Healthy Leaders


The Anatomy of Offense, Redefined

Lila ShelburneLila Shelburne



Offense is the fodder of much of our entertainment from cartoons like Tom and Jerry to the bestselling books of Tom Clancy. One person offends another, suspicion is born, assumptions are made, and anger results with a need to retaliate. Then we plot and scheme revenge … and the best guy wins … maybe.

We all find appropriate satisfaction when justice wins out and the bad guy is stopped. But the majority of offenses in our daily lives don’t break societal laws. They break hearts, wreak havoc on our relationships, and make us vulnerable to a growing horde of self-deceiving conclusions about ourselves and the other person.

That offense then owns us. We are a slave to it and we live captive to its pain. This is the very thing Paul was addressing when he wrote that “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). Holding a grudge is not loving yourself or the other person. There is another choice and it will set all parties free.

The Bible says that love keeps no record of wrong or evil done. In other words, love does not hold a grudge. Most of us have no problem “remembering when.” We remember what was said, the tone of voice, how we felt and how we reacted in defense whether it was an internal reaction or an outward explosion. We remember and we justify our reaction. Let’s take a closer look at it.

Closer Look


Remember a time someone offended you. One that still stings. It may have happened last week or thirty years ago. Someone said or did something offensive and hurtful. You felt insulted, degraded, disrespected, ignored, lied about or blamed. It still hurts. Let’s take a closer look.

First you feel something less than peace. It takes a gutsy person to be honest about what happens next in their thinking. You measure – judge is the word the Bible uses – either yourself or “that person” against some internal standard of right and wrong that only you know. Then you keep records of the measurements and draw conclusions.

The tell-tale sign of doing this shows up in our words. Words like, “you always, I always, every time, you never.” Sometimes it shows up when we ask questions like, “How can a loving God allow this?” Once measured, you draw conclusions. Someone wins. They’re better, smarter, right. Someone loses. They’re not as good, dumb, wrong. Trust is undermined, if not completely lost, in yourself, the other person and often in God. Respect is lost and love, as God defines it, is diminished. Somehow then, it’s okay to treat the other person or ourselves with something less than respect and dignity, and sometimes even immorally.

These feelings and opinions build up like water in a reservoir. Then when you’re bummed out because of a cloudy day or you’re sick or your best friend moved or someone else offends you and your dam spills over, you may or may not recall all the details of past events but you will “feel” the pain of them and the accumulated conclusions attached to them. Your accumulated conclusions morph into the delusions you live by.

Sad Reality


These morphed conclusions become your new reality. You KNOW! If you’re challenged, you’ll argue, maybe attack. Your tone of voice changes, the pitch changes, you use stronger words, the volume gets louder and you start attacking “that person” or yourself. The attack becomes offensive, if not abusive – verbally, emotionally or even physically. For some, the attack is withdrawal and internal dialogue. Either way … the results? Negative feelings such as confusion, insecurity, hurt, distrust and general unhappiness grow like weeds in a garden. These feelings result in withdrawal, burn-out, defeat, criticism, depression, rationalizing, justification, and distrust, perhaps even cold revenge. This then, becomes your sad reality.

Many years ago, my husband had his own home repair and remodeling business. Over the years he learned to follow his instincts when he’d meet a client. He could often tell the occasional client he would never be able to satisfy because they oozed unhappiness. On occasions when work was slow and he’d take the job, he’d come home drained and frustrated. He learned unhappy people are unhappy and nothing you do will change them. They are among the ones spoken of in Proverbs 23:7 that says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Carrying an offense reduces you. Your thoughts and emotions dictate your attitudes, your moods and your actions. You’re a prisoner and a slave.

Common Conclusions


In this state of mind respect is lost and it’s so much for “love your neighbor as yourself,” and “the world will know we are Christians by our love.” It’s so much for “life happily ever after,” or the illusive “abundant life.” Instead, it’s “what the heck,” or “change partners,” or “poor me,” or any substance or any activity to ease the pain. After all, we draw more conclusions like “why try?” or “I’VE GOT A RIGHT…!”

