Apparently “Open Letters” are very popular today. I’m very specific about what bandwagon to jump on, I understood “Open Letter” to mean something along the “The More You Know” meaning. However it is really supposed to be something more critical than I ever want to be. So this is NOT an open letter, but a “The more you know” type “letter” if you will. My sister would want me to include the logo, so here ya go…
The more you know is actually more fitting anyway, because, you see, the more you know a person, the less offended you are at the things they say. Did that offend you? Then this is for you.
Being offended is a common emotion. It’s when it’s not reigned in that it becomes destructive. It’s a force that not only hurts the person being offended, but the person your offended by. Let me be sure you understand the type of “Offended” I mean. I’m speaking about when a person feels resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult. I am NOT speaking of when someone deliberately sins against you. I can’t really find the word in the Bible, however I do see that God desires for us to be “Slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:9) Yet so many of us hear something (or most often READ something) and become instantly offended. We attach emotions to words that were never intended. We listen to the words and not the heart. We read words and attach a tone that was never intended to come across instead of stopping and thinking, “How would this person speak to me?” This is the main reason I do not deal with conflict via email, Facebook messenger, or worst of all, a status update or Facebook comment. I need a person to HEAR my heart. I need them to see my face and to feel my touch on their shoulder.I need them to feel my hug, or to see the ache in my soul if I have to confront an issue. If I get into a discussion where it is not possible to see face to face, I say in my comment “I know you can’t hear my tone, so please believe me when I say my tone is________. ” This way it has been expressed and how that person reads it is on them since I have stated my intended purpose.
When you find yourself offended on a regular basis, something needs to change. And, my friend, it most likely isn’t the person (or persons) who offended you.
Here are a few things you can ask yourself.
“Do I know this person?”
If not, don’t walk around with the destructive emotion of offense. You have no relationship with that person. Therefore why allow them to hurt your feelings. Just take a cue from Elsa (Let it go!). It may be possible that you are misunderstanding or you are perceiving something that was never there. You don’t know their heart, you don’t know what their intentions were. If you need clarification, before becoming offended, ask. “What did you mean by_______.” (quick to listen… listen to where they are coming from. This will also aid in how to pray for them).
Do I have a relationship with this person? If you do, what do you know about them? Are they hateful and do they regularly make it a point to be mean, rude, and crass?
If so, you are in an unhealthy relationship and may need to remove yourself from their company. Sometimes this is as simple as clicking the “Unfriend” button on Facebook. Sometimes it is more difficult. Sometimes you just have to love them anyway. But you DON’T have to walk around offended all the time. YOU HAVE A CHOICE. You can actually CHOOSE not to be offended… even if the person INTENDED to offend. HA! Did you know that!!!?? You can let their negative words/actions roll off your back.You can take the opportunity to pray for them. You can decide they need your love more than your hurt feelings. (Please know that if this person is attending your church, and is claiming to be a Christian and is purposefully setting out to hurt you, actions do need to be taken to confront their SIN. See Matthew 18)
If you know the person and they aren’t a mean-spirited human being set out to destroy you, then why be so offended? When I say that being offended is destructive, I mean it on both ends. When you find yourself offended regularly, you begin to change your perception of the person who you feel is offending you. You are sensitive to whatever they say. And they begin to pull away in fear of offending you. In my own experiences a majority of the times I’m offended it was because of a misunderstanding. If I would have simply asked, “What did you mean when you said______?” I could have cleared up a huge gauge in my heart. The relationship can become tarnished when we fail to be quick to listen. When we read into something that wasn’t there. Again, I’m not talking about when people back bite, gossip about us, spew hatred in our faces, those are sins that need to be addressed, I’m speaking of the resentment and annoying feelings one gets over what another has said. I’m speaking of the perceived insult that the offended person took away from a conversation that may not have been an insult at all. When I fail to see the person as they are and add in emotions to words that were never intended to be added, I create an image of that person that is a false image. It’s destructive. It alters the relationship in a negative way. It hinders true love, and leaves heart ache in its path. When we know someone we should know their heart. So when a word doesn’t seem to line up with the heart you know, the most positive thing you can do is ask, “What did you mean by that?” Our first response should never be offense. If it is, you have two different images of that person. The one you KNOW, and the one you PERCEIVE. I often think, “Is this person a mean hearted person? Do they set out to hurt people? No? Then they probably didn’t mean it the way I took it.” If the feeling persists, I ask, “Did you mean_______?” I give my emotions to God and I ask him to help me decipher them. What I DON’T do is get mad at the person. I don’t walk around recreating this mean person from a remark a NICE person made. It takes effort. It means taking the thought captive, lining it up with what I KNOW and asking God to deal with the emotions behind it. I’m responsible for my own emotions. I’m responsible for my own responses to my emotions. It’s human to feel hurt, but that’s an indicator, not a dictator. What I do with that hurt (or offense) is between me and God. Walking around with it only leads to destruction. On the side of the offended it destroys our day, it destroys our relationship with that person, it destroys our witness, and it destroys our future encounters with that person. On the side of the one who “offended” it destroys their intended meaning, it destroys their trust and security of the relationship they have with the one offended. There is NO good that comes from it.
