“Hey, you got a minute? We need to talk.” Those are some of the most anxiety inducing words on the planet. Often they could be translated to mean, “Something you said/did bothers me and now I’m going to metaphorically kick you in the face.” The incident described below is all too common and has happened to me in various degrees throughout my life. It happens in churches, businesses, casual friendships, and families. Perhaps you will relate.
The pit of my stomach sank. An odd description considering that stomachs don’t actually float. My mouth was dry and my eyes began to fill with tears. A record of wrongs was being laid out before me by someone I was never aware I had offended. The litany was tremendous, and the questions that fired through my head were jumbled and confused. I had no idea I had wronged anyone and was definitely unaware of the list of apparently insensitive, almost criminal acts I was guilty of in the eyes of my accuser. I could say nothing; I only stood in stunned silence. Adding to my confusion was the realization that this person had never spoken to me until now, while I had believed us to have a transparent relationship.
In the moment, my first thoughts were about how sorry I was to have wronged someone. My second thoughts offered a little less clarity, as I was not afforded the time to process the accusations in an appropriate manner and was therefore left more confused. My final reaction in the conversation was silent acquiescence. I was a beaten man at a loss for words. (A strange feeling for me.)
In the weeks that followed, I interrogated myself, attempting to find my guilt, sometimes rooting out my own errors, and on other points finding no fault. I questioned myself over and over, sought wise counsel, and tried to move past the awkward work of making peace. I moved from my beaten acquiescence, to furious anger, to indifference, then to a vague and somewhat incomplete understanding, and finally to a sort of resting in the peace of Christ. In this introspective time period, I realized that this person had held onto my offenses, rather than addressing them at or around the time they were committed. They sat on my errors, keeping a running tab. While claiming “love,” they had kept a “record of wrongs.” (1 Cor. 13:5) While they now claimed to be dealing with grievances, they had given too much time to their anger and frustrations… letting “the sun go down.” (Eph. 4:26) These actions are wrong and unfitting for a Christian. And yet, this is often the way people handle their grievances with each other. This has been the way I have handled things in the past. (A brief word of encouragement: Overlook their failure to handle these things well! People are people… forgive. Teach people to handle things the right way by your own example.)
This ambush caused great grief and mourning. The friendship was irreparably damaged. I would never again feel the same joy and comfort around this person. Though forgiveness was granted, the damage done to my soul has me in a nervous fit every time I am aware of offense, whether purposeful or accidental. (Yes, I did just admit to offending some people on purpose.) Due to various encounters like the one described above, I struggle with anxiety whenever someone says, “hey, you got a minute? We need to talk.” But there are ways to move past that and to do the work of love.
There are some things I try to remember when I find myself in this type of confrontation.
- God is working. That famous verse in Romans 8:28 that Christians use to remind themselves that God is always good, also serves to remind us that God is always working. This verse, taken in the context of a persecuted minority (Christians in Rome), serves less as a “God will make this better” and more of a reminder that God is faithfully working, even in our suffering. With this in mind, we can be reminded of that other truth that Christians often miss-apply: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) In context, meaning: “I can endure/ find peace in all circumstances….” No matter how great the anxiety or suffering, the Lord is working. In this uncomfortable conversation… He is working.
- Striving is hard. Hebrews 12:14- “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” I often find it interesting that God seems fascinated with the word “strive” or “wrestle.” So great is His affection for the one who wrestles, that He names His peculiar people “Israel,” or a direct translation: “Wrestles/Strives with God.” He loves it when we strive to know Him, and even more when we strive to be more like Him. So, we find that life in a healthy community is hard and is full of striving. When you are confronted, your goal must be to strive for peace and holiness.
- Political maneuvering is always a bad idea. Honesty and transparency are always lauded in Scripture, while political maneuvering gets people killed. (c.f. Acts 5, 1 Sam. 15, 2 Sam. 9-12, Num. 16) God honors honesty and protects transparent vulnerability. When the prophets stand bare before enemies, God defends them. When the apostles speak truth, God protects them. When martyrs of the faith stand transparent before their executioners, God redeems their lives. So it must be for all Christians. “To live is Christ, to die is gain…” (Phil 1:21) We must die to self and trust that the Lord is working, even through the hands of wicked men. God honors those who are faithful to walk in His ways… He will uphold those who are honest and transparent. (see Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50)
- “Peace must be risked.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Similar to point number 2, this is a reminder that if we want peace, we must be willing to risk ourselves to find it. Peace that costs you nothing, is not peace. True lasting peace costs everything and can only be found in complete surrender to the Sovereign Lord over all things. Surrender your anxiety to Him and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7)
- Love will win…. This one is simple. Love wins. Accusations, legal defense, intellectual arguments, manipulation, business tactics, and politics all fail in the face of Love. Love will and has overcome all things. Everything else will all pass away, but love will cover a multitude of sins, it will never fail, and it will always claim victory over the darkness. (c.f. the whole Bible.)
- Grant grace when you are accused. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Read carefully… “so far as it depends on you.” It is not up to the other person in the discussion to strive to this end. It is for you to do, regardless of their actions.
- Hold on to humility. Ask “how can I grown from this?” Avoid defending yourself. Avoid accusing the other person. “Turn the other cheek.” Remember your standard is not good people, it is Christ. Philippians 2:1-11 clarifies for us how we are to conduct ourselves. Christ was obedient, humble, and murdered for it. So… there’s your example and standard. Get after it.
Love is hard to do well. Read 1 Cor. 13 and try to be that description. I hope these seven points and my own story will help to encourage you next time you are accused or confronted. Are there truths you try to remember and remind yourself about in these circumstances? Share them in the comments.
I am a pastor at a church that is striving to live out love in honest and transparent ways. If you’d like more information, please take the time to visit our website: www.sgfbrazoria.org