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She's So Offensive!
Learning to see difficult people in a new light
There are few things that bother me more than seeing someone mistreated—especially someone I know and love.
When I was four years old, my mom joined a bowling league. Once a week, I would be dropped off in the childcare center with my best friend, Sarah, and her little brother, Brian. We’d play for two hours while our mothers bowled. The ladies who watched the children were short on patience and good at yelling. They did not like Brian. He was less than three years old with fluffy blond hair, and what I remember most about him was he was always happy, joyful, and a bit boisterous. I loved playing with Brian (even though he was a boy), but he always managed to get into trouble for no reason. I had the strong sense that the teachers were not being fair—they just didn’t like him.
One day, the meanest teacher pulled Brian away from playing with us and made him sit, waiting for his mother, apart from the rest of the class. He was crying, and I tried to tell the teacher he wasn’t doing anything—he should be allowed to play. But she didn’t listen. Instead, she chided me and said I should never talk back to someone in authority, especially as a child.
It’s the first time I remember looking at an adult and realizing that some adults are worthy of authority and some just like to have power—and the latter was very ugly and wrong. I watched Brian cry for a few minutes, commiserating with Sarah about how we would rescue him. It seemed hopeless, and our mothers weren’t due to come back for another hour. Finally, I felt my anger well up inside me so much, I walked right up to that teacher with the straggly gray hair and blurted, “Why are you so mean?”
She looked at me with disbelief and said, “I’m not mean!”
I stared in her bloodshot eyes, my hands propped sassily on my hips, and said, “You ARE mean, and I don’t know why you hate Brian, but he did nothing wrong. You just come here to pick on children all morning and make us cry.”
I watched her face drop. She was speechless.
Uh oh. Fear filled my chest. What had I done? What was I thinking, talking back to an adult like this? I looked at Brian, who was staring at me with a white face. I looked for Sarah, but she had disappeared. I suddenly realized the full stature of my four-year-old self was no match for an elderly adult woman in a 1970s polyester pantsuit. I quickly said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t want to see my friend cry.”
“You go play,” she nodded to Brian, and we played happily the rest of the day. I couldn’t believe being bold actually worked!
The next week, as we were playing in the class, the mean teacher came up to me and said, “I’d like to talk to you. Come out in the hall.”
I knew I had met my fate. I prepared for a spanking, or a harsh reprimand at the very least.
“I wanted to let you know what you said last week really hurt me.”
“Oh. I’m sorry...” I began to try to find words in my four-year-old vocabulary to fill in the awkward silence.
“No. What you said hurt my feelings, but it was a very good thing you did,” she continued. “It’s good to speak up for your friends. And you’re right, I have been very short and mean, and I am sorry. I am going to try to do a better job.”
I hadn’t thought about that moment in the bowling childcare center for many years until recently. I saw another friend being treated unfairly, and I felt the same sense of anger and vitriol. Since I am a few years older and wiser, I didn’t march up to the offending person and try to put them in their place. Instead, I started talking to God.
“Why is she being such a jerk? I mean, really, do you hear how she’s talking to my friend?” I continued with my prayer rant, asking God to help my friend not to be discouraged by the mistreatment. I prayed a continuing stream of questions: “Why are some people so offensive? Why is it like they sit and wait for bait—bait to be angry, or lash out, or tell someone how they’ve fallen short? Why do some people seem to get so much satisfaction in belittling other people?”
“The story is much bigger than you know.” I felt a quiet whisper.
My rant stopped, and I paused my thoughts. “What do you mean?” I asked, waiting for the whisper to continue.
“You don’t know what happened before she came in the room. You don’t know what’s going on in her family, in her job, in her home. And yes, the behavior is completely inappropriate, but have you always behaved perfectly when you’re overwhelmed?”
Just like that, a slideshow played in my head of the times I had less-than-stellar interactions with people—particularly those I know and trust—when I was under stress. In every scenario, I was entering the moment with a slate of conflicts in my heart that had nothing to do with the person I was talking to, yet they received the full burden of my emotions.
In a moment, my vitriol was replaced with compassion. I started praying for the person who was acting so offensively. I prayed for what I knew, and whatever I didn’t know—that God would help her, come alongside her, encourage her, and give her wisdom, and that she would have His peace.
As I prayed, I realized how much being offended separates people. I was ready to part ways with the offender forever and lead my friend to do the same. At the very least, I wanted to let loose a string of heavy and pointed words that would put the woman in her place. That’s what she deserved, right?
God showed me a better way. First, He transformed my perspective and my heart in that one poignant moment.
Then, I was able to offer the insight He gave me to my friend, helping them off the perilous cliff of despair and disdain.
Now, I see Him beginning to work in the heart of the offensive woman. Who knows how many relationships will be salvaged if that angry, bitter woman chooses to live from a new place of grace?
After that interaction, my heart feels more aware of offensive people, and how their behavior often has nothing to do with me or the people they are mistreating. It has everything to do with something broken or hurting in them. That doesn’t mean I should trust them with my deepest secrets or lean into them as a best friend—but it does remind me to pray for them.
You know God is at work when He turns the emotion of being offended into a powerful queue to pray.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11
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