The Pain of Indifference in Relationships
Elie Wisel on Indifference
Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, once said, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor. The world looked the other way during the Holocaust, either indifferent to this hideous atrocity, or too fearful to get involved. The rest of the world said "It's their problem, not ours. We have our own national concerns." The world's indifference to the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust is one of the great shames of the 20th century. The rest of the world would not choose sides. Their apathy came under the guise of being neutral and impartial. Neutral and impartial should never be a stance in the face of oppression and persecution of the innocent.
To this Wiesel determined, "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim." That last statement packs a painful punch, does it not?.
Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim."— Elie Wiesel
Indifference Breaks Down Family Relationships
The holocaust example above is on a grand scale. Indifference is found on a much smaller scale in the hearts of individuals and creates a breakdown in important relationships and the self-worth of those who feel unwanted. Following are a few examples.
The indifference of a husband and father is reflected when he yawns at his wife's greeting kiss; when he chooses a newspaper or extra work from the office over a date night with his longing wife; when he habitually promises "tomorrow" or "next time" to his family, and the tomorrow and next time never comes; when he says, "Go ask your mother," every time his children have a question or request; when he sleeps in on Sundays instead of going to church with the rest of the family; when his wife asks his help to make an important decision that affects the whole family, and he says "Do what you think is best." He doesn't go to his kid's sports events, recitals, or school functions.
There are mothers who shoo their small children away all day so they can focus on things of entertainment value, e.g. phone calls, texting, social media, television, or other activities that bring pleasure. Or maybe they are doing important things, but not as important as the children's need for their mother's time and attention. When her child shows her something he's colored, made, or accomplished, the child hears a disinterested, "That's nice honey, now go play." As a wife, she is indifferent to her husband's desire for her to attend an important function regarding his work; since it doesn't interest her, she says she doesn't want to go. She is indifferent to his affections, interests, opinions, ideas, and his work.
The tragedy in all this is that these parents are clueless that they are hurting their family. It never occurs to them to say to themselves, "I'm tired, but my spouse and children need to know I care, so I will do X, Y, or Z." Indifferent parents breed resentful, indifferent children. One day, their children are likely to be just as indifferent with their families.
The message to the family is "You're not as important to me as my own interests and pursuits. Your problems are a burden, you are a burden, you bore me, your needs are an inconvenience."
Worst of all are men who get their girlfriends pregnant and either demand an abortion or just walk out the door, never too return. It's difficult to say this, but most women who want and get an abortion, are indifferent to the rights of the baby they are carrying. It's about their body, their convenience. They choose to believe that the baby is not a human, just tissue that feels no pain. Many women suffer emotionally afterward for years to come. Some don't at all.
In a nutshell, it's about Me, Myself, and I.
Apathy also creates a breakdown in relationships with friends and others. Recently I heard the story of a woman who, with great hurt, said that no one ever calls her. She has many good friends that she knows from church and social settings; but outside of social situations, they never call and seldom return her calls either. "I'm just too busy," they say, when she asks how come they haven't kept in touch. "They just don't care," she said. "It's like I don't matter."
Another thing we hear a lot from people is "Oh, I'm just not a talk on the telephone person." You can call them and they won't answer. But within two seconds they are texting you. This is how it always is with them. Instead of giving greeting calls on special occasions, many people will text "Happy (fill in the blank). I love you." Another problem is not responding to phone calls, voice mails, emails, and texts. Caller ID is used to avoid callers we don't care to talk to for any number of reasons. This is more the norm now than the exception. Technology and social media have made it easy to be lazy and more distant in meaningful communication. But the bottom line is, we make those choices!
Many elderly people are deeply hurt and feel rejected and abandoned by lack of visitors or people to help. There's the grandmother whose adult grandson calls and says he will visit on Tuesday at 3:00 and never shows up or calls. This is devastating. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are filled with lonely and abandoned people who seldom, and sometimes never, get visits from friends and family. Their last years are empty, and the depression can be profound.
The worst case of apathy in a friendship I ever heard of was when a man committed suicide after trying to contact his 12-step program sponsor and contacts on his list. One of the men he called wept in remorse later on because he had ignored the distressed man's thirty phone calls and texts, thinking he'd get back to him at a more convenient time. He didn't even bother to listen to the voicemails until the deed was done and it was too late. What a tragedy.
What do these stories tell us about indifference? What is at the root of it?
- Me, myself, and I are on the throne!
Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another's heart, or its flame burns low."— Henry Ward Beecher
Indifference Toward God
In Revelation 3:14-17, Jesus didn't mince words with the church of Laodicea. They were tepid and indifferent toward God. They were comfortable, placid, and full of conviction that they had it all together. These are painful words to hear, but we must take heed:
"These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked..."
Vomit is a strong word. Strong's defines it this way:
•1692 eméō – properly, vomit (MM); (figuratively) repulsed, showing utter rejection (desiring total separation); "to reject with extreme disgust."
God was saying "You don't love me, you don't hate me, you just don't care! I am nothing to you. You think you have it all, that you are so righteous, and your works are so good. But you are in deplorable spiritual condition. You offend me and out you go!"
It's easy to wag our fingers at the Laodicean's, but if we are honest, we have been lukewarm at one time or another, perhaps for a long season. It's an insidious process, and if we are not on guard, apathy will seep in. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, it's the beginning of all things good.
The man to be afraid of is the one who is indifferent; what morality he has got is well within his own grasp, and Jesus Christ is of no account at all."— Oswald Chambers, Biblical Ethics
When People are Hurting
Many people suffer from depression and other mental health conditions, loneliness, serious health issues, grief, and a million other types adversities. Many are passed by because people want to see happy faces and cheerful souls who seem to have it all together. Sometimes we just don't know how to deal with suffering people. It makes us uncomfortable, so we leave them alone. Suffering people can be in a place full brimming with humanity and feel completely alone because no one cares enough to greet them and offer a listening ear or do a charitable deed for them. People who are going through pain feel they are all alone and no one else has the same trouble.
Hurting people often times wear masks, knowing people don't care about or are afraid of their struggles. Why do we do this? How will we ever understand them if we don't make the effort to connect with them?
Behind a standoffish, shy, or testy person indicates a hurting person. We steer clear of we misunderstand their behavior. Sometimes, we just don't care.
It's Called Caring
Jesus was trying to get across to the man testing Him, that we are responsible to show mercy and offer aid to everyone who needs us because we are all neighbors to one another. Its called caring. But the priest and the temple assistant, who were fellow Jews to the hurt man, were indifferent to the man's plight. They had places to go, people to see, and things to do, and this man's misfortune was not their problem. Someone else would come along and help.
Someone did come along, and strangely, it was a Samaritan who helped the man. Samaritan's and Jews despised one another and had no dealings with one another at all, yet it was the Samaritan who cared and offered aid to the wounded man above and beyond what anyone would expect.
The Story of the Good Samaritan
One example in the Bible of indifference to the suffering of others is found in the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. Jesus told the parable when a religious leader questioned him in an effort to test him. His question was, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus asked him what the law of Moses said. The man quoted, "You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said, "That's right. Do it and you'll live." Wanting to justify himself, the man asked him, "Who is my neighbor?" (vs. 25-29).
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
By chance, a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same" (vs. 30-37).
Not Too Late to Change
In verses 18-22, we see that Christ did not leave the Laodicean church without a second chance, however stern.
"I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
What a gracious offer! Jesus told them to invest in spiritual riches, so that they might be spiritually rich; to invest in white garments, which stand for righteousness only obtained from Him, that they would no longer have shame; to anoint their eyes with the salve of His Spirit, that they will have spiritual eyes to see His amazing love and grace.
Despite their sickening treatment of Jesus, He assured them that He loved them, and His chastening is born out of that love. He still wanted them to be His people! He still wanted to bless them. But, when God makes a promise, it's often conditional - we have our part - in this case, to be zealous and repent. Interesting he uses that verbiage. Christ is intentional with the word "zealous." He doesn't want half-hearted, meh, repentance, because it wouldn't be repentance at all. Repentance means to go in the other direction; to turn away from one thing, and to another. It's not enough to be sorry and promise to do better. Actions speak louder than words. He requires that we turn away from our sin, and turn our hearts back to Him.
The well-known words, "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me," is the most gracious offer God can give. What does He mean "I will...dine with him and he with Me?" Dining is an intimate experience. It's a time of sweet fellowship. God wants an intimate relationship with us. He's telling them, "Look, if you'll just open your hearts to me, I'll bless you with love and intimate fellowship." What a wonderful Savior!
Revive Us O Lord
God is calling us to wake out of our slumber, to seek Him to revive our souls.
Then we shall not turn back from You; Revive us, and we will call upon Your name (Ps. 80:18).
The remedy to an indifferent attitude is to repent and seek the Lord once again, to revive us. Then we will become the men and women and nation God has called us to be if we do this.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."— Martin Luther King Jr.
© 2015 Lori Colbo