Sheila wasn’t the only one who I worked that way with. I was the same with the other brothers and sisters. I tended to put all of my time and energy into my duty, and sometimes I even worked late into the night to do a good job. I felt like I took on a burden and was devoted to my duty. When I saw those around me going to bed early, I felt like they didn’t carry a burden in their duty, and I’d berate them, “You need to shoulder a burden and be able to pay a price, not covet comfort!” When sisters were tired and got up to stretch their legs, or idly chatted for a bit, I felt like they were unfocused in their duty. I’d turn my nose up and scold them, “When it’s time to do your duty, that’s where you should be focusing your energy. Doesn’t this chatting delay your work?” The other brothers and sisters slowly started distancing themselves from me, and they stopped coming to talk to me when they ran into a problem or difficulty. I felt really isolated and out of sync with everyone. I felt so out of sorts, but didn’t know what was causing the problem.
One day a few months later, the leader came to talk to me out of the blue, and said to me sternly, “Others have mentioned recently that you tend to reprimand and constrain people. The brothers and sisters feel really stifled by you, and don’t feel free in their duties. This is a display of poor humanity.” Hearing this from the leader was like a smack in the face, and made my head buzz. Especially the words “constrain people” and “poor humanity” felt like a knife to the heart for me. My mind was in turmoil. How had I become someone with poor humanity who constrains others? How was I stifling them? I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I was replaying everything in my head, and was really perplexed. I was thinking, I’m naturally a direct person—I just say it like it is. But everything I say is true. When I see a problem with someone, I have the guts to say it directly; I’m not afraid of offending others. I felt that’s righteousness. How could that become constraining others and having poor humanity? Since the leader said I was constraining others, I’d work on changing, and let everyone see my transformation. Then no one would say I was constraining them or had poor humanity anymore. After that, I started focusing on my tone of voice and worked on how I spoke. I always thought of how to put things a little more tactfully so I didn’t wound people’s pride and make them look bad. Sometimes I saw an issue but didn’t point it out myself, afraid someone would say I was constraining. I had the supervisor fellowship on it, instead. Gradually, I stopped scolding and reprimanding people like before, and the others said I’d shown some change. But I didn’t feel at peace or at ease. I was depressed a lot and had no sense of freedom. I was walking on eggshells, repeatedly weighing and pondering every word I said. At that point, I had to ask myself: “Does this behavior show true repentance and change? Other people don’t feel constrained anymore when I interact with them, but why do I feel constrained?” In pain and confusion, I came before God in prayer and seeking, asking Him to enlighten and guide me so I could truly reflect on and understand my state.
Once in my devotionals, I read a passage of God’s words. “The first thing to be done when repenting is to recognize what you have done wrong: to see where your mistake was, the essence of the problem, and the corrupt disposition you have revealed; you must reflect on these things and accept the truth, then practice according to the truth. Only this is an attitude of repentance. If, on the other hand, you consider cunning ways exhaustively, you become more slippery than before, your techniques are cleverer and more concealed, and you have more methods to deal with things, then the problem is not quite as simple as just being deceitful. You are using underhanded means and you have secrets you cannot divulge. This is evil. Not only have you not repented, but you have become more slippery and deceitful. God sees that you are overly intransigent and evil, one who admits on the surface that they were wrong, and accepts being dealt with and pruned, yet in reality, does not have a repentant attitude in the slightest. Why do we say this? Because while this event was happening or in its aftermath, you did not seek the truth at all, you did not reflect and try to know yourself, and you did not practice according to the truth. Your attitude is one of using Satan’s philosophies, logic, and methods to resolve the problem. In reality, you are sidestepping the problem, and wrapping it up in a neat package so others see no trace of it, letting nothing slip. In the end, you feel you are quite smart. These are the things God sees, rather than your having truly reflected, confessed, and repented of your sin in the face of the matter that has befallen you, then going on to seek the truth and practicing according to the truth. Your attitude is not one of seeking the truth or of practicing the truth, nor is it one of submission to God’s sovereignty and arrangements, but one of using Satan’s techniques and methods to resolve your problem. You give others a false impression and resist being exposed by God, and you are defensive and confrontational regarding the circumstances that God has orchestrated for you. Your heart is more closed than before and separated from God. As such, can any good result come from it? Can you still live in the light, enjoying peace and joy? You cannot. If you shun the truth and shun God, you will certainly fall into the darkness and weep and gnash your teeth” (The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Only by Pursuing the Truth Can One Resolve Their Notions and Misunderstandings of God). I learned from God’s words that true repentance and change require true self-reflection, and an understanding of your corrupt disposition and the essence of your issues. You have to know where your fault lies, and seek the truth to resolve your corruption. Looking at myself, when the leader pointed out my problem of constraining others, I didn’t reflect at all, nor seek the truth to figure out what constraining others actually is, what behaviors of mine were constraining, what God’s words reveal about this issue, God’s attitude toward that sort of person, and so on. Instead, I just went by what I imagined, that the others felt constrained because I was too blunt and didn’t have a nice tone. To get everyone to see that I’d changed, I worked on my tone of voice and behavior. I wasn’t frank anymore when I saw a problem; instead I was gentle, saying whatever would save someone face. Sometimes I clearly saw someone was violating the principles, but was afraid others would say I was constraining if I spoke up, so I turned a blind eye, or told the supervisor so she’d handle it. After practicing this way for a while, though the others said I didn’t constrain them like before, I was just making behavioral changes, not changes to my life disposition. When I was dealt with, I didn’t seek the truth to resolve my corrupt disposition. I just practiced restraint, putting up a false front. That’s why I felt so depressed and stifled. I was tiptoeing around and overly cautious with every word I said. It was an exhausting way to live. It was all misery I brought on myself by not seeking the truth and following the rules. So, at the time I thought I couldn’t keep on that way. I had to come before God to seek the truth, reflect on my own problems, and come out from my negative state.
