As I listened to the President’s State of the Union speech last night, I was mentally writing the headlines that I knew would appear the next day. This morning they appeared as expected, invective hurled back and forth from Left to Right, pundits cheering those ‘their side’ while heaping scorn on the other. We are nation full of offended special interests quick to take the worst view of those whose positions we do not share.
Do you get offended? No, I am not talking about your politics now. Let’s make it personal.
Do you hear a critical word and retreat into a defensive position, with a wounded spirit? Do you hear an insult, or even a perceived one, and then repeat it to yourself, over and over, letting the words slash at your heart? Do you sharing them with friends so that they can join you in your woundedness? If so, then you will deepen the divide between people. Solomon offers insight about this. “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” (Proverbs 18:19, NIV)
A man who was part of our pastoral ministry team at Faith Discovery Church several years ago, who now pastors a church in New York, Eric Hoke, blogged about the cost of holding onto an offended heart. He wrote. “My attitude of constant offense led to anger, which led to resentment that led to bitterness. What it ultimately came down to is that my resentment towards people for not acting the way I think they should, my bitterness towards them for their words that hurt me and my anger building up because of my offense had nothing to do with them, but everything to do with me. I was living in that state by choice!” From personal experience, I can certainly agree with him, knowing those same feelings.
Another blogger, Yaholo Hoyt, reminds us of an important fact. “No one can push your buttons if you don’t have any. When we are offendable, then other people can control our behavior. They can “rile us up” or get a reaction. Only by ridding ourselves of reactionary habits can we be in control of our words and our actions to others.” (Never Offended)
Disappointment is real. People do fail us. We are hurt by words that sometimes flow from carelessness and sometimes are aimed at us to wound and destroy. But, Christians who are secured by the love of Christ, taught to set aside self-interest to serve like their Savior, should be among the most difficult people to offend in the world. Peter teaches that “love covers over a multitude of sins.” Friction in human relationships is inevitable. But, the love of Christ heals the burn, soothes the heart, and sustains our unity.
When I am tempted to offense, and I am, I know it is best to pause, reflect, and pray. I know that words that wound in a moment of heated exchange or in a context of confrontation usually sound much different the next day when the emotion has subsided. I know that if I rush off to find a friend and repeat those words, I can drive them deeply into my spirit where they fester like a thorn that lodges under my skin. How I pray that the love of Jesus will shape my heart’s responses to others. That love is not trite or cheap. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT)
Are you offended this morning, ready to take issue with someone?
Did your spouse fail to treat you as you hoped, leaving you angry?
Did your friend overlook you, disrespect you, or judge you unfairly?
The word from the Word has some healing wisdom for the offended heart. Paul says “Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:18-21, NLT)
Pray this prayer, first prayed by St. Francis of Assisi centuries ago.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow charity;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light; and
Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.