One of the most difficult things to navigate when we first moved to Nebraska was the whole communication thing. My east coast communication style often clashed with the Nebraska way of doing things; or it missed the mark altogether. I remember having conversations with people and walking away feeling as if we’d definitely communicated, only to find out (days, or even weeks later) that I had completely misunderstood or been misunderstood. It was frustrating.
One day, however, H told me there was a gentleman in our church who had requested a meeting with me. “What’s it about?” I asked. “Well,” H replied, “apparently you’ve said something that offended him.” I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear that.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t happy to know I had offended the man, but I was thrilled to know this man would come to me to talk about it, rather than going to everyone but me to talk about me.
The bible is clear about how to handle situations in which we find ourselves offended by someone else. As is typical with the way God sets up most things, this biblical instruction isn’t the thing I’d choose if left to my own devices. Rather than lay it out here, I’ll let you click through and read it for yourself. I just want to focus on the first step, which — in this day of social media and instantaneous reactions — seems the most unnatural thing to do. What I want to do when someone steps on my toes, is fire off a snarky status update or rant and rave about it to someone other than the person who pushed my button. But, the bible says the first step is to go to the person who offended me.
Now, I ask you: Who, in her right mind, wants to do that?
But that might just be the point. Our “right mind” isn’t always the best gauge when it comes to spiritual things. If there is one thing I know about God, it’s that relationships are paramount. I don’t believe God is very concerned about our church buildings, or our programs, or the size of our weekly offerings, or whether we sing hymns or praise music. This is especially true if, when we show up for church we walk around the outside edges of the sanctuary, or take the elevator instead of the stairs, so we can avoid having to speak to so-and-so. We can stand on street corners (if that’s our thing) and talk about Jesus until we’re blue in the face, but — according to the bible — the way people will know we love and follow Jesus is by the way we love each other.
This is a unique time in history. I — like you — have access to a megaphone, and I can broadcast whatever I want to whoever happens to be scrolling through their Twitter feed at any given moment. I can choose to broadcast things that give life, or not. I can vent my disappointment, my frustration, and my disagreements in the public arena of social media or, I can squash my need for revenge (easier said than done), talk first to God about what’s got my goat and then pick up the phone and talk to the person who said the thing or wrote the words or took the stand that got my feelings out of whack. As I read the bible, if I choose not to talk to the person first, I don’t get to skip that step. I don’t get to mount a secret campaign (in the form of prayer requests, or vague status updates, or “just between you and me”) against that person.
Now, I’m not sharing this because I’ve got it figured out, or because I do it “right” each time my feelings get hurt. I also want to make clear that these instructions are for people who have chosen to go “all in” with Jesus and who get their feelings hurt by others who have chosen to do the same. But we’re not off the hook when our feathers get ruffled by people who haven’t decided to follow Jesus. No matter what, I believe God wants us to be guided by principles of grace and love.
So, on the day of my meeting with the guy I’d offended, he and I sat in a room at the church. He told me what I’d said and why it had hurt his feelings, and I got to apologize and to hear why my words had hurt his heart. I never would have known if he hadn’t told me, and I probably would have kept saying things like that, barreling over people’s feelings without even knowing I was doing it. It was a brave thing for him to do, and it was a first step in what became a truly authentic and genuine friendship.
Honestly, this is one of those posts I feel absolutely unqualified to write, but here it is anyway. If this all sounds like hogwash and makes you want to click away, by all means, click away. But if it speaks to something going on in your life, know that you’re not alone, and you’re not the first person in your situation. Take a deep breath, talk to God about what’s going on, and then let your first step be between you and the person who ruffled your feathers (and I’m fully aware that today, that person might be me).