Stay right when you’ve been wronged.

At a Sunday worship towards the end of summer I answered 5 questions that Amy and some others thought would be interesting to hear my response.  I did not know the questions ahead of time.  I was only given 1 minute to respond to each question. 
To refresh your memory, the questions were:
  • Why does God allow trials and suffering in our lives? 
  • How do I deal with people in my life who have hurt me?
  • How do I know if I am hearing God’s voice in my life?
  • What one book other than the Bible has most influenced your life?
  • What are things parents can do to instill in their children a love for Jesus? [Sept blog post]
Last month I responded to the question about trials and sufferings in our life.  This month I want to dwell with you about how we deal with people who have hurt us.
Stay right when you’ve been wronged. It was my 4th grade year and things were great.  I had a great teacher (Mrs. O’Block) and the crush of my life at that time- Nancy Hammer- was in my same homeroom.  Because of our last names, we were usually seated near each other.  Her blond hair, dimple when she smiled…it all just got me.  I was in love.  She lived down the street from me.  I remember on Valentine’s Day going and buying a candy gift at the store for her and then being so nervous I didn’t want to give it to her.  I remember walking in the snow, cold and ice to her house and placing it at her door and then running as fast as I could.  There was one problem, though.  I didn’t ring the doorbell.  So it was politely suggested to me by my parents that I should call the Hammer house and let Nancy know there was something on the porch for her.  I don’t know how- but I did garner up enough strength to make the phone call and let Nancy know there was something on the porch for her.  The next day at school she thanked me…I think she knew I liked her.  It was pretty obvious.  And yet she played it cool.  I won a poetry contest in school and my reward was a gift certificate to McDonalds.  I asked Nancy if she would go with me for some happy meals and good times!  I was a sweet talker even back then!  With my mom and sister in the next booth, Nancy and I shared what seemed like an eternity of an afternoon talking, giggling and just being.  Things were good until Dawn Farrell entered the picture.

PJ’s 4th Grade Class Picture
Can you spot him?

