It should have been a small matter. Easily discussed, easily resolved. Only it wasn’t.
It started with a home improvement project. One neighbor tackled a do-it-yourself job on the weekend. But then it rained, and some of the dust and debris from the project drained along the curb toward the neighbor’s house next door. When the rain dried, the curb remained streaked white from the neighbor’s remodeling job, a valid frustration for the neighbor who prided himself on a tidy home, no doubt. But nothing that an honest conversation and a little mutual understanding couldn’t resolve.
Only, neither of those things happened. Instead, harsh words, threats, phone calls, and a neighborhood feud that lasted years, long after the white streaks faded and disappeared.
Today, I witnessed something similar on social media. An account posted a funny Christian meme. Some thought it was silly, worth a chuckle. Others found it offensive, worth a rebuke and rant. For the record, the post contained nothing perverse, profane, or illegal. The overarching tone of the post (as well as the main account) was “all in good fun.” The end result, however, was anything but.
Offense has rapidly become the fabric of our culture. Everywhere I turn, someone is offended. Is our world more offensive than ever before? Maybe. There’s no shortage of profanities and abuses that should turn our stomachs and break our hearts. And sometimes situations require us to call out abuses and injustices. But I don’t think our over-sensitivity toward offense is an external problem; it’s an internal one.
The Roman culture Jesus was immersed in was chock full of reasons for offense. Polytheism. Unrestrained hedonism. Disregard for human life. Over-sexualization. From a value standpoint, Rome and Jesus shared little in common. Even in religious circles, many found a reason to be offended by His message. And yet, Jesus resisted allowing external pressure to become an internal posture of offense. Even more interesting, the rare instances we see Jesus truly offended were when the religious grew too comfortable on their moral high ground.
In other words, Jesus’s offense wasn’t directed at a world that was doing what the world does. It was directed at the God-lovers and grace-receivers who should’ve known better.
So how do you and I become more like Jesus? How do we become unoffendable in a world whose values are often contrary to our own? How do we become light-shiners and joy-givers rather than adding more vitriol to our culture of offense?
Proverbs gives us several good places to start:
“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
Proverbs 17:9 (NIV)
“A person’s wisdom yields patience;
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)
“It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel.”
Proverbs 20:3 (NIV)
Keeping these proverbs in mind, here are a few practices that have helped me to resist offense and, instead, offer Jesus’s hope and light to a world that desperately needs both:
1. Don’t be surprised when people disappoint. Remember: Without Jesus, you and I would be just as profane and perverse and entitled as the world. Sometimes we still are. The gospel is the only solid ground we stand on. Not morality.
2. Assume positive intent. “Intention impacts emotion.” If you assume someone is purposely trying to hurt, offend, or rile you, your emotions will follow. If you assume the other person is doing the best they can and aren’t necessarily trying to create a stir, your emotions will follow, as well. I remember my late friend Luci Swindoll saying, “Take everything as a compliment. You’ll live longer.”
3. Stay curious. This has been a game changer for me and our family. What does it mean to stay curious? It means choosing a learning posture rather than a judgment posture. This is often best accomplished by observing what is happening rather than feeling stuck in the middle of it. In other words, we want to stay in the executive function part of our brains, not the emotional center of our brains. And staying curious is the road to doing just that. For example, rather than, “What a jerk!” try asking yourself, “I wonder what challenge she faced today that caused her to lash out that way?” OR rather than, “He did that on purpose just to hurt me!” try asking, “I wonder what is weighing on his mind or distracting him? This isn’t his usual behavior.”
4. Gather more information. If someone says or does something that annoys, irritates, or aggravates you, consider the possibility that you don’t have all the facts. In short, PAUSE. Press pause on jumping to conclusions. Instead, ask questions. Get more information. And in the absence of extra information, resist easy conclusions. Rushing to judgment is easy. But wisdom requires patience.
5. Know your limits. Boundaries are good, healthy, and necessary, for all of us. Living without limits is a recipe for disaster. Knowing your limits is a recipe for individual and relational health. Remember: Boundaries aren’t punitive — they’re preservative. They are put in place in an attempt to save the relationship, not squash it. If a certain relationship or social media account is stirring up offense within, take a break. Better to give yourself time to process with Jesus than lash out in a way that only leads to regret.
For now, I pray for the day when those who claim Jesus as their Savior are seen as light-givers and healers. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (vs. 14-15 NIV).
Let’s shine, friends. Stars in a dark sky, leading those who wander home.