Later, I looked for words from God about constraining others, and applied those revelations when reflecting on myself. One day I read something in God’s words. “Can you make people understand the truth and enter its reality if you only repeat words of doctrine, and lecture people, and deal with them? If the truth you fellowship is not real, if it is nothing but words of doctrine, then no matter how much you deal with and lecture them, it will be to no avail. Do you think people being afraid of you, and doing what you tell them to, and not daring to object, is the same as them understanding the truth and being obedient? This is a major mistake; entry into life is not so simple. Some leaders are like a new manager trying to make a strong impression, they try to impose their new-found authority on God’s chosen ones so that everyone submits to them, thinking that this will make their job easier. If you lack the reality of the truth, then before long your true stature will be exposed, your true colors will be revealed, and you could well be cast out. In some administrative work, a little dealing, pruning, and discipline is acceptable. But if you are incapable of fellowshiping the truth, in the end, you will still be unable to solve the problem, and will affect the results of the work. If, no matter what issues appear in the church, you keep lecturing people and casting blame—if all you ever do is lose your temper—then this is your corrupt disposition revealing itself, and you have shown the ugly face of your corruption. If you always stand on a pedestal and lecture people like this, then as time goes on, people will be unable to receive the provision of life from you, they will not gain anything real, and instead will be repulsed and disgusted by you. In addition, there will be some people who, having been influenced by you due to a lack of discernment, will likewise lecture others, and deal with them and prune them. They will likewise get angry and lose their tempers. You will not only be unable to solve people’s problems—you will also be fostering their corrupt dispositions. And is that not leading them onto the path toward perdition? Is that not an act of evil? A leader should lead, in the main, by fellowshiping about the truth and provisioning with life. If you always stand on a pedestal and lecture others, will they be able to understand the truth? If you work in this way for a while, when people come to see you clearly for what you are, they are going to desert you. Can you bring people before God by working in this way? You certainly cannot; all you can do is foul up the work of the church and cause all God’s chosen people to loathe you and desert you” (The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Part Three). As I pondered God’s words, it became clear to me that seeing others’ problems, but not fellowshiping on the truth to help them, or pointing out a path of practice, instead haughtily scolding and reprimanding them for their faults, and pushing them to do what you want is constrictive behavior. When I compared myself to God’s words, I saw I was like that. When Sheila first started practicing songwriting, she wasn’t familiar with a lot of work processes, so making mistakes was normal. As her partner, I should have lovingly helped and supported her, working together to summarize the reasons for her mistakes, then change those errors. But I wasn’t taking into consideration her real stature or difficulties. I wasn’t understanding or considerate of her at all, and I didn’t look for the source of her mistakes. I just had disdain for her, and pigeonholed her as not being devoted to her duty. I even impetuously rebuked and scolded her all the time, which made her feel constrained, and her bad state impacted her duty. I was the same in my interactions with other brothers and sisters. If I saw someone going to bed earlier than me, taking a break and moving around, or chatting a bit, I thought they were lax in their duty, too concerned with the flesh, and I looked down on them. I always scolded others, making them resent me and even avoid me. Not only did interacting and working with others in this way not bring them any edification or benefit, but it left them scared and constrained. I really wasn’t loving toward others and had no humanity. In fact, getting up and moving around after working for a long time, or chatting and relaxing for a moment is really normal. But I insisted that everyone be like me, going to bed late and not having casual conversations. I was so arrogant and self-righteous. I was acting out of corruption toward everyone, not basing my actions on God’s words or principles of the truth. And it made people feel stifled and constrained. At this point in my ruminations, I felt guilty and upset. I saw that I really was unreasonable, and incredibly lacking in humanity.
