The last few months I’ve been learning more about forgiveness and acceptance. Throughout our lives people say and do things that hurt or offend us. I often struggle with how to handle those situations.
It seems that these days, most people tend to stand up for themselves by letting us know just how we have offended them. We didn’t mean to offend them. We didn’t do it intentionally. In fact, often, we offend them by not living up to their expectations of what they wanted us to be or do. And I’m not sure that is fair. In fact, I don’t think standing up for ourselves should be our first response.
Many years ago an acquaintance told me she was leaving our church, in part because I had not become a good friend like she had hoped. Because I did not include her when I went out with friends after church, she felt hurt. The saddest part of this story is that I did not go out with friends after church. She just thought that I did. While I had been busy with raising my daughters, I didn’t realize that she wanted to be friends and by the time I knew, it was too late.
Many times I have met to talk with someone whom I’ve offended or hurt. My heart is grieved when I know that I’ve been careless or sinful in my actions or words and have hurt someone. Even if it was only a misunderstanding, I’ve tried to make things right. When they are unable or unwilling to forgive, I continue to carry the grief of a broken relationship.
I do believe that it is important to speak with someone whose behavior is not in accordance with God’s Word. A consistent, sinful behavior does need to be addressed. Sometimes I am the instrument that God wants to use in this situation. Sometimes I am not. Prayer must always precede such a decision.
But sometimes, I don’t think it is necessary to bring up when my feelings have been hurt. I choose to heed the words of Peter who said, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8) This is a powerful verse that tells me to look beyond myself, my rights, and my desires. It reminds me to be like Christ.
I’ve thought back and can remember one time that I was so hurt by something someone said that I felt God prompting me to go and talk things through. It hurt more because I’d thought she was a good friend. I remember meeting her and sitting down to talk about her comment and how much it hurt my heart. I know that things were resolved because we are still friends today. But, I don’t remember what she said. I can’t remember what caused the pain, even though I still remember the pain. For that I thank God.
Sometimes, in the midst of many people telling me what I didn’t do for them, or how my actions or words offended them, or how I didn’t meet their expectations, I want to retaliate and say, “You haven’t been so great yourself.” (and list for them all their shortcomings.) However, I know that isn’t what God wants me to do.
And so, I listen and take it to God in prayer. Was my action sinful? Do I need to ask for forgiveness? Were my words truth? Do I need to stand firm in my response? Was my action thoughtless? How can I be more careful in the future? How do I respond to my accuser?
Christ-like interaction with friends and strangers takes wisdom and humility. I recently read about an instance when Abraham Lincoln was treated terribly and how he responded to the offense. (Read the article here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/10/02/the-power-of-overlooking-an-offense/ )
I appreciated the following statement: “But perhaps one of the primary reasons Lincoln overlooked personal offenses was his understanding nature. He didn’t write people off for their mistakes because he was wise enough to understand that mistakes are often made during difficult circumstances.”
I want to be wise enough.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5