Incident, Coincidence, Pattern


How do you know when to encourage or confront someone — or both — “encouragingly confront” them? What is a good guideline for how patient we should be with each other in this holiest of minestre called the Church (this new city)? How tolerant should we be when somebody near us makes-a-bigga-messa (or even a little one)?

A number of years ago, I was reading the musings of a Jewish rabbi who was counseling his readers with practical wisdom about how people should respect one another. I wish I had saved the article because one of the first nuggets of wisdom that he gave was for young men to never argue with somebody more than 20 years their senior. This has proven to be good advice in my own life. Apostle Paul said to entreat them as we would a father.

The second golden nugget that has stayed with me and been repeatedly tested is the principle of an incidence vs. a pattern. When someone spills the milk, you have an incident. If later, they spill the milk a second time, that’s a co-incidence. However, if the person wastes a third glass of milk in a relatively brief period of time — that’s a pattern — and you might have to tell them to hold it with both hands. The rabbi’s practical advice was to be patient before responding to determine whether you had an incident on your hands or a developed pattern. When you can determine that there is a destructive or inappropriate habit in a person’s character, then you’re going to need to put it in check.

The wisdom of the axiom is that younger leaders and ministers (and I would include the parenting of children and leading of a home or a position at work) often face the desire to instantly correct something that they perceive is wrong; thus forcing the person to cry over their spilled milk and not helping them by being patient or forming their character. 

This is a general guideline. I understand that there are times where immediate and decisive action must be taken on a discovered incidence (which might already be a hidden pattern) of behavior. I know that there are moments which arrive where we have to warn even against a coincidence (a repeat). At the same time, we need to be careful about how we treat one another in everyday life things. Grudges are often born out of the pettiest of things. We will hear things like, “Do you know what she said about me?”  She said are the operative words there. Is she continually saying? We need to fight-off and dig-out the seeds of resentment and absorb, yea, cover a multitude of incidents with loving patience. Christ is our model and gospel identity our guide.

“Encourage one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ…”  Hebrews 3:13-14a

“For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’.” Romans 15:3



3 thoughts on “Incident, Coincidence, Pattern

  1. This was a very timely piece of wisdom for me. I lved the separation of incidents and habits and the encouragement of practicing grace. I am excited to apply this to my own relationships as well as with my kiddos. Thank you for sharing this with us!

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