Let me give some examples.
If I talk to my sister (and because I KNOW my sister, I know this won’t offend her) and she says in a laughing manner, “What ragamuffins your kids are! It is 4 in the afternoon and they are still in their pjs! Step it up, Mama!” and If I am already being insecure about my parenting that day, I may hear it as “You are an inferior mom, and you aren’t taking proper care of your kids!” None of the words she actually said. I have a choice RIGHT NOW! I can 1. take offense, get off the phone or walk away and mull over these hateful words my sister said to me. I can place extra meanings to it. I can begin to change the way I see my sister. “She is so judgmental! She has no clue what I deal with in my life, she is so insensitive!” I can do this to the point that I create a NEW person in my mind. So now who used to be a loving awesome sister is now mean-spirited sister who thinks I’m a horrible mother. (I progressed quite quickly, I see that… but you get the point) Now, I’ve destroyed the relationship we once had. I’m destructive to myself by being hurt by something never intended to hurt, and I’m destructive to her by tainting her personality in my mind. The result? I stop talking to her, I stop listening to her, I’m easily offended by future things she says. I read in those emotions to all things she says. So when she later says, “Wow! Look at that hair! It’s amazing!” I hear it in a sarcastic insensitive tone. I’ve destroyed us! She begins to hold back. She stops talking to me about my kids because she senses my resistance. She begins to question what she CAN say, and little by little our friendship diminishes. I’ve destroyed us because I chose to be offended. (My sisters and I are GOOD! I use this example, that has NEVER happened between us, because I know them and I know they love me and know my heart and won’t be offended). When you cause your loved ones to walk on egg shells in fear of offending you, you have destroyed a beautiful relationship that could flourish if only there was freedom to do so.
I DO have another choice here… If I talk to my sister and she says, “What ragamuffins your kids are! It’s 4 in the afternoon and they are still in their pjs! Step it up, Mama!” and if I’m already insecure about my parenting that day, I could laugh it off KNOWING that my sister, who isn’t judgemental, hateful, and insensitive, didn’t mean it the way I took it. OR, I could say, “Oh my goodness, I’m having a bad day and that really rubbed me wrong! You don’t mean that the way the words came out do you?” To which my sister (either one) would reply, “NO WAY!!! Let me pray for you!” Maybe that would resonate in your heart as well and she’d be sure to phrase her comment differently next time. (**If she is offended by my attempt to better understand her words, that is between her and God, and she should read this blog post! haha)
I could also choose to let it pass and pray about it. (Slow to speak). I could ask God to help my own insecurities since I know my sister’s heart and I know that her personality would not criticize my parenting. I would need to let it go, give it to God and walk away from it.
When we allow unintended emotions to be attached to words, we change their meaning. We also attribute negative attributes to a person when that is not who the person is at all. When we allow an offense to change what was said, we also allow that offense to change the person who said the words. The person doesn’t actually change, but the way you look at them does. You in essence create a fictitious character, one that is critical, judgmental, insensitive. Then the most damaging part of this is when you begin treating the REAL person the same as you would treat the fictitious one you’ve created. You’ve believed a lie. Not one the person has said, but one that you’ve created in your own head. It’s damaging not only to your relationship, but to that person. The person who said something completely innocent is now made out to be this evil person set out to do you harm. If my sister (or any loved one) saw me as an evil person set out to do them harm it would break my heart. It would show me that they do not know me. Nor do they want to get to know me. They have chosen to be quick to speak, slow to listen, and quick to become angry (and /or offended).
When you are unsure, ask. When you feel someone you know has criticized you, ask them for clarification.
Be quick to listen. then do just that… Listen to their words. Trust them at their words. Don’t allow yourself to read into what they are saying, instead fall back on the REAL them that you know. (Are they mean? Are their goals in life to do you harm? Are they mostly loving? do they make mistakes on occasion and perhaps this time the words didn’t come across as they intended? ASK).
Be slow to anger. Allow your loved one to explain BEFORE getting mad, upset, or offended. Decide now to nurture that relationship and stop adding to the damage.
Be slow to speak. When we allow our emotions to dictate our responses, we are more than likely going to hurt the relationship and the person’s heart. When our first reaction is to gasp with offense, and begin spewing accusations their way, we remove a huge chance to mend that moment, to reign things in without more hurt feelings.
When a direct insult has been made. When words can not be taken any other way but to be an insult hurled your way, or when you KNOW the person to be a rude, inconsiderate person, you would deal with those things by confronting the sin. You would privately SPEAK (not via written word) address something that was truthfully said. But when you imply meaning behind words not said, you are not only hurting yourself, but the other person as well. To be offended means to perceive an insult. So what will you do with that perception? Let is spin out of control? Let it dictate the way you treat a person? Let your mind build a fictitious person? Or will you choose to be slow to speak (pray instead, or let it go completely), quick to listen (ask the right questions to get clarification), and slow to become angry (reign in your offense)? Being offended is your choice. What do you choose?
Let’s choose life! Build relationships, don’t tear them down. Let your emotions be an indicator to ask questions, to learn more, instead of letting them dictate how you respond.
Choose to not be offended. You can do it! We can do it! Let’s start now! (even if that means starting over.)