Points to Ponder/What You Do Not Know May Hurt You... And a Lot More
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
Back in my college days, a classmate of mine and a woman 11 years older than us worked in a restaurant. We became great friends. We shared meals, went places together, and pulled “all-nighters” to get through exam time. We also helped each other weather the storms and celebrate the joys of life. We were truly the best of friends and each other’s confidants.
When Jane (not her real name) lost her apartment and most of her belongings in a fire, my parents gave her my sister’s room until she could find a place. She was with us for awhile, a friend of the family who was like a sister to me.
One day, with no intention other than to make conversation, I asked how the hunt for an apartment was coming along. Not much of a verbal response came, but there was a physical one. That evening and every night she and our other friend were searching the classifieds and walking the streets, checking out apartments. I was in no particular hurry to see her move out, but she assumed that I was. Her communications with me were cool and infrequent until she was finally out.
I’d caught on from mutual friends that Jane felt I wanted her out. But she would never open up to me and talk about it. It was sad to see our friendship die because she assumed that I said something that I did not. She was so convinced (being the eldest among us I guess she thought she had superior perception) and she could not entertain the possibility that perhaps she’d either misunderstood what was said or heard something that was not said at all.
Jesus tells us that if a brother or sister sins against you (or you think he/she did), go to that one alone and deal with the issue. That sure is a hard thing to do, especially if you really believe a wrong was done. It causes a lot of unnecessary pain and spreads the damage if we go off and blab to everybody else except the one who did the deed. It is even worse, and unretractable, if you discover you were somewhat or completely mistaken, and you have already maligned that person’s name or started a fire you can not put out.
In my first ministry position as a Director of Christian Education at a large church, I almost destroyed the youth ministry. I perceived that the leaders were doing certain things in a certain way, but I never sat down and addressed it with them. They likewise, had perceptions about me and my actions, but they never came to me either.
When I finally got the nerve to just go and talk it out, I discovered that my perceptions of them had been way off. In the quiet space of my own logic, coupled with a few people who “know how they are”, I had been sure I knew how wrong these leaders had been. But once we talked out our perceptions of each other, we discovered that we both were way off base in our judgments. Talking it our cleared the air, put us back on the “same page” together, and brought welcome relief. The offense was at first perceived, but not real. It became real when we did not follow Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-17 at the outset (particularly v.15).
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
How many friendships are strained or broken; how many ministries are irreparably damaged because we lean on our own understanding without ever checking to see if we truly understand?
The wisdom of Proverbs also speaks well to this.
“The first to present his case seems right till another comes forward and questions him.” (Proverbs 18:17 NIV)
Both sides of a story must be heard. Yet, even then, there will always be a third side: the truth. We are imperfect creatures, only able to perceive as our finite senses interpret things. Even the most astute and wise person can miss an important detail - perhaps the MOST important. Would it be a shame to lose a friend or break a heart over something that may not be as it seems to you?
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.