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If you’re like me, you don’t like being told what you can and cannot do. I think it’s something with which we all struggle and it’s likely because we are … Continue reading Limits Bring Freedom
Disclaimer: As always, I do not write this as someone who has it all together – I write as someone trying to figure it all out.
I’ve come to recognize the importance of intent when considering conflict and a hopeful resolution. Whether the conflict happens in the workplace, in friendship, in family, in the Church, or in marriage, I believe it’s important to always assume the best and seek true understanding of the heart behind the words/actions.
We are quick to expect grace but hesitant to offer it.
I’ve written before about the current situation in which I find myself because of words that were misinterpreted and actions that were made mistakenly. “Mistakenly” is the key word. My intent was never to hurt this person. One of the mistakes I made was truly done innocently, and the other was misinterpreted because of the previous mistake. It didn’t help that these two mistakes were made within the same month.
Both times my heart was in the right place, but this person seemingly refuses to consider that. I understand – and acknowledged – that I caused hurt, but I also understand that it is all a misunderstanding and have sought forgiveness and grace to no avail. I’ve given up trying to explain/prove that my intentions were good and instead have chosen to give this person space. However, all of this has caused me to spend a great deal of time researching/contemplating intent and motive, both biblically and in general, both as an offender and the one offended.
Intention: an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result. The end or object intended; purpose.
Motive: something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.; incentive. The goal or object of a person’s actions.
I posed a multi-level question on my Facebook page and loved the responses that I received. Here is the question: “How often do you consider intent/motives when someone has (intentionally or unintentionally) wronged/hurt you? Do you do this before you respond, or after? Do you think that intent is more important than what was done?”
And here are a few of the responses:
“I have these conversations with myself all the time when someone has done something to hurt me. I ask myself, “what is the likelihood that it was their intent to be hurtful or insensitive?” This doesn’t mean the issue is never brought up, but it does provide context that enables me to see things more clearly. One of the best pieces of advice i ever got was to assume the best about people until they prove you wrong.” – Becky
“This is a huge challenge for me. I’m married to an Enneagram 1, so I have to remember his intent is always for the greater good, but as an Enneagram 4, I’m always “But my FEELINGS!!!” and he’s always reminding me of his intent even if his message is received otherwise.” – Shannon
“Not as often as I should. My tendency is to feel first, act, then think. I am working on being more intentional about thinking about the feeling before I act on it, for this reason.” – Mikayla
“I really have struggled with this. I naturally lean towards adding in my interpretation of their actions. I’m working hard on taking people at face value.” – Alexis
“As I get older (and ideally more spiritually mature) I try to consider motives. Usually I’m better at considering them afterwards but I try to always respond in a controlled manner. I’m not always successful at this. It also depends on how close of a relationship I have with someone who has hurt me. This determines how far I’ll go to try to mediate vs just forget about it.” – Michelle
“I try and consider intent because the intent may have been poorly received by me because I misunderstood. My misunderstanding doesn’t mean they intentionally wronged me. This takes me time to arrive here because I can be quick to respond to my hurt. It’s a learning process.” – Johanna
“I think there’s always a backstory that we don’t know.” – Carla
“I think offense can be a choice, even if someone is being intentional, I can still decide to not be offended….heaping coals or perhaps, ‘let it go’. Definitely easier said than done but brings a lot of freedom when possible.” – Christa
“I find that the more spiritually fit I am, the less anyone or anything affects me. If I am restless, irritable or discontented, there’s something wrong in my spirit.” – Connie
“Intentions are always worth considering but impact really matters more than intentions. We need to own our responsibility for hurtful impact even when our intentions were not hurtful.” – Sarah
“I have come to see just how much communication improves when I take responsibility to make sure my noble intent is clear to the person I’m trying to communicate with.” – Lyndsey
“I am loving the opportunity to teach my children about perspective. About owning the mistakes we make and showing grace and understanding when things happen to us.” – Meredith
“As for the finding out that it was unintentional, it usually makes it easier to heal, unless their attitude about it is a “so what if it hurt you, I don’t care because I didn’t mean it that way” but then the hurt gravitates towards their lack of care rather than what they actually did first.” – Valerie
“Intent has the ability to change EVERYTHING.” – Amanda
“Always only afterward in retrospect. I strive to see the good in other people and I can be really naive about it. That’s not to say I’m a saint but I’ll often question myself and my motives before somebody else’s.” – Melissa
“Intention is everything. I will NEVER hold someone accountable when the consequences are not tied to the intent. However, if there is intent there, my reaction will be a bit different.” – Josh
“I don’t know that there’s one right answer. Intent certainly can be more important, but not always. Every situation is different.” – Bethany
“Intent is so important. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt (whatever it is) but seeing things from another’s perspective is key to healing and ultimately growth.” – Angie
“I think assuming the best of someone is wise in order to further maintain relationships. But, we learn in infanthood to trust/mistrust people according to Eric Erickson so it can be hard to 1) realize we mistrust others and 2) to endeavor to do better and 3) recognize when we aren’t and change our thought patterns in the moment.” – Danielle
Context is one of my favorite things in life. It’s one of my top StrengthsFinder strengths; it’s why I love history, why I love learning people’s stories. Context brings understanding and grace, because a person’s actions often don’t tell the entire story.
