As a teenager, I attended a group camp one summer at a church near the Alps, and there were about 20 to 25 of us. After our meal time (mmm, we had some yummy Leberkäse and Spätzle!), we all settled in for some fun time together as a group. We were told there was a game to be played to determine which one of us had to leave the room first. Somehow, I ended up being that someone to leave the room. When I came back in, the group leader said that she could telepathically let me know what object she was thinking about. So, she looked me in the eye and I held her gaze.
Even then as a 13-year-old, I was a scientist at heart, and what she had proposed seemed preposterous to me. I picked the most random, out-of-the-way object in the room, behind her and above her head (I think it was a decorative ceramic jug on a shelf). To my great surprise, everyone excitedly exclaimed that that had been it! Could I have been wrong, and there really was telepathy? I was very confused, and for a brief moment, the world did not seem to make sense to me. I learned later, however, that everyone had been in on it, and they had agreed in my absence to go with whatever I would pick. It turned out to be no more than a joke played upon me by everyone else. I felt like a fool.
This past weekend, lead pastor Ben Snyder talked about how relationship conflicts can create distance between two people or between someone and God. Yesterday, we learned to assess when a perceived offense is serious enough to try to resolve it rather than just let it go. And today, we will look at what the offended individual’s role in the conversation is. There are several practical steps we can follow.
Matthew 18: 15
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”
First, we should self-reflect to identify the real issue underlying our feeling of being offended. Back then, as a 13-year-old, I did not have the tools or experience to deal with what I had experienced. Looking back now, I know that I felt shame for having been fooled, albeit only for a short amount of time. I was upset because I felt picked on, which played into my already existing teenage angst of being “different” from everyone else. Surely, they picked me because I was the one not fitting into the group.
Second, we need to prepare them for the conversation. We do this by bringing to the attention of the offender our need to speak with them. Ask for “an appointment” to talk about the situation. We need to make it clear to them that we need to have a serious conversation. It is not recommended that you ask them to meet you for pizza and then drop this kind of conversation on them unexpectedly while eating! Looking back, I now realize that I should have asked the group leader to talk later in private to tell her how her actions had made me feel, but instead I avoided her for the rest of the camp as well as I could.
Next, we must have a desire for the real win. This means that we are not having a meeting with them to prove a point, or to belittle them. Instead we want to see real solutions come from our conversation with them and our relationship restored.
The fourth thing we need to do is to explain our perspective. While this was not really a traumatic event for me, I, even years later, have imagined what I would have said to her. I know now as an adult that it would have been important to stay calm and use “I feel” instead of “You did” statements. It is important to remember that the offender may not have realized that they hurt you and did not intend to do so. I choose to believe that this was the case with the group leader, who was probably in her twenties and still learning about life herself.
Finally, we need to offer next steps they can take to avoid offending you again. These should be practical and presented without judgmental words. Remember to avoid making the worst possible assumptions about the offender’s motives. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to do so with the group leader—I was too young and did not know how to handle the situation. But I have found as an adult, that a conversation with an open heart can clear the air and allow issues to be resolved, especially when both parties are willing to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Equally important is a willingness to try and understand where the other party is coming from.
Of course, if the offender is someone who is actively trying to harm you professionally, personally, or physically, such a conversation will most likely not be possible. All you can do under those circumstances is to decide not to hate them, and to ask for God’s mercy on their lives, as such people are usually truly unhappy individuals themselves trying to make themselves feel better by hurting others.
Is there any incident in your life where someone truly offended you? How did you respond in the situation? Are you happy with how you handled the situation? If not, what could you have done differently?
Based on Matthew 18:15-17, what can you do better before having a real conversation?
Make a list of how you could have handled a past situation better as the person who was offended and take some notes on how you could approach a similar situation in the future. If you decide that you would still like to approach the offender, write out what you would like to say to them given what you have learned today. Then ask for an appointment.
Dear Father in heaven, it is hard to face someone who has offended us. Please give me the wisdom to discern between a situation that I should let go and one where I should try to clear the air. Give me the strength to take the necessary steps to approach the offender with an open heart. And give me the resolve to forgive any offender who shows no remorse or understanding of their wrongdoing so that I may move forward with no hate in my heart, because I know that hate would only hurt me and achieve nothing. Instead, help me pray for this person and our relationship. Amen.
This post was written by Cordula Mora. Cordula is a neuroscientist who currently works in the Provost office at Bowling Green State University. She was born and raised in Germany, then spent many years living in New Zealand before settling in the US almost 16 years ago. She was raised in a German Lutheran church but feels blessed to have been spiritually awakened when she was introduced to CedarCreek Church. She thanks God every day for all the blessings in her life, including two amazing daughters and a wonderful man who loves the Lord.
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