This week I learned a precious lesson in the most unconventional, serendipitous way. I received one of those magnificent gems of truth served up on a blue plate peeking out of the marinara on a bed of spaghetti. That’s probably about as clear as crystal. Bear with me as I try to unpack this one. I’m sharing this because I think something genuinely applies to life (not just my own). Here we go—
I can be determined.
I mean, I can be really determined. The doggedly kind.
While persistence and diligence are two beautiful qualities, I need to examine them more closely in my life. My mind and heart can be set in a single, laser-precision focused direction with inflexibility. I paint this phenomenon with colorful words like—intentionality, integrity, focus, single-minded, whole-hearted, all in, loyal, truthful. It looks good, but is there something more to this? I think so.
James openly implores, “Do not be deceived” (1:16). He’s onto something. When I think about these character qualities, persistence and diligence, I can see the ugly caricature lurking, barely concealed, in the shadows. The problem isn’t with the determination but the object of it. An illustration may be helpful.
A little story example out of life—
I recently heard about two people in conflict. One unknowingly offended the other, and what’s more, never intended any offense whatsoever. A seemingly innocuous conversational statement was taken quite personally, and tension mounted too quickly. The escalation was surprising. The follow up conversations, intended to diffuse the conflict, seemed not only fruitless but more like gasoline on the fire. That’s my interpretation of the scenario.
I had a candid response I immediately wished I could stuff back into the box out of which it came.
“Someone is determined to be offended,” I replied, “I remember being a lot like that twenty years ago, before I was a Christian.”
Yes, I said that. And several hours later, the spaghetti and meatball blue plate special was served up with the gem in the middle. (Part of the gem is in learning the problem may not be far, far away in another universe.)
Once upon a time a friend walked through terrible heartbreak as a result of others’ decisions and unkindness. What took place was certainly wrong. My emotional response was sadness and anger; I was offended. The problem arose when it was more than appropriately with but for my friend without right-sized perspective. My sense of justice went all “Dorian Gray” on me internally, and I lived in that grudge on behalf of my friend for much too long. Loving support is always right in a “weep with those who weep” kind of way (Romans 12:15), but something went horribly wrong.
The toll? An ugly bent toward my own calibration of integrity and justice, loosening my moorings to the biblical sense of both. Several relationships were wrecked and buried. I nursed friend loyalty into a “cause” that was inappropriate. Misplaced dogged determination has costs. I’m reminded the object and heart behind it all matters. (More small facets of the marinara-covered gem…)
Some comparisons are helpful to me. Maybe to you, too?
A young woman is offended by a gentleman’s dialogue because it sounds inappropriate to her ears on her own behalf and others’. There may be something to it. The conversation may contain arguably offensive words or tone. Is it possible to thoughtfully and lovingly evaluate the content with truth and grace? It’s paramount to know the heart of the speaker, in this case, then to evaluate the magnitude of the harm. Is this more like terrorizing hate speech or innocent ignorance on the spectrum? There’s a dramatic difference when intent is factored in.
Someone I know may be treated disingenuously. Is it possible to step back from the emotional, gritty response to size up the wrong; support the vulnerable, targeted friend; and respond with truth and grace there, too? Proper sizing of this situation means I understand the wrong, the hearts of those who have done it, and the harm done. Foolishness is not evil, but it sure can be painful!
We have biblical direction for a slower, methodical process in handling these things that reveals the potential offense and the hearts of both parties in conflict (Matthew 18:15-17). When the heart of the “offender” is found to be unwitting to the truth of the situation and genuinely repentant when brought to it, the response is grace. Regardless, the “offended” has the clear directive in the whole of Scripture to be slow, deliberate, and loving to the end. Even treating the offender as an unbeliever would yield a loving response. Period.
A current world event headline story—
More than two hundred Nigerian girls were abducted from their school dormitory at night by men with evil intent. The innocent who cannot defend themselves should receive strong, galvanized, unwavering support on their behalf. God’s heart for justice calls us to step up to find every girl and free her from her captors! I think we can be determined with laser focus there for as long as it takes. It starts with but is ever so much more than a hashtag: #returnourgirls! As determined as those men were to take the girls, that’s how persistent and inflexible we should be to find them. Period. Another kind of truth and grace is needed here. Speed is of the essence when lives are endangered, too!
So, what does the gem start to look like as a whole?
I’m trying to size up the moments in my days a little differently the best I can. There is right, and there is wrong. I want to diligently pursue doing and supporting what is right. I hope to persevere unwaveringly when a wrong clearly opposes the heart of God, but I have to respond with the “right sized” determination in proportion to the harm and have the truthful, loving, grace-filled heart of God in the process.
Whew! That’s going to be tough some days! But the duration of the offense has a lot to do with how long I’ll carry a grudge. Lesson learned.
Grace isn’t always weak, dismissing, warm, or fuzzy. If I’m called to respond in grace, it’s super-important that I know what that means for each unique scenario. In conflict, grace decides the fault and charge, evaluates intent, and responds appropriately with biblical accuracy to the heart of the matter and the heart of the wrongdoer. Truth. Grace. Love. All in the right places and proportions.
And my final little tidbit buried deep in sauce: Romans 12:15 and codependency are two separate things. I’m probably just talking to myself there, though. Or not. *grin*
I hope you’ll find a little sparkly gem in this one for yourself.
Questions to Think About…
Have you ever found yourself determined to be offended?
Of the three examples mentioned, which one might the right “size” for your situation?
What does grace look like in the conflict-offense scenario for you?
How can you free yourself from the relational tension rooted in the offense?
What steps will you take today?
What will you do differently to avoid inappropriately long-term conflict or “wrong sized” responses to offenses?