Biblically speaking, Peter is a perfect example. Peter had great intentions to follow Jesus but often fell flat on his face because he didn’t execute those intentions well. He had the faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water, but he also lost sight of Jesus in the midst of the wind and the waves and began to sink. What did he do? He called out to Jesus for help. His heart never wavered. He may have failed in the moment but his intentions were good and true. He’s the one Jesus chose to be the foundation of the Church (Matthew 16:18) and I think that’s telling. God doesn’t expect perfection – He expects obedience and faith.
More than once in Scripture we are told that the Lord knows our hearts. One of my favorite verses on this topic is this:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
If God looks at the heart, shouldn’t we?
“We tend to get what we look for. If we look for the worst in people, we’ll get bucketloads of it. If we look for the best, we’ll get that.” – Karl Vaters
We all have past hurts that have shaped our view of people and of the world. It’s easy to assume that just because someone in our past intentionally hurt us that anything anyone does is also to inflict pain. But is that fair? Is that the best way to approach relationships?
This is already too long, so here are some resources I found if you want to read more.
Intent and motive are explored in several Bible passages:
Numbers 14: 40-44 (When the Israelites realized the consequences of their actions, they repented but the Lord knew their hearts and the reason behind their actions.)
Joshua 22:11-34 (Great example of not assuming that intentions are bad.)
1 Chronicles 19:2-3 (Our past experiences can make us overly suspicious of others. We should not assume that every action is meant for harm.)
From a corporate standpoint, this is an excellent article. Here’s a quote from it:
“When we make mistakes, we often blame the circumstances of the situation rather than take responsibility for the mistake. When other people make mistakes, we tend to over-emphasize the other person’s role in that mistake–we very quickly blame them!”
Here are some other articles I found on this subject:
After all of this reading, discussion, and contemplation, I still believe that when we are wronged, we need to take the intent of the person into consideration. That doesn’t erase the hurt (and we must own our mistakes), but it can lessen it once we realize that they made a mistake. We ALL make mistakes. We are ALL imperfect. We ALL have backstories. We ALL do and say things we regret because we are sinful humans. Bottom line: We cannot hold others to an impossible standard that we ourselves could never attain.
As Christians, we are to offer abundant grace and forgiveness because WE have been forgiven abundantly by our Lord and Savior. Who are we to harbor unforgiveness? I am not preaching here – I am well aware I am prone to hold on to resentment and it’s something I struggle with on a daily basis. That’s why I’m so thankful that God has given us His Word to remind us of the standard to which we are called:
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:9-18
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” – Colossians 3:13
The next time someone “wrongs” me I pray that I can take their intent into consideration before I respond. Was it truly done maliciously? Were they actually trying to harm me in some fashion? Has their track record really been one of causing hurt? Or am I taking things too personally/the wrong way? Because intent matters.
Considering intent can make it far easier to offer abundant grace and forgiveness instead of being on the defensive and choosing anger and hurt. One path leads to stronger relationships; the other leads to resentment and loss. Which do we want more?
Questions for discussion and contemplation: When someone’s intentions and motive are pure, yet hurt occurs, what role should grace play? When the offender is remorseful and expresses that their intent was indeed pure and good, how should the one offended respond?
When we saw TobyMac in March, he said something that resonated with me. He commented about the length of time between his album releases and said that’s because he needs to live life between albums so that he has something to sing about.
When I wrote the one and only song I’ve ever written, I told God that I was okay with never writing one again because it took sending Tori to Heaven to have the inspiration and ability to write it. If that’s what it takes, I’m good now 😉
I’ve been mostly quiet on here for a while now because life hasn’t given me much content lately – which is perfectly okay! I am completely satisfied with life going smoothly, which it mostly has been (normal mother-of-twins ordeals aside).
