It can very frustrating to be misunderstood.
It is especially frustrating when someone thinks you have done something you haven’t or thinks someone else hasn’t done something they have and you can multiply that frustration by ten when they fail to listen to you so that they can actually understand what really happened.
This is the soil in which sinful anger and bitterness can easily grow. This can very quickly become quicksand which grabs hold of your ankles, causing you to stop moving forward in the cause of Christ and dragging you deeper and deeper into a muddy mess.
What do you do in situations like these? I definitely don’t have all the answers, but here are a few thoughts:
1. Grab hold of your mind and commit yourself to putting off sinful thoughts. The mind starts speeding like a freight train almost the moment you think you have been misunderstood and the more serious the situation the faster it goes. Unfortunately it is too often running down the wrong track. If you are not going to become bitter and angry you must not simply listen to yourself, you must talk to yourself and one of the things you must tell yourself is to stop thinking self-centered thoughts.
2. Entrust yourself and your cause to God. We love to fix things, but unfortunately all too often we fail to depend on God as we go about doing so. Remind yourself over and over that God’s approval is what matters most and that you have God’s approval because of what Jesus Christ has done, keep telling yourself this until you believe it with all of your heart. Refuse to do anything or say anything that doesn’t match up with being someone who is declared right on the basis of what Christ has done. Remember that God’s love for you is definitely not based on what some human being says about you. Who is there to condemn? Who is there to accuse? God gave up His own Son for you!
3. Enjoy the fact that God is sovereign and He is very good at using people’s failures and sins to accomplish His glory and your good. It seems sometimes reading the Bible that it is one long story of how God has done just that. The ultimate proof of that is the cross. Could there have been a greater injustice? Could there have been a greater misunderstanding? Of course not. People really sinned there, they were responsible for their sins, they will be judged for those sins, yet was God at work, did God accomplish something amazing from that tragedy? Of course! When I see a situational or relational “train wreck” I often think to myself, man, I wonder what great thing God is going to do next? If you are honest, you can probably look back at your life and see this happen over and over again. Misunderstanding, sin, terrible pain, trust, obedience, new opportunity, open door, God at work, major blessing in the end. One classic example, John Bunyan. He could have sat for twelve years in prison saying this isn’t fair, but what did God do through that experience, Pilgrim’s Progress. What other tinker from that era are we still talking about? And we may not be talking about him if it wasn’t for the fact he had to sit so long in prison.
4. Be thankful for the fact that you are not as important as you sometimes think you are. We can easily get a deluded view of ourselves and begin thinking as if the cause of Christ depended on us and what we do, when we get sidetracked or our reputation is damaged somewhat by something inaccurate that someone else has said about us, it can help us take a deep breath and rejoice in the fact that God is so much bigger and up to so much more than just our little thing. Plus, isn’t it the case that as someone once said, ‘no one can say something worse about you than is really true, even if what they said wasn’t true.’ When I feel I am falsely accused, I always try to think about that. God has come to me and said I am so bad I deserve hell. O.k. you think I am selfish? You think I am not that good a preacher. Even if you are wrong, you are not even close to how bad and how unworthy I really am. Now, one more and this is for free, take it or leave it, I am not sure it is biblical, it is early in the morning, so evaluate this one, but sometimes when you are attacked, you magnify how important this is to everyone else, like they are sitting at their dinner tables talking about it every night and it sometimes helps me calm down a little when I realize, you know what, there are not that many people who are that interested in me anyway. They will probably say wow, I didn’t know Josh was like that, can you pass the mash potatoes? And you know, if they do talk about it and talk about it and talk about it, that is sort of their problem really isn’t it? I know there is more nuance to it than that, but someone who is not involved in a situation who loves to sit around and talk about what everyone is doing wrong in that situation, over and over, well that’s not someone whose opinion is going to be all that weighty with us, is it? Those kinds of people are called gossips.
5. Take the opportunity to learn from what’s happening instead of simply defending what you have done. This can be so difficult when what the other person did is so obviously wrong. But even if you were innocent in the matter, one thing you can often learn is your own need of grace; because isn’t it true that when someone falsely accuses you and sticks to that false accusation and then takes that false accusation public, it is so, so tempting for all kinds of crazy, sinful stuff to come flowing out of your heart in response. And it comes up so quickly and you are like, wow, I didn’t even know all that anger was in there. Why is my heart beating so fast? Why do I feel dizzy? Do I really love myself that much that I get this passionate about someone slighting me? Do I feel this passionate, am I this physically affected when I see someone slighting Christ? Oh God, I need your grace, I am fundamentally flawed! And what a joy that we have it! That God loves us at this moment with an eternal love in spite of what is going on in our hearts, and when you believe that, it helps you respond to the person who is slighting you from a position of grace. One other thing you can learn in this moment is the importance of listening to the people around you. The people who aren’t listening to you aren’t the only ones who have troubles listening, you and I often do, and when we feel the pain of being misunderstood and no one listening to us, it can really motivate us to become more concerned about others and better listeners to them when they try to explain what is going on in their hearts.
6. Keep serving and doing the right thing and pursuing the glory of Christ on a daily basis. It can become so easy for something like this to slow you down and suddenly you are all about this misunderstanding when there is so much more in life to be about then simply the way someone else has sinned against you. Remember there are people who don’t know Christ all around you. Remember there are people who are suffering all around you. There are so many opportunities and you don’t want to waste too much time looking in the mirror.
7. Be patient. We sometimes want everything to be fixed so quickly and while that is totally understandable, time is usually your friend in situations like this. It can be like delicate heart surgery and you don’t want your hands to be shaking when you attempt it.
8. Do what you can to live at peace with all men but understand that certain men are proud and committed to a false view of understanding things and that you just may not be able to explain things to them. This may take some humility on your part – to realize you may not have the ability to convince someone. But look, I have talked to homeless men who were committed to thinking all kinds of crazy thoughts and you know what, after a while it doesn’t do all that much good to stand there talking about why they are wrong. And the truth is some people are like that with their opinions. You explain, you do what you can, you love the person in front of you, and then you have to leave it and focus on what God has called you to focus on.
9. When you attempt to deal with the misunderstanding, try to focus your passion on what might make the gospel or Jesus look bad and not just what makes you feel sad. I think of the difference between Paul in Galatians and Paul in Philippians. You preach Christ from selfish ambition, o.k., Christ is preached. You twist the gospel? I wish you would go ahead an emasculate yourself. Wow. What was Paul passionate about? Here’s a hint – it wasn’t Paul – it was the glory of Christ! Can I say the same? Can you? You need to be about something, someone bigger than you and so when you start getting worked up about the way you have been misunderstood, pray to God that He will help you take that anger and energy and use it for the cause of Christ and not to attack or harm other people instead.
10. Remember you are not the first one to experience this. Church history is filled with people who have wrongly suffered at the hands of others. The church started with someone experiencing that. Jesus knows, He understands, He went through it, He set the example, He shows you how to overcome evil with good, to trust God in the middle of the situation, and as you are getting all worked up in the middle of what’s happening, why you don’t just stop and thank God that this is an opportunity for you to better understand what Jesus suffered on your behalf and that God would use this terrible pain to help you better appreciate the greatness of Jesus’ love for you!