I like to think I’ve outgrown my childish habits, but I’m not sure that’s always the case.
It’s not unusual for a child in my preschool class to offend another child. Maybe one takes another’s tricycle on the playground, or this one teases that one. Often, before I can say anything, the offended child will take matters into his own hands and hit the first child.
One child was wronged. Legitimately wronged. He could have received justice yet avoided punishment had he talked to me about it, or simply waited two more seconds for me to intervene. But he exacted his own revenge, getting himself into more trouble than the child who had annoyed him. Two wrongs never make a right.
We call this behavior “childish,” but adults act out the same scenario, if under different circumstances. Solomon tells us that “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense,” but we find it easier to return one offense with another. Someone makes a sarcastic comment. We fire back with our own barb. We get hurt, so we hurt back. Maybe we ignore the person. Or make a smug comment. Perhaps we spread the word about how rude she was — and is.
Soon we’re acting nothing like mature adults who work together to solve problems. It’s like we’re a couple of preschoolers, slugging it out on the playground.
Some things can’t (or shouldn’t) be overlooked
Before we go any further, let’s make this clear: Some offenses can’t be ignored. Serious or repeated wrongs against one another should be addressed, maybe with the help of a third party.
But let’s face it: We all live with or near other humans. Imperfect, inconsistent, emotional, opinionated humans just like us. We all have our own perspectives and personality differences that clash with those around us. We’re going to offend each other every day. How do we stop the vengeful cycle of one minor offense leading to another and another?
When they aren’t trying to offend you
It helps to recognize that others aren’t always offending us on purpose.
Experts tell us there are 16 different personality types. Add to that our different backgrounds, experiences, relationships and worldviews, and it’s no wonder we all look at the world differently.
These differences can easily create misunderstandings — and offenses. We accidentally commit each other’s pet peeves, and feelings get bruised unintentionally.
A few years ago, I was repeatedly offended by a coworker’s sarcastic comments until I heard a friend of hers speak to her the same way. She was only replicating with me a relational pattern that was a habit for her, never realizing that it was both unfamiliar and offensive to me.
Larry the Cucumber was right: “God made you special.” We were all created uniquely, with our own personality and idiosyncrasies (one of my favorite words) that shape the way we live and determine what bothers us. If we first extend some benefit of the doubt and assume our friends and family are not trying to offend us, it will go a long way in avoiding a cycle of offenses.
When they offend you — and mean it
But we have all met someone — probably even lived with someone — who wanted to offend us at some point or another. Good grief, we’ve all been that person. It’s part of being human in a world wrecked with sin.
There are two reasons it may occasionally be best to overlook an intentional offense.
1. Addressing this particular offense won’t change anything.
Sometimes people are just trying to push your buttons. Pointing out their offense won’t lead to anything constructive, and may actually make the situation worse (most rude internet/social media comments fall in this category).
2. God forgives our intentional offenses against Him.
This is the kicker.
Jesus told a story about a servant who owed an impossible amount of money. His master had mercy and chose not simply to extend the loan, but completely forgive the debt. As soon as the servant left the master’s presence, he found a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount. He threatened the fellow servant and put him in prison until he could pay him back. That unmerciful servant was called back to his master and sent to prison — with no hope of ever getting out.
We offend God daily. Even on our best days. Yet He chose to cancel our debt, and we will never accurately understand the price He paid.
To overlook an offense is to act as if it never happened. Which sounds a lot like forgiveness.
No fishing license here
People will offend us. But instead of offending them right back, we can remember our own forgiven debts and extend the grace we’ve been given.
“When God forgives, He forgets,” Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said. “He buries our sins in the sea and puts a sign on the shore saying, ‘No Fishing Allowed.’”
By God’s grace, we can learn to do the same for others, putting our childish ways behind us.
Copyright 2020 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.