Dawn found out that I was giving gifts to Nancy and lunch trips to McDonalds and so she “started liking me.”  Before all this she hardly spoke a word to me…she was one of the popular girls in the class and she didn’t have time for me.  Until now.  She started passing notes to me in class and I can vividly remember what was written on the paper: Do you like me?  Circle Yes or No.  Someone cool was showing interest in me.  Nancy was nice but Dawn was the popular girl.  She was passing me notes.  Well, you know how this story goes: hook, line and sinker I fell for Dawn’s moves.  I declared my love for her.  I invited her over to my house to play video games and I even used me chore money to buy her a wrist bracelet.  But when I had no more money and she bored of me, Dawn moved on.  And I was left with nothing except heartache and despair.  Okay, I may be bit over-dramatic in my interpretation of what happened (it was like a soap opera, though), but the bones of the story are true.  Dawn wronged me and I felt anger, hurt and sadness towards her.  I wronged Nancy as well in this whole interplay of a 4th grade crush affair gone awry.  I always still liked Nancy but when Dawn showed this sudden interest in me it felt good.  Even through 8th grade I carried feelings of uneasiness and betrayal towards Dawn.  She used me.  I got burned.   
Stay right when you’ve been wronged.  I suspect many of us have been wronged…and some more severe and worse than my 4th grade girl drama.  Perhaps you’ve been hurt by someone really close to you- a parent, sibling, relative or a friend, co-worker, fellow parishioner or complete stranger.  So, how do we deal with them realizing for most of the people that hurt us, we still have to deal with them and perhaps live with them.  When we have been wronged, the tendency for most of us is to lash out, attack, criticize, argue, ridicule, unfriend, unlike, condemn, gossip or hold a grudge.  It’s the easy way…but let me tell you- it’s not the best or healthiest or holiest way for us.  Each of us can recall times in our lives when we have been deeply hurt, shamed, excluded, or violated by someone.  We want our violators to understand the pain they caused, offer a genuine apology and hear them pledge to never do it to anyone else.  Other times there either no resolution or no remorse.  We’ve maybe walked away from painful experiences feeling angry, conflicted, hopeless or confused.  How can we justly and respond in a healthy way?  
As a young father I see this dynamic playing out in Anna and Peter’s lives.  When Anna comes to me with her own hurtful experiences, I feel a familiar wave of unsettledness.  Most of the time resolution can be found (someone took a toy she was playing with or someone said something about another kid).  But I know her experiences will only deepen as she gets older.  I see it in our young people on social media.  If you don’t get “likes” from someone else, it hurts.  And we can drop people from our friend lists. 
But “is this it?”  Is this all we can do when someone hurts us?  No.  Jesus models for us as “the way, truth and life.”  His way is about forgiveness, redemption (not revenge), grace and strength.  He asks us to forgive those who hurt us multiple times over.  But in the same vain he instructs us that if people don’t accept us, we should clap the dust of our shoes and move on to the next person or town.  As always, there is a lot of wiggle room Jesus gives us in the Gospel.  There is not a “one size fits all” response we can apply to every situation.  We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves but also Jesus came to bring division not peace.  What might all this mean for us here and now?   
Renowned author and speaker for young people, Kari Kampakis, suggests the following: “Everyone in your life serves a purpose.  Everyone has something to teach you.  And while people who are kind and friendly help teach you who you DO want to be, those who are not kind and friendly teach you who you DON’T want to be.” So what does this mean?  When you encounter someone who hurts your feelings, lean into that feeling.  Ask yourself what they did to make you feel that way.  Was it the words they chose?  Their tone?  The way they picked favorites and then ignored everyone else’s?  Whatever they did, make a pledge. Promise yourself that you’ll never treat anyone the way they treated you.  This is one of the ways we become a kinder and more compassionate person.  This is how we can learn from their mistakes.  
And conversely when you meet someone you really like, lean into that feeling, too.  Ask yourself what they did to make you feel so good.  Then make a pledge to be more like them.  This is also how you become a kinder and more compassionate person.  Regardless of how anyone treats us, we all stand to benefit.  While some people teach you who you do want to be, others teach you who you don’t want to be.  Dawn taught me that I didn’t want to be like that to others- fake, pretentious and a user.  I also learned grace, compassion and forgiveness from Nancy who in the end liked me for me and not anything I gave her.   
I want to offer yet another way besides “making a pledge” when someone hurts us.  As disciples of Jesus, I think we could stand to benefit from starting with prayer.  Our natural inclination when we get hurt me is to hurt back.  Our natural inclination when someone says something bad against me is say something bad against them and hold on to it and never forgive them.  But here’s the point- all of the things that we are naturally inclined to do actually make it worse.  
But we can break all those chains to bitterness, guilt, resentment and worry.  We can keep from becoming slaves to the past and hurtful memories. We can choose to forgive.  This is one of the most difficult things we can do in our lives and yet one of the most incredibly freeing at the same time.  The cross has the power to free us from grudges, grief and resentment. There is no other way to let go of these emotions that are weighing us down than the cross. Jesus on the cross broke the power of sin and death in our lives. I want you to think of the person you need to forgive, the person whose offense planted a seed of bitterness in you, and I invite you to pray this prayer with me:  
Holy God, only you understand how much I’ve been hurt by this person. I don’t want to carry the pain for another second. I don’t want to be a bitter person. But I need your grace to release my hurt and to forgive those who’ve hurt me. This is the turning point. First, I need to experience your forgiveness. You know all the ways I’ve hurt others, and I’m so sorry for my sins. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. I accept your grace and forgiveness, and I need it daily. Today I’m turning to you, and I’m choosing to forgive the way you have forgiven me. Every time the memory comes back, I’ll forgive that person again until the pain is gone. Heal my heart with your grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  
Whether it’s making a pledge or praying for God’s grace to forgive, the best version of ourselves reminds us we must stay right when we’ve been wronged.  It’s too easy to allow negative feelings darken our hearts and souls.  Forgiveness is a journey.  Everyone in our lives serves a purpose and everyone has something to teach us.  I am grateful for Dawn Farrell, Nancy Hammer and many others who have taught me through the years who I want to be for myself.  Jesus is my model par excellence.  Who are the models of forgiveness, genuineness, integrity, compassion in your life?  How are we called to be those things for others?  Make a pledge today- right here and now: don’t allow someone else to have to power over you for the wrong they’ve done to you.  Stay right when you’ve been wronged.             

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