“Offense is a choice. If you are offended, no matter the situation, it is because you chose to be.” Pastor Smith said this as if this was common knowledge. But, by the silence that filled the packed out sanctuary, I could tell I wasn’t the only one who was hearing this for the first time. The room was pregnant with anticipation as he waited to give evidence to this claim. He has been preaching for so long he knows exactly how much time is needed to simultaneously let his words sink in and allow the cliffhanger of his statement hang over the room to build interest in what he says next. See, this was the part he likes the most. This is what peaked his interest in being a minister of the Gospel in the first place. He liked being able to get people interested not on in God but in learning. His wife was a teacher so he spent years watching her come up with unique lesson plans that would make her students want to know more about the subjects she taught. So, he took notes over the years and added some of her technique into his sermons. He would spend hours choosing each sentence carefully and selecting the best way to present these words so that the people who heard them would not just be bodies in seats but rather students of truth. He often imagined that the same joy he gets from seeing his children smile is the same joy God has of us when we become students of His Word. His goal in ministry has always been to get people excited to hear truth. And he was indeed excited to present this truth to the people of the church he loves so dearly.
“Yes, while there are people who are committed to being purposely offensive, the act of being offended is simply a choice we make.” He continued. “It is not always easy to not be offended but it is possible.” As his sermon continued, I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His entire ministry was that of choosing not to be offended. Death threats from the FBI, assassination attempts by people in the black community, & multiple arrests never deterred him. This is what Pastor Smith means. But how? I thought. THE WAY TO DECLINE OFFENSE IS FORGIVENESS. FORGIVE THOSE WHO HURT AND OFFENDED YOU PURPOSEFULLY AND INADVERTENTLY.
As I left church, I thought about all the people who offended me over my lifetime. The offenses that stuck out to me the most were the ones committed by people after the passing of my parents. People who used my parents death as a way to elevate their social media status or gain sympathy of their coworkers and boss. People who used my time of weakness as a way to get on the program at my mother’s funeral. The people who took advantage of my lack of knowledge to get what they wanted. But how do I forgive people who aren’t sorry? People who have no intention of apologizing to me because they have found a way to justify their behavior. Is my only choice to be offended by their actions? And if not, how do I forgive these people?
Weeks later, I couldn’t sleep. It was bothering me that the list of people who I needed to forgive was growing. Every time I thought of a point where I was offended there was someone I needed to forgive. I spoke to my therapist about what I was experiencing hoping to find some answers, to which she replied, “Maybe forgiving them is not your issue. Maybe the forgiveness you need is for the lack of boundaries that allowed these offenses to occur…”. As my mind replayed all the times I was offended, I found three fundamental truths at the exact same time.
Most of these offenses, in retrospect, had pockets of places that were lacking in boundaries that would have prevented the offense. No, the person’s actions probably would not have changed, but my reaction to them would’ve. Simple phrases like, ‘No, you cannot be a pallbearer’ or ‘Can you explain what led you to that decision’ and even ‘I am not emotionally available to participate in that right now’ are all things I could have said to avoid the task of forgiveness. I’ve told myself that honesty and boundaries do not match. Which has lead me to believe that in an effort to be kind to people, I don’t often establish or uphold a boundary that is intended to protect me from be manipulated, abused, or hurt in any way. There is a way to expression myself without feeling bad that the other person did not get what they wanted.
Forgiveness starts with me. If I am to forgive, I must first forgive myself for the times I’ve been offensive or hurtful to others. I’m not perfect and I can think of plenty of times I did or said things to offend or hurt someone else. It’s great that I strive not to do those things anymore but I could easily offend someone without trying. I have been passive aggressive or microaggressive to people I love because I didn’t trust that I could be direct with them. This also needs to be forgiven because I now know that I adopted this custom as a way to prevent awkward and tough conversations.
Lastly, extend grace that has been extended to me. Many times over my life I’ve humbled myself to apologize to someone for something I’ve said or did. My hope in that apology was to have them accept my apology. I wanted them to not just tell me that what I did was okay but to give me the blueprint on how I can repair what I broke. Even if the person who offended me is not sorry, I can still extend grace to them because maybe they don’t fully understand how they hurt me. Maybe they don’t know that what they said triggered me. What if they are battling some really tough personal issues that have nothing to do with me and their offense was a product of their own frustrations with life? These examples are exactly why I need to be quicker to give grace than to be offended. Offense is easy, grace is not. You know that high road people are always talking about? I believe that grace is on that road. So the fact that until I ask I will never fully know someone else’s story, leads me to adopt the mindset that no matter what they do, I need to give them the same type of grace I have been given by people I have wronged.
k, good talk