Carl called me aside after Sunday school class. "You haven't seen much of Pete lately, have you?" he asked. Before I responded, he said, "I thought you ought to know that you offended him by something you said."
"Offended him?" I wondered what I could have done.
"One Sunday he tried to get into the church office and the door was locked. You came by and said, "That's the first time I ever saw you trying to get inside the church."
I recalled the incident. Pete had joked about the pastor not being able to get to church early enough to unlock his office.
"I was only kidding him," I told Carl.
"That's the way Pete is." He told me several tales of Pete's touchiness.
"How did you find out he was offended?"
"He told his brother-in-law who told Bill, and Bill told me."
Typical story. Someone gets offended and by the time the information gets to me, it's been filtered through at least three other people.
The conversation bothered me. I'd hurt someone, even though unintentionally. I reviewed the conversation in my mind, but I couldn't understand how anyone could have misconstrued the conversation. Yet Pete had.
"He ought to have come to me," I mumbled to myself. I heard the words echo back, "He ought to …"
Later that day, I grumbled to God. "I'm tired of innocent remarks getting twisted around and ending in hurt feelings. Why am I supposed to reconcile? People don't seem disturbed when they hurt my feelings. If Pete had been hurt, he was the one responsible to tell me."
I couldn't leave things like that. Likely Pete had intended for the information to reach me that he was hurt. Although I felt I'd done nothing wrong, the fact remained: Pete had been offended.
Later I apologized to him. However, that incident pushed me into serious thinking. Aside from the fact that Pete should have come to me himself, other things were also wrong. I heard the information through the I-thought-you-ought-to-know message system.
Haven't we actually twisted it from the principle Jesus gave? He said, "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back" (Matthew 18:15, NLT).
Caring means being honest and confronting when necessary. It used to be that when conversations like those came to me, I kept the names in confidence. When I had to confront the third person, I'd say, "Someone told me that …" or "I've heard that …"
I determined to change the way I responded. Shortly after that, Fran cornered me after the worship service. "Go see Rita this week." Rita had been one of the most faithful members of my class.
"Any particular reason?"
"And ask about her father."
I nodded. I'm sure the puzzlement in my mind showed on my face.
"You hurt her feelings," Fran said.
"What did I do wrong?"
"You didn't ask about her father. She was gone all last week. She told you he was ill and you had prayer for him in class. Now she's back and you didn't ask about him."
"I forgot. But why didn't she tell me herself?"
"I'll contact her this week and ask about her father. I'm sorry I forgot. But you can help me if this kind of thing comes up again. Urge her to tell me herself."
"She'd be embarrassed and say it's such a small thing."
"But it's not too small for her to get her feelings hurt. It's not too small for her to tell you so that you pass it on to me."
"You're right," she said. "I'll try next time." I hope she did.
That's how the twist operates. One person does something wrong (even unintentionally). The offended one waits for the offender to smooth it out. If I'm hurt, I have an obligation to tell the person who offended me.
I've failed by allowing people to shirk their responsibility to each other. I made a promise to myself: No longer will I bear second-hand messages. I'll urge people to confront one another. I intend to care enough to help them be honest and faithful. I don't enjoy saying hard things to people. I'm as uncomfortable as the next person. If I care about the people involved, though, I can do it.
- Do women have a harder time confronting people directly about their complaints? Why or why not?
- Do you complain more to others than to the person who offended you? If so, how can you find the courage to take it only to the person who hurt you?
- If you are involved in ministry, do you often hear complaints secondhand? If so, how can you begin to "re-train" people to come directly to you?
Cecil Murphey is the author or co-author of more than 100 books, including the NY Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper). His newest releases are When Someone You Love Has Cancer, When God Turned Off the Lights, and Christmas Miracles. Visit him at www.cecilmurphey.com.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
Click here for reprint information.