I read another passage of God’s words later that helped me see more clearly what the root of it was. God’s words say, “If, in your heart, you truly understand the truth, then you will know how to practice the truth and obey God, and will naturally embark on the path of pursuing the truth. If the path you walk is the right one, and in line with God’s will, then the work of the Holy Spirit will not leave you—in which case there will be less and less chance of you betraying God. Without the truth, it is easy to do evil, and you will do it despite yourself. For example, if you have an arrogant and conceited disposition, then being told not to oppose God makes no difference, you can’t help yourself, it is beyond your control. You would not do it on purpose; you would do it under the domination of your arrogant and conceited nature. Your arrogance and conceit would make you look down on God and see Him as being of no account; they would cause you to exalt yourself, constantly put yourself on display; they would make you scorn others, they would leave no one in your heart but yourself; they would rob you of God’s place in your heart, and ultimately cause you to sit in the place of God and demand that people submit to you, and make you venerate your own thoughts, ideas, and notions as the truth. So much evil is done by people under the dominance of their arrogant and conceited nature!” (The Word, Vol. 3. The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days. Only by Pursuing the Truth Can One Achieve a Change in Disposition). I realized from God’s words that the reason I was so imperious and repressive toward others was entirely because of my arrogant satanic nature. I’d been songwriting for a long time, so I was familiar with the principles and skills, and the supervisor had me help and guide the others a lot. I saw this as personal capital, thinking I was really something, and better than everyone else. Before I knew it, I was putting myself on a pedestal and looking down on everyone. When Sheila kept making mistakes in her songwriting, I lost my temper and scolded her, but I was actually belittling her and exalting myself, getting everyone to see me as better than her. She was making mistakes and causing problems that I wouldn’t; she was inattentive and irresponsible, whereas I was serious and responsible in my duty. But now that I think about it, Sheila had lots of strengths, too. She had good caliber, made fast progress in songwriting, and made lots of good suggestions. But I was just fixed on her flaws and couldn’t see her merits. I had high standards and strict requirements for her. I wouldn’t permit her to make a mistake in something I’d already corrected her on. Sometimes when I saw others chatting or going to bed early, I’d dress them down, too. I took my personal demands and standards as principles of the truth, and made others follow them, chiding them when they fell short. I acted like I had no flaws and was a perfect person whom no one could match. I was so arrogant and unreasonable. The truth is that I often made mistakes in my duty. A few times, my inattentiveness and carelessness negatively impacted our work. I also got passive and retreated when I ran into challenges in my duty; I didn’t want to pay a price. I wasn’t any better than the others, but I couldn’t see my own problems and flaws. I always felt like I was a cut above the rest. I really didn’t have any self-awareness. Realizing this left me feeling so ashamed. I also hated how severely arrogant I was, and that I wasn’t living out humanity.
In my seeking after that, I realized I always used to feel that being able to point out problems I saw, and only saying things that were true, meant I had the guts to speak up and wasn’t afraid of offending people, and that this showed a sense of righteousness. But in fact, I couldn’t tell the difference between righteousness and arrogance. I took this conundrum before God in prayer and seeking. In a gathering once, a church leader fellowshiped on his own understanding of this. Basically, he said that righteousness refers to upholding the truth and protecting God’s work. If you really understand the truth, and know what is in line with the truth and God’s words, you should uphold that. But not daring to uphold God’s words or the truth is lacking a sense of righteousness. Being arrogant and conceited refers to the satanic disposition of rebelling against God and resisting Him. Disregarding God’s words, work, and requirements, thinking a lot of yourself, sticking to your own views, your own notions, thinking you know everything—this is being arrogant and conceited. Arrogance is entirely at odds with righteousness and adherence to the principles. They’re totally unrelated. Hearing the leader’s fellowship gave me some discernment over the difference between arrogance and righteousness. Someone with righteousness can uphold principles of the truth and protect the church’s work. When they see someone harming the church’s interests, they can stand up, fellowship, and stop it, and reveal others’ problems. Sometimes they may speak harshly, but what they say is objective and practical, and for the sake of the church’s work. It benefits others’ life entry, and doesn’t harbor any personal intent. That’s an expression of righteousness. I thought about how when the leader sees someone being irresponsible in their duty and damaging the work, sometimes he may prune and deal with them. Though his tone may be harsh and blunt, he highlights the nature and consequences of the problem, so people can reflect and repent quickly, and it prevents harm to the work, and helps people reflect on and learn about themselves. It has a positive outcome. But constraining others is a display of arrogance. It’s pushing people to do things according to your standards and ideas. Your intent is to show off how superior you are. As a consequence, you impose lots of rules on people, leaving them scared and feeling constrained, confined, or negative. In my work with Sheila, when I saw her making lots of mistakes, I didn’t find out what was causing her mistakes, or extend positive fellowship and help. Instead, I pounced on her issues and scolded her, which made her feel really constrained. I was very clearly displaying an arrogant disposition, not righteously upholding the church’s work. If someone has the right intent, is principled, tries to uphold the church’s work, and can objectively point out issues they see, even if they speak harshly, they are not being arrogant. This kind of practice is edifying for others and beneficial to the work. It is practicing the truth and demonstrating righteousness. So if you want to resolve the issue of being arrogant and constraining others, you can’t just focus on speaking tactfully, or not speak up when you see problems. You have to focus on self-reflection and resolving your arrogant disposition, on inspecting the intent behind your words, and staying in your proper place, and stop making demands of others and judging them according to your preferences and notions.
