“Paula, I can’t believe what you said to Theresa.”
I was sixteen, and the words were spoken by a fellow member of my church youth group. We were at a week-long youth conference in another state.
I was puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“What you said to her last night ... you really hurt her feelings.”
Now I was baffled. Theresa and I were good friends and were rooming together for the week. The thing was, I had not had ANY conversation with her the previous night, because I had gone to bed and was asleep before she got back to the room.
I promptly sought her out. “Theresa,” I asked, “what did I say to you last night?”
Hesitantly (she was a super-gentle person), Theresa told me that when she had come back to our room, she had tried to be extra quiet. She had a small flashlight and was shielding it to give as little light as possible. I had sat up in bed and said in a rude, disgusted voice, “Will you shut off that stupid light?!?” I then flopped back down and said nothing more.
Understandably, Theresa was quite upset. This was entirely out of character for me. Since Theresa hated conflict, she had not brought it up to me – but she had told someone else in our youth group. That is the person who (thankfully) came to me.
Very gently, I explained, “Theresa, I have no memory of that. I was evidently talking in my sleep! I am so sorry that you were offended and I apologize.”
We ended up having a good laugh about it and our friendship was restored. (She got me back later that week ... she had the top bunk and one night her arm flopped over the edge. I woke up in the middle of the night and practically had a heart attack seeing a disembodied hand hanging in front of my face!)
This is an example – an extreme one, I admit! – of why it is vital to talk things out face to face wherever there has been hurt or offense. We make assumptions about what the other person meant by their words or intended by their actions. We make assumptions about what the other person heard us say or understood about our motivations.
Theresa assumed that I had been knowingly rude. Actually, I knew nothing about the incident at all! Another time, I accidentally offended a friend by using a phrase that in my family was a term of affection but in her experience was an insult. Then there was the time I really blew it in a relationship when I was actually trying with all my heart to do the right thing.
I bring these up because each time, I and my various friends made assumptions. Assumptions that were understandable, reasonable, and justified ... and WRONG.
I encourage you to take a look at any relationships you have that are broken or on the rocks. Then I want you to make an assumption. Assume that it is possible – just possible – that what you have been assuming about the other person is wrong.
With that assumption, go to the other person involved. It doesn’t matter which side of the equation you are on. Go and ask, “Can we sit down and chat?” Put the hurt or offense on the table. Talk about it. Figure out what each of you meant and what each of you heard.
As you talk together, you might find sin on one or both sides that does indeed need to be confessed and forgiven. But you also might find some faulty assumptions – again, on one or both sides – that need to be replaced with the truth. Regardless, you now have a foundation on which you can re-build a relationship.
Let’s live out our calling in Colossians 3:12-13 –
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”