I hung up the phone and felt my body shaking. Hard. Like a current of electricity was coursing through me. I had just been soundly lambasted for something I had written. Something that, incidentally, I had already had two other friends praise me for having the courage to write. I had never been verbally attacked like this before and I did not like the involuntary physical responses I was experiencing. I couldn’t stop pacing and shaking. I felt like throwing up. I cried. (I virtually never cry.) All in all, this really sucked.
I did not feel that I had done anything wrong. Even so, I took the situation to a trusted couple who I knew would call me out if I was out of line. They concurred with me that I had done nothing worthy of such a verbal flogging. Still, I felt the Lord saying, “…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”(Rom. 12:18) So, that same day, I apologized that my words came across the way they had. It truly had not been my intent to hurt anyone. But I have to admit, it took a tremendous amount of effort to put aside my own offense, in order to obey my Savior.
I would like to say that that was the end of it. It wasn’t. Instead, I replayed the offensive phone call in my mind over and over like some hellish movie. Only the script in my head had me firing off scathing responses to my attacker, effectively cutting my enemy down with well-crafted barbs. When I saw this person next, I physically could not speak to them. I wish I could claim to be more spiritual or more mature, but the hard truth is that it took months of continuously taking it to Jesus before I could truly let it go.
Since then, I have been acutely aware of how easily we humans seem to find offense. I see good people leaving their churches in bitterness and anger. I hear harsh criticisms and denigrating speech from the lips of those who profess to love Christ. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) He also said when asked how many times we should forgive someone, “…I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matt. 18:22) So, what the heck is wrong with us? We are supposed to be showing the world how this is done and we are failing miserably!
Forgiveness is hard. When we are hurt, it is natural to want to lash out in response. It is normal to want to vent our frustrations verbally. But I have learned something that really helped to free me from my own prison of bitterness.
How I feel is irrelevant.
As a follower of Christ, I am mandated to forgive regardless of how I feel. It is a choice that I must make. Sometimes daily, over and over, until it settles in and becomes my personal truth. I find that this is immeasurably easier to do when I am guarding my words.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Again, my friends, words are a gift. And so, because I desperately need the repetition in my own life, I will close this missive with the same prayer as my last post:
Lord, help me to choose my words wisely, and present them with right motives. Let even the hard words be spoken in humility and truth. And may healing, encouragement and restoration be ever the result. Amen.
*If you have broken relationships in your life right now, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions that I wrestled with in the situation I described above.
-Did this person really intend to hurt me, or were they simply reacting to their own perceived offense?
-What were my heart motives in this situation? (NOT what you initially think, but really dig into your heart of hearts—it can be dark there, so I suggest you take Jesus with you.)
-Do I know what is going on in this person’s life right now that may be contributing to their behavior?
-Is this offense worth the end of a friendship? (Sometimes the answer is yes, but I would gently submit that a friendship should never end due to your feelings. It should be a very rational, prayerful response.)
-Where is Jesus in my behavior right now?