I read another passage of God’s words that gave me more clarity on a path of practice. God’s words say, “At the very least, God’s chosen ones should be possessed of conscience and sense, and should engage and interact with people—and handle things—according to the standards of normal humanity. Naturally, what is best is to practice according to the principles of truth demanded by God, this satisfies God. So what are the principles of truth demanded by God? That people be understanding of the weakness and negativity of others when they are weak and negative, that people be mindful of others’ pain and difficulties, and then inquire about these things, and offer help and support, and read them God’s words to help them solve the problems, so that they are no longer weak, and are brought before God. Is this a way of practicing that is in line with principle? Practicing thus is in line with the principle of the truth. Naturally, relationships of this kind are also in line with principle. When people are deliberately meddlesome and disruptive, or deliberately careless and perfunctory when performing their duty, if you see this and are able to handle matters according to principle, and can point these things out to them, and reprimand them, and help them, then this is in line with the principles of the truth. If you turn a blind eye, or are tolerant toward them and cover for them, and even go so far as to say nice things to praise and applaud them, finessing them with fake words, then such behaviors, such ways of interacting with people, dealing with issues, and handling problems, are clearly at odds with the principles of the truth, and have no basis in the words of God—in which case these behaviors and ways of interacting with people and handling issues are clearly illegitimate” (The Word, Vol. 5. The Responsibilities of Leaders and Workers). I thought about what God said, and realized that when interacting and working with brothers and sisters, we have to learn to treat them fairly and see their strengths. We can’t look down on people just because they have some flaws and problems. That’s not reasonable. Everyone’s stature, caliber, and capacity for comprehension are different. We can’t make demands and assessments based on personal preferences, like one size fits all. When we notice others’ problems, we should lovingly help them and fellowship on the truth to support them so they can understand the principles of the truth and find a path of practice. That’s the best way to resolve problems. As for those who are frequently perfunctory and disruptive in their duty, they can be dealt with and exposed. That’s acting responsibly on behalf of the church’s work, not being constraining. Once I understood all this, I started putting God’s words into practice. When I saw issues in others’ duties after that, first I’d go chat with them and figure out what was causing the problem, whether it was due to being slipshod or not understanding the principles. Then I’d find relevant words of God for fellowship, and seek a path of resolution. If they didn’t change after I’d fellowshiped several times on the same thing, and were delaying and impacting the church’s work, I’d prune and deal with them as appropriate. I didn’t feel constrained anymore.
I remember our team member, Sister Clara, didn’t bear a burden in her duty or give it her all. It led to inefficient songwriting and poor results. I pointed her problems out to her, but she wouldn’t accept it, and found all sorts of excuses to justify herself. I realized she was in a dangerous state, and if she didn’t turn things around and enter in, the work would definitely suffer. If it was serious enough, she might even be dismissed. So, after that I was blunt with her about her issues, exposing the nature of her behavior, and the consequences of continuing on like that. Then she finally realized how serious her problem was and was ready to repent and change. Clara’s attitude toward her duty changed a lot after that, and she became much more productive. Now, when I see others violating principles and doing things that compromise the church’s work, I still have the urge to display arrogance. But I quickly pray to God and remind myself to treat others fairly, and seek the best way to help and benefit them. After practicing this for a while, my relationships with the others gradually normalized. One day I heard a sister say my fellowship helped her, and allowed her to change her state a bit. I felt incredibly happy.
Thinking back over the past couple of years, experiencing being dealt with has allowed me to reflect on and understand my constraining behavior, and given me some paths of practice for interacting with brothers and sisters and living out normal humanity. This bit of understanding and change is thanks to God’s salvation for me!
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