Offense Redefined


You have another choice. Go back to the moment of offense. Something in your gut twisted and you felt affronted. Offended. Hurt. Something less than peaceful. Now, instead of doing your usual, you immediately and intentionally turn to God asking for His perspective on the incident. Yes, this is counter-intuitive. It requires an intentional choice on your part.

That twist in your gut, you decide, is a heads-up to stop and pray for insight, to disengage, not deny or react to your offended emotions. It’s the choice to yield your right to make assumptions, indulge in pity parties, play judge and jury, pass sentence and get even. It a choice to give up your rights.

It’s one, two, three: Stop! Pray! Yield!

Stop rehearsing the event and nursing your wound.

Pray. Talk and listen to God, tell Him your facts, what happened and what was said. Then tell Him the pain you feel. Ask for His perspective before making assessments, drawing conclusions, or taking action. Ask Him to help you see and understand what you might be missing from your perspective.

This is the time to pray like David prayed:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24, NLT)

Don’t forget to listen. Give God time to check your motives and attitudes against His standard in Scripture which teaches, reproves, and corrects. (2Tim. 3:16). Keep in mind, sometimes we are right in our thinking but argumentative, bullying, or condescending.

Yield your rights to win or prove a point. Once your motives and attitudes are aligned with God and His Word, then and only then, are you free to go to the other person to ask questions to understand their perspective.

For example, you might say “I may have misunderstood, help me understand where you’re coming from,” or simply, “Tell me more about…” Your goal is to understand their thinking from their perspective. Often, once you have respectfully listened to them they will return the favor.

More than once I’ve said to my husband, “Clayton, I can take what you’ve said two different ways. What did you mean when you said …?” Most of the time he didn’t mean anything insulting. In the past I would have taken offense, accused him, reacted and held it against him creating a wedge between us. Too many wedges separate even Christian marriages.

Of course, you may still have different opinions. I like what I heard years ago. “If two people always agree, one isn’t necessary.” There is a healthy tension created by differing opinions and perspectives which create balance. You can be open to these differences and the balances they bring or you can be defensive and offended. It’s always a choice.

Your Choices


You’re right – sometimes right motives and actions don’t solve a thing because the problem isn’t yours. You are only responsible for actions. The other person may be dealing with or denying all sorts of issues. Still, you neither have to be a doormat nor a bully. You don’t have to “win” or “lose.” You have another choice.

Speak truth, as you see it, patiently and kindly. Seek to see other person through the eyes of God, not as your challenger, but as a person Jesus offered His life for. Our first and primary choice is to be Christ-like. Speak truth in a loving way and let go of the offense. Extend grace.

If you come to realize, five minutes or five years later, that you said or did something offensive, then stop and pray, asking the Lord how He wants you to clear the offense. Jesus clearly instructs us to go to the ones we have offended and be reconciled (Matt. 5:23-24).

Several years ago my siblings and I attended a 40th year celebration of a church our parents started. While there, a couple our parents had mentored approached us and asked if they could speak to us together. Our parents had both been gone for several years.

Together this couple asked if we would accept, on our parents’ behalf, their apology for attitudes and actions they later realized were wrong. We were humbled by their request and thankful for the peace they could finally have after carrying a burden of guilt for so long.

I’m reminded of the words to the old familiar song, “What a Friend,”

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear…

How much better to go the Lord in prayer and stay there listening until we’re ready to hear and do what He tells us.

Often, sometimes years later, we see events, circumstances and even people differently. We mature, gain new understanding, and even get more facts. Certainly if the Lord keeps prompting and bringing a situation to your memory, it’s time to go and be reconciled. You may still have differing opinions, but still, you can apologize for the unloving way you responded to them.

Each time we intentionally choose to stop, pray and yield when offended, or realize we have offended another, we are choosing not to impute motives, rehearse an offense, calculate, assume, make judgments, plot or scheme. This “not doing” is Christ-like love. We are redefining the anatomy of offense. We are no longer a slave to the offense and sin, but a servant, obedient to Christ’s command to love one another, just as Christ loves us.

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