I tend to do a lot of things quickly. This habit has its perks in my current phase of life – it keeps booboos kissed, sunscreen applied, and diapers changed all in record time. In one area though, this habit of doing things speedily does not serve me well. It has caused me endless anxiety, stress, and damaged relationships.
I am very quick to take offence.
One sideways glance, curt word, or dismissive response and I dwell on an exchange for longer than I care to admit. My mind races with a million fabricated details, filling in the blanks to explain what caused the imaginary breakdown in the relationship, and steeping in self-pity.
Though I know this about myself, I am still learning how to handle it in a healthy way. My go-to method has always been avoidance. I merely stay quiet in groups of people with whom I am not totally comfortable, hoping that if I don’t say much I won’t leave room to be slighted. But in my effort to avoid people’s remarks I become wholly unremarkable. In those moments I am a shadow of myself, and I do not allow myself to be the woman my creator “knit together in my mother’s womb”. (Psalm 139:13)
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. – Psalm 139:13
Years ago I was given a piece of advice I’ll never forget, though its source has long since escaped my distracted mom brain. “People don’t think about you as often as you believe they do.” Hearing this, I was (surprise) offended. But I’ve found it to be true time and again. While I may feel that a comment or glance has been strategically sharpened in preparation to cut me to my core, there’s a much better chance that the offender was simply having a bad day. And how arrogant am I in my assumption that everyone with whom I interact is busy spending their time thinking about me?
Another angle was revealed this week through a devotion I was reading by Ryan Leak. He quotes Colossians 3:13, where it says:
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:13
Make allowance. The person who offended you may have done so intentionally, but make allowance still. We do not know the situation they face, the pain they nurse, the exact combination of experience and personality that made them act the way they did, so give leeway. The anaerobic environment created when our offence is sealed by the words spoken by another is where relationship suffocates. So create space; breathing room to forgive. Goodness knows I need others to make allowance for me.
Finally, and perhaps the most difficult, is our need to hear the truth. Sometimes I am offended, downright incensed, by something my husband says to me. Scratch ‘sometimes’- let’s replace it with ’embarrassingly often’. But offence is the easy way out. It lets us claim victim status without actually hearing what the other person is saying. Take offence, and you are free to condemn them for hurting you and mitigate any responsibility you might have in the conflict.
What I am trying to learn is to take a step back, and listen. To hear him when he tells me how my behaviour has caused him pain. It stings to hear, but if I want to be one half of a healthy relationship, any type of relationship, then I have to learn to accept responsibility for my actions rather than jumping headfirst into the safety net of offence.
Even as I write this I can think of so many examples of how I’ve failed to apply my own logic just this week. But I’ll just keep resetting, praying, practicing, practicing, practicing. So here we go. Again.
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