There is nothing worse than knowing I have offended someone. I would much rather be the “offendEE” than the “offendER”!
I like it that this verse says “If possible…” It is not always possible to mend fences with an offended brother or sister, but “so far as it depends on me,” I want to do all I can to make that happen.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma. No two cases are alike. But here are some general suggestions that may help in certain situations.
If we know an offense has occurred, we can purpose to put on our “big girl panties” and break the ice of unforgiveness.
We’re talking about serious stuff here because we know that a root of bitterness can cause much trouble (Hebrews 12:15); and one of the things God says he “hates” is one who sows discord (no doubt because He knows the harm it can do in relationships within families, churches, and other associations).
The Bible says that a brother offended is harder to win than a strong city. And contentions are like the bars of a castle (Proverbs 18:19).
Even with that bleak prognosis, it is possible to mend fences in many cases.
It starts with a word — a character trait — that we all like to think we have, but, when put to the test, our actions often prove otherwise:
It starts with humility.
One of the strongest urges we all have as human beings is to vindicate ourselves, either outwardly or inwardly. St. Augustine cried out to God, “O Lord! Deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself!”
Oswald Chambers says, “Such a need for constant vindication destroys our soul’s faith in God. Don’t say, ‘I must explain myself,’ or, ‘I must get people to understand.'”
How about this:
Let’s seek first to understand, and then to be understood!
And, even after that, we may not completely understand the other person’s point of view … but we can at least accept the fact that it is his or her point of view (skewed though it may be [at least in our opinion]).
This is a good time to use our best listening skills and best non-threatening voice inflection. If we ask out right, “Did I offend you?,” most won’t admit that we have.
Instead, let’s consider gently saying, “Mary, I have noticed that you seem to be pulling away from me. Is everything okay between us?”
Then listen. Listen to the bitter end!
And while we’re listening, we should fight the urge to interrupt and explain our side. Listen with compassion; and, when the person is finished, validate his or her feelings. After all, right or wrong, it is how that person feels.
Saying, “I am sorry you were offended” is a not an apology. It actually escalates the offense rather than deescalate it. It is like telling the offended party, “You have issues. Get over it.”
Can we not resist the urge to defend ourselves? Even if, in our opinion, we are at no fault whatsoever! The offended party will NOT hear or process what we say until we verbally acknowledge his or her feelings.
Once we have deflected the potential firestorm, we might be able to (in certain situations) gently explain our perspective, but then follow up quickly and gently (there’s that word again) with, “But I can see how my words (or my abrasive approach, or my behavior, etc.) must have made you feel. Will you please forgive me?”
The One who created us says to agree with your adversary quickly (Matthew 5:25).
Let’s not be afraid to take the blame (no matter how innocent we may think we are) if it will bring peace in the end.
If we are not forgiven instantly, be patient and gracious. After all, God is certainly patient and gracious with us!
We can at least release our own guilt once we have sought forgiveness.
It’s not fun being the “offender.” Not fun at all! But even the most gentle-minded, peace-pursuing person can occasionally offend.
Sometimes the person on the other side of the offense has issues that cause him or her to be easily offended; but sometimes we just flat say or do the wrong thing.
But working to do so less often (and never intentionally) should be our goal.
If … you are snared by the words of your mouth … deliver yourself; for you have come into the hand of your friend: Go and humble yourself; plead with your friend. Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler. ~from Proverbs 6.
It is inevitable that, at some point, we will offend someone.
But when we do, it is our responsibility to act with integrity and personal responsibility
if possible, so far as it depends on us, seek to live peaceably with all.