I had only been pastor at Indian River Baptist Church for a few weeks when the Youth Group held an off-site event. Meeting in the home of one of the deacons, it was an evening of playing board games, watching football, and singing praise to God. We were so new to the church that I was still in the stage of simply attending events rather than leading events, as we were still trying to meet people and learn how the church did things.
After the event, all the teens piled into various vans and headed back to the church. I decided to leave several minutes before everyone else to make sure the church was opened up and ready for their arrival.
That's when my problems began.
When I arrived at the church, I was confronted by several parents waiting in the parking lot. Apparently not all of them were aware the activity was going to be off-site (we later found out that some youth, who were not regular attenders, had lied to their parents about where the activity was to be held). Though most were reasonable, one particular woman was irate.
Staggering out of her vehicle, she got within inches of my face, cursing, threatening to sue, and making personal insults. It was a very one-sided conversation, as she would ask a question, then proceed to cut me off before I could even answer her.
Then came the slap. In the darkness of night I didn't even see it coming. Whap! Solid contact. More cursing. A little bit of shoving. I still hadn't even been able to get out one complete sentence.
Another slap. I believe I saw stars that time. Now her friend jumped out of the car and she began cursing at me too. Apparently the drunk mother had exhausted herself and staggered back to the vehicle, just as the van with the teens pulled into the parking lot.
Walking over to her car (her window was rolled down), I leaned down and said, "Ma'am, I ask your forgiveness for how I've offended you. I understand that every parent wants to protect their daughter. I'm not sure what happened tonight, but if we've dropped the ball I guarantee you we will address it."
I think she mumbled "whatever". But that's just a guess.
Then looking at her friend, I said, "Now, if you want to protect your friend as much as she wants to protect her daughter, then you'll take the keys and drive the vehicle home."
Responding in grace to difficult situations isn't easy. Being graceful when getting slapped by a drunk and irate woman, in public, is even harder. But as it happens, Christ directly addressed this situation. In Matthew 5:39 he says "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."
I think this was intended as a metaphor for any difficult situation, though perhaps in my case the Lord allowed me to experience that verse literally because I often tend to be a bit dense when it comes to biblical application. The point is that in any situation, and perhaps most importantly in the difficult ones, we cannot lose site of the goal. The evil person who is doing us harm is important to God. He (or in my case, she) is lost and needs Christ's salvation. If I respond in anger, even under the guise of "self-dignified righteousness", then I compromise the Gospel message. I push that individual further away from the Cross.
I learned two lessons that night. First, make sure youth leaders get signed permission forms from the parents. Second, I must consciously choose, in every moment, to keep the Gospel as my number one goal.