However, as I blogged earlier this week, I’m now in a situation providing me with content…a situation I sincerely wish could be resolved but it’s out of my control at this point.
I’ve been sitting in silence, not pressing this friend to reconcile or respond, not offering further explanation as to my intent or my heart. Just waiting.
Someone recently used the phrase “sitting in the meantime” and I loved it. That’s where I am – sitting in the period of waiting for resolution. I’ve relinquished control (difficult) and am being still before the Lord, waiting for His guidance and for my friend to reach out IF they choose to do so.
And it’s challenging.
Because, in the meantime, I just want to fix things. I want to talk. I want to meet up for coffee and explain, yet again, that my words were not said out of anger but love. That there has to be a huge misunderstanding because I thought everything was good between us, but clearly there was some harbored resentment that caused this to blow up. That everyone makes mistakes and grace should be offered abundantly. But I can’t. Not until the other person reaches out.
I don’t like being in the meantime. There is no defined timeline, no rule book, nothing for me to accomplish except to wait and to pray, to work on my own heart and to ask God to use this to grow my own character.
Life will go on if this friendship ends, but not without some grief on my part. Unresolved conflict is so very hard for me to live with especially when I feel I’ve done all I can to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18).
If you find yourself – now or in the future – “sitting in the meantime” with no end in sight, run to the Lord. Read His Word. Trust Him. Remember all the great things He has done in your life and in the lives of others. He isn’t just watching from the sidelines – He is right there in the meantime with you.
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Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning. (2 John 1:6 NLT)
We are told as Christians to do two things: love God and love others. By focusing on those two things we will end up obeying the law of God and the law of man without even realizing it most of the time.
There are many things that can hinder us from fulfilling this command, many things that can negatively affect our perspective and perception of others without us realizing it.
In photography, the lens is how you see the world. The quality and integrity of the lens is crucial. Everything depends on the lens, even the quality of the final image.
If your lens is cracked, smudged, or otherwise compromised, your image will be unclear or even indistinguishable from the view/reality you saw with your eyes; your perspective will not translate into a beautiful finished image like you had planned. It will be distorted. You will be disappointed, possibly angry, and unfulfilled. There was nothing wrong with the subject you were attempting to photograph, but the lens made it appear to be flawed.
Similarly, forming a first impression of someone happens automatically. You meet someone, and based on the first few minutes of your interaction you form an opinion. Those first few moments do not provide insight into a person’s context, character, or true self. You merely catch a glimpse instead of knowing and understanding them fully.
Once an impression is formed, overcoming that perspective can be difficult no matter what experience may prove to be the truth.
I mention these things because I have been pondering what the Bible has to say about bitterness, anger, resentment, and how those things affect our perception of people and circumstances.
When we hold grudges and harbor bitterness, anything the “guilty” person says or does will be viewed through a cracked lens. The perspective will be skewed, and the relationship may be further damaged because we aren’t seeing things clearly.
Perhaps this is why Jesus told us to resolve our issues with people directly and promptly (Matthew 18); to get rid of all anger and bitterness (Ephesians 4:31) ; to get rid of the plank in our eyes before judging the splinter in the eyes of another (Matthew 7:3-5); with these things in our heart, our lens is cracked and we cannot perceive the actions and words of people correctly and therefore cannot love them as we are commanded.
When we are bitter, angry, or resentful we cannot love God and others the way He desires and commands us to do. We cannot fulfill our mission.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13:35)
Resentment prevents you from seeing situations clearly and in proper context. Resentment is a dangerous thing.
Many times in my life I have seen the aftermath of built-up resentment that is never resolved biblically. It has split churches, destroyed friendships, and created friction in families.
Someone can do something or say something to you with great intentions, but because you are harboring unspoken resentment and bitterness you will read between the lines in order to justify your feelings. We’ve all done it!
Rather than going to the person as soon as the alleged offense occurs to find out their true intent and to clear up misunderstandings, you choose to remain silent and allow bitterness to eat away at your heart, all while pretending that everything is fine on the outside.
Pride is a dangerous companion to resentment.
This is a human flaw that we all deal with at some point in our lives, and that’s exactly why Jesus spoke about this issue in Matthew 18:
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.
But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.
If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.”
There are so many verses that tell us to not be bitter or resentful, but to