I was deliberately maligned. A ministry co-worker, years ago, told my supervisor that I had screamed at her when she had confronted me. When this was brought to my attention, I knew right away that she was covering for her own bad behavior in that moment. But no one else had been close enough to hear and verify our verbal exchange. I, who had always been so careful to guard my behavior, was being painted as the out-of-control bad guy, and it felt so unfair. Made me angry. But I didn’t know how to defend myself.
The only thing I could do was to act like it didn’t bother me. But in reality, it dug deep into my soul. The more I thought about it (and I rehearsed the scenario uncountable times), the more anger I felt, and the more I couldn’t stand the thought of being around this person. I knew I needed to forgive, but I didn’t feel capable, and I didn’t really want to. It felt so right to be offended by her scheme to justify herself at my expense, and so I let myself fume over the injustice of it all, seeing myself as a martyr – a victim of Christian ministry gone bad. I knew it probably wasn’t right, but I would just keep it to myself and stew on it privately.
Sometime after that (I don’t remember how long), I heard someone talking about having it as his goal to be “unoffendable.” The idea sounded like a fantasy but intriguing. What if I could live in such a way that other people’s issues did not rankle me or negatively affect my choices, the way I lived, and how I related to others?
I no longer believe it is a delusional idea. But it is a matter of taking up forgiveness as a lifestyle. Just as not holding on to an offensive person’s actions or words is a choice, taking up the offense in the first place is also something I choose to do or not do.
What’s so enticing about an offense?
I have come to see that there are times that I want to be offended. It feels good in a warped sort of way. When I can justify myself as the mistreated good guy and another person or even a whole group of people as the bad guy, something is massaged and coddled within. It’s a type of self-righteousness that separates me from others, a way to distinguish myself, to block out my own faults and sins and turn a laser focus onto the weaknesses, failings, blind spots, and sins of another. The most natural way to ease the discomfort and guilt of my own shortcomings and broken character is to zero-in on someone who’s behaving worse than I am, at least at that moment. And all along I don’t let myself think about how I’m blinding myself to the reality that this isn’t good for me. I have a choice. I don’t have to carry it.
It typically happens in an instant. The offense is offered, and I have a split second to decide if I’m going to take it and make it a part of myself or refuse it. Many have developed the habit of accepting any offense that’s given to the point that they no longer see that there is choice. Rather than saying, “I took the offense she offered me,” they say, “She offended me,” as if she glued it onto them in spite of their resistance. It is then assumed that they have no choice but to carry it, meditate on it, rehearse it, and even tell others about it who will then massage it and affirm that they have no choice but to hold it tightly. Such an obligatory process is affirmed over and over in our culture. She offended you; you are obligated to hold a grudge. Don’t let HER get away with it.
The Art of Letting Go
Releasing offenses. Or better yet, never taking hold of them in the first place. It’s a new habit we can create that can morph into a skill in which we can ultimately excel, if we so choose to make such an ability a part of our lives. Of course, divine help is necessary.
For a follower of Jesus, it’s more than a good idea. It is the bedrock of our freedom and something we are called to make a part of our lives. A parable Jesus told makes this uncomfortably clear.
A king forgives the debt of a man who owes millions of dollars. But when it becomes known that the forgiven man has refused to forgive another individual who owes him much less, the king reinstates the debt. And the man then finds himself in a prison where he is tormented (Matthew 18:21-35).
This story always sends a cold chill through my body. It seems to be saying that God’s forgiveness of our sins is connected to our forgiving and releasing those who sin against us. Other scriptures support this understanding (Matthew 6:14, 7:2; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). There is no room here for grudges to be held or cases to be made over how bad the offending person is. And the consequences for not releasing offenses appear to be multi-layered. In the story, the unforgiving servant is tormented afterwards. How many of us who demand to retain our “right” to hold an offense end up living with emotional, and sometimes even physical, anguish and misery? The torment is not from God but is self-inflicted.
So, what kind of release does God have in mind for you that you have not yet experienced? So often, the relief our souls and bodies crave comes not from getting ahold of some new thing but from letting go of some old toxic thing.
Regardless who you are–your type of work, your family, or your community–hurts and offenses will come. You cannot stop them from being pushed into your face. But you can choose what you are going to do with them when they present themselves. I have often struggled with the belief that since I work in ministry, among other followers of Jesus, they should never offend me, and I should never be put in a position of having to make such a choice. Yet, just as I learned long ago when I felt falsely accused by a coworker, it WILL HAPPEN! So, what does Jesus want to teach me in how to be ready to respond?
Release. Let go. Forgive.
Seek the path of the unoffended and walk at a new level of freedom.