We live in an age where offense means the end of a friendship, but this doesn’t seem to be the way of Jesus. As followers of Christ we strive to “live unoffendable,” as Jennie Allen puts it. Jesus teaches this ethic when he tells us to turn the other cheek and put others’ needs before our own, and the New Testament writers reinforce it repeatedly through how they handle problems within the early church.
The reality is, if we are living in authentic community with other believers, there may be times when we feel offended. Maybe Lauren blurts out a snap judgment about a choice you made. Maybe Jasmine makes an off-hand comment that hurts your feelings. Maybe Sarah gives you advice that feels unsolicited.
Even in the best of circles, it’s going to happen if you live in community long enough.
So what do we do when someone’s words hurt or offend us?
The world says to cut them off, never trust them again, be offended, and make sure the rest of the world knows what they did to you. The world says this is a justified response. The world says that wallowing in your offense is the only logical response to hurt.
I picture this head space like this: When someone says something that offends you, triggers you, or gets those walls slamming up, it’s like stepping in a muddy puddle during break-up season (Spring, for you Lower 48-ers). Muddy puddles are part of break-up season, just like offense is part of authentic friendship, and we shouldn’t be surprised that we encounter them. But it’s like the world says that, when you step in that puddle, you shouldn’t just keep walking down the road, but rather, you should stop right in your tracks. No matter you have boots on and your feet are perfectly dry (I mean, my feet are fitted with the Gospel of Peace!). No, that shouldn’t matter because you were offended. In fact, you should probably just sit down in that puddle, make sure you really experience it from all angles, taste the dirt, get it allllll over your life. Oh, and as you sit there, just scream. Make sure you tell the rest of the world that you were offended, that you encountered a mud puddle during break-up season. This will help them know to watch out for mud puddles too. You will feel as though you’re doing them a great service. And when you do eventually get back up, definitely don’t bother cleaning yourself off. Walking around with dried mud caked on your clothes will serve as a reminder that you were offended once, and maybe it will even protect you from more mud should you ever venture further down that muddy road.
But that’s not how mud works, and that’s not how offense works either.
Wallowing in our offense does nothing to protect us from future offense, unless we completely close ourselves off to being in relationship with others. And telling others about our offense shouldn’t surprise anyone. Oh, you encountered offense as you tried to live in authentic relationship with another broken person? Shocking.
Friends, I hope my sarcasm doesn’t feel too pointed, but I need myself, at least, to see that I really should not be surprised when I am offended by the words of others.
Rather than letting offense rule me, I wonder what my life would look like if I told my offense what to do more often.
What if, instead of my thought-life looking like this…
“When she said that, I was hurt. Therefore, my offense will rule in my heart until she apologizes.”
…it looked more like this…
“When she said that, I was hurt. However, I know I am called to let the peace of Christ rule in my heart. I wonder what that looks like in this situation?”
Because it’s not that our offense is inherently bad; it’s a defense mechanism for our hearts. But when we let it rule us, we reject any possibility of pursuing peace, restoration, and unity with those in our community.
So, let’s break down how we can practice living unoffendable:
1. Recognize offense for what it is. Being offended is a signal to our brains that something someone said hurt our heart. Offense bumps up against our ideal worldview and “triggers” us to know something is not as it should be (according to my ideal, at least). These triggers aren’t necessarily bad, but I need to know what to do with them. When I feel offended or triggered, I want to recognize that feeling as a “check engine” light of sorts, inviting me to investigate the problem, differences in worldview or opinion, or past personal hurts that made that light turn on. Offense is not a state of being, it’s a warning sign.
2. Reflect on what offended me and why. Here is where paths might diverge. Maybe this was a small offense, like a friend said something that stung, but I can recognize that it wasn’t intentional, and I can let it go. Or maybe this was something more significant, something that touched on a deep wound that must be addressed and dealt with so it doesn’t fester into bitterness, anger, or resentment within our friendship.
3. After we’ve done some reflecting, we are better prepared to respond to our offense in a healthy and appropriate way. Here are several situations we might find ourselves in as we reflect on our offense and decide how to respond.
– The offense was small, maybe an off-handed comment that wasn’t the most gracious, but I know my sister didn’t mean to hurt me. I choose to let the peace of Christ rule my heart (Colossians 3:15), not my offense, and I let it go.
