Newton’s Third Law of Motion states “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Consider this immutable truth, the law of action and reaction. For each and every action there is an identical and opposite, conflicting reaction. In other words, it is impossible to exert force on an object without causing an equal response in the opposite direction. This “effect and response” is as dependable as the sun rising and setting every day.
For example, when a ball hits the ground, it bounces back. When a gun is shot, there is recoil. The harder I push someone in a swing, the harder they will swing back at me. If I push on a balloon with pressure, it responds by popping. The harder and faster I pummel a punching bag, the bag responds in an equal and opposite reaction.
The law of physics God has programmed into our physical world can be paralleled and applied in our relational world. After a particularly challenging, stressful day with two of our teenagers, this “immutable law” strangely came to mind. It was as if a spiritual light bulb went on and I felt encouraged to apply this “law”, this truth, to personalities and relationships.
I examined at how I was interacting with my teenagers. Was it possible that the force of my interaction was causing an equal and opposite reaction? I was being sincere in my efforts, passionate in my delivery, and adamant in my position. I was trying to “get through” and see the reaction I wanted from them. I wanted them to see things my way so I communicated forcefully. I felt instantaneous resistance from them and immediately escalated my efforts. The thing was that might have worked well when they were children, but they were teenagers; unbelievably just a few short years to adulthood. To my regret, I have practiced this way of relating until the last few years. I knew the truth, I was concerned for the other person, I wanted them to see the truth. Period.
For instance, as parents, we have chosen certain limits what our children can watch on TV or at the movies. The irritation would erupt like a volcano, spewing out lava and smoke, if I caught them watching something, like MTV or a forbidden movie at a friend's house. I would react angrily and forcefully, thinking it would have more authority somehow. "Turn it off! You know better than that." Or “That friend is not good for you. Stay away from them.” Or “You need to buckle down and start studying.” I don’t really want to convict myself as a raving, lunatic parent, so I won’t share anymore of the myriad of examples; but you get the picture.
It wasn’t so much what I said; it was more how I said it. I did have a right to be upset or concerned or angry because our children are precious and I take my stewardship seriously. However, I reacted in haste and finality without trying to get to the heart of the matter and find out what had prompted them to “watch this or that” or “go out with so and so” or “why they flunked a test”. I began to see that God positioned me to be so much more than a policeman or a judge with my children. He wanted me to mentor and convey my love for them by presenting thoughtfully the better ways of living. He wanted me to acknowledge them as people in their own rights, on the same path and journey I am. I was not to control them, but help direct them and give them a chance to learn life lessons and consequences while still living in our home. I needed to respect them more and trust that God was parenting along with me. Hadn’t we prayed every day for our children? Well?! I learned that Newton was right. Pushing, pressuring or pummeling have a direct and opposite direction. The more force I exerted on my position, the reaction recoiled right back at me.
It dawned on me God does not push, pressure, or pummel us but He lovingly draws us! The action of “drawing” or “pulling” us closer to Him, would result in the weight of our being falling into His arms. Does He insist we accept the truth or does He clearly present the truth plainly and lovingly and then step back and let us make the decision? If there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action, then we must ask- if I am pushing- what reaction will be reciprocated? If I am pressuring a person, what might be their comeback? If I am delivering the truth with demanding force, how are they going to respond?
If every action causes an equal and opposite reaction, then what can we learn and apply to how we relate to people? I think I am learning to ask myself if I want to see a “reaction” or a “response”. The dictionary makes a slight differentiation between those two words. Reaction is defined as: the action caused by the resistance to another action; a reverse movement or tendency; an action in a reverse direction or manner. The word response is defined as: to reply or answer in words, to react favorably. Even better than getting a response is gaining receptivity.
When we are sharing Jesus, His ways and His path to abundant life, the stakes are high in relationships with the people we love. We might forget that the battle is not against that person, but a spiritual battle waged in prayer. My words can do more harm than good, but my actions and joy in the Lord are a powerful illustration. If my children see the fruit of the Spirit when I instruct them, they are more likely to be drawn to the Lord. Becoming transparent and authentic, I am humble and more approachable. Presenting the truth in love and using words with kindness, not a stinging reproach, I become a river of life which “waters” the ones I love. Here are three insights I have come away with.
1. Don’t push- instead pray and be perceptive.
As a gun recoils into your shoulder when shooting it, pushing forcefully will have an equal and opposite reaction right back at us that just might hurt as badly as the gun recoil did. I am learning to pray first, listen and be perceptive, then wait for an opening to speak. If I feel I have to push, I want to push through the “fruit of the spirit.”
2. Don’t pressure- instead- praise God for His power and
If I think I am the only one who loves my loved ones with deep concern; I need to think again. God’s love for our loved ones far exceeds my limited love. God’s abilities to convict and draw them, surpasses my capabilities. God’s presence in their lives is constant while mine is temporary and sporadic. Add to those facts that God never sleeps or slumbers, is constantly working toward reconciliation and His will is that all men should come to know Him! I can rejoice that it is not up to me alone. He wants to partner and equip me in being a parent.
3. Don’t pummel- instead- present the truth in love.
I used to raise my voice and use my parental authority like a verbal punching bag to make sure I got it all said! Then I realized they were totally tuned out and running away in their head and heart as fast as they could. It distressed me that my words could have the opposite effect and perhaps even damage our relationship. I reflected back to my teenage years and wanted to be respected and acknowledged as a young adult. Like the sun breaking the night sky, painting the morning sky beautiful, it dawned on me that my children are on the same journey in life that I am, and I want to be respectful, loving, and encouraging to them, while I’m instructing them. I want to present the truth in love. From now on, Newton’s third law will be my guiding relational law. For every action of kindness, respect, and love, I know there will be an equal reaction that comes back.