I am offended.
The note was polite, but to the point. The writer needed to express something that had been in her mind for awhile. To be fair, the words weren’t I am offended, but it seems offensive to me. There is little difference.
Something I have done—language I have used in my business for years—was offensive. I selected the language. I placed it in a prominent place in my advertising.
I don’t know the person. Someone else in the church she attends has made numerous purchases from my company over the last few years. The writer of the note is not even my customer.
And yet, I read the words on my screen and my spirits sank. What would I say? How would I respond?
Do you know how easy it is to believe one has been attacked?
Is it not a simple thing to take offense at the one who has taken offense?
My mind, as it does, piled up the words with which to defend myself. I know how to use the English language. I am accomplished in the skill of bickering.
I want the chance to justify myself.
Why is that my first reaction? Is it true for everyone? When we sense that we have been admonished, do we all want to deflect the blame?
I wanted to look better than I did in that moment.
I knew I could come out on top. I knew it.
Sleep hardly came that night. I would present my argument to the imaginary jury I had collected in my head, letting loose with the big guns and obliterating the enemy. I win!
But, a quiet voice from deeper inside asked a one-word question. Just one.
With a mental shrug, I’d decide to think about it tomorrow, only to find myself, moments later, facing the imaginary jury once more.
Time after time I built up my defense against the enemy, only to face that one-word question again. And, again.
But he, seeking to justify himself, replied, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
Neighbor. That’s the word I wanted. Not enemy.
And the second is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Mark 12:30-31) Jesus said it was the second most important commandment, essentially part of the first. The lawyer who wanted to justify himself (in Luke’s passage) knew it by heart.
I do, too. Yet, every time I am confronted with my own shortcomings, my reaction is the lawyer’s. Every time.
I want to justify myself. I want to make myself look better. And, more often than not, that is accomplished by making someone else look smaller.
Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply.
We use words like snowflake, over-sensitive, entitled, and coddled.
Or, we use words like arrogant, insensitive, and bully.
Either way, the result is the same. We tear down our neighbors to build up ourselves.
Words were the cause of my offense. My next words would either increase the offense, possibly making me feel justified, or they would begin the healing process.
What to do?
Over forty years ago, a wise man wrote, in his beautiful script, in the front of a new Bible he and his wife were giving to their youngest son. He knew his son well, having spent nearly twenty years in close proximity to him.
The words, still quite legible today, were exactly what the argumentative, impatient youth needed. I can attest that he was more annoyed than overjoyed to read them the first one hundred times or so he saw them written there.
The Preacher said the words, thousands of years before. Their truth has not faded one iota.
A gentle answer turns aside wrath, but argumentative words only stir up more anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
I haven’t always lived by the exhortation. In truth, I haven’t lived by it even a majority of the time.
I’m learning. Finally.
Still—I want to know.
Why do we add offense to offense over and over?
Why is it so difficult for us to bind wounds instead of making them bleed more?
Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors, instead, identifying them as enemies, almost without fail?
In a world filled with hate and vitriol, we—all who follow Christ—are called to bind up, and carry, and treat, with the same love we have for our God and Savior, all who walk the same ground we do.
It’s not optional.
I’m justified. By Him. I don’t do that myself at all; it’s what He does. (Ephesians 2:8)
How I respond to others is how I show them what’s really in my heart—in my very soul.
Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.
(from Poor Richard’s Almanac ~ Benjamin Franklin ~ 1706-1790)
Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
(Philippians 2:14,15 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.