– My offense was significant, and I am truly hurt. I reflect and realize that what was said offended me for a reason that could impact our friendship negatively in the future if I just ignore the issue. I decide I need to seek unity and peace with my sister, so I bring it up in a private, in-person setting so I can share my hurt and tell her what might be the best way to love me better in this area in the future.
My friend Wendy taught us how to handle this kind of a situation a few weeks ago on the podcast. Here’s how a situation like this might go:
Friend, when you said ____ the other day, it really hurt my feelings. Upon reflection, I think I was hurt because of __________. Would you mind doing/not doing ________ in the future?
Likely, they will appreciate your honesty, have had no idea they offended you, and be happy to try to course-correct in the future. On the off-chance they disagree or see things differently, work through the conversation and consider bringing in a trusted and neutral third-party and/or wise counsel if necessary.
One important distinction in this process is what I talked about on the blog last week. Where does the person whose words offended you fit into your life? Are they in your trusted circle, tribe, or close friends? If so, I encourage you to pursue one of the above paths. Extending forgiveness and grace by letting a small offense go helps you to grow in love and grace for that friend based on their whole self, not just the easiest sides of their personality. We all have rough, broken edges, right? And if this person is in your trusted circle and you do need to address the offense, a healthy conversation like this will likely help your friendship grow deeper in authenticity.
But what if you find yourself offended by someone who is not in your closer circle or tribe – maybe just someone you know within the church or a casual acquaintance?
In this kind of a situation, I think it is really important to ask ourselves what we want and expect to get out of the situation. If we are truly seeking deeper relationship with this person and we need to reconcile this hurt in order to do that, then perhaps a conversation would be helpful. Just be prepared to make it clear that you love them as a fellow believer, and you want to be honest about your hurts to pursue deeper friendship, not just to call them out.
When we get into the business of “I just want them to know they hurt me so they don’t do that to someone else,” we start to tread some potentially perilous waters. Ask yourself what your motive is in this situation. Is it truly that you have forgiven them, forgotten the hurt, and you really do want to protect innocent souls from suffering as you have? Or are you looking for a way to act like you’ve forgiven them, but you still want them to know they hurt you so they feel bad about it? Unless we are sure that our motives are pure in this, choosing the way of honesty is best. Either have an honest conversation about the hurt you suffered, or let it go. Don’t be a false martyr by acting like you’re doing them a service.
In my life, my motives are almost never pure when I try to approach a conversation from this angle. I feel confident saying that nearly 100% of the time, my motive is to make them feel bad about what they said that offended me. But I know this isn’t the way of Jesus. The amount of times Jesus endured offensive words and “did not open his mouth,” puts my measly attempts to do the same to shame. But even when we fail at this or stumble through it, our attempts honor him all the same.
The last situation in which we might find ourselves offended that I want to touch on today is when we find ourselves offended by someone who is not a believer.
Paul puts it pretty plainly in 1 Corinthians 4:13 when he says, “when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” A conversation with someone who is not a believer might go great and be really helpful to your friendship, but we also have to recognize that someone who doesn’t share the Christian ethic may have different views on how to handle offense. A loving and honest conversation like the kind we’ve talked about here might be an amazing way to share the heart of the gospel with them, so try! But don’t be shocked if you find yourself in another muddy puddle. Sometimes all we can do is answer kindly. Sometimes we just get to offer them our other cheek.
A final, important caveat to this conversation lies in the distinction between feeling offended by disagreement or unintentional hurts, and all-out toxic behavior. If you’re unsure if that “check engine” light of offense is coming from something you should let go or address, or if there’s a repetitive pattern of toxic behavior at play, I encourage you to ask the Lord and your trusted people to help you discern the healthiest way forward. Emotional abuse is never okay, and setting up boundaries to protect ourself from it can be an important and wise choice.
Psalm 34:14 says to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” When we choose to not let offense rule our hearts, we turn from the option of evil. When we pursue restoration and deeper friendship, we do good and seek peace. In rare situations, a healthy boundary might actually be how you need to pursue peace. And sometimes, seeking peace means we settle for just answering kindly in the face of offense. It might not feel “just” or “fair” by the world’s standards, but Jesus seemed to choose the way of peace over offense quite often, so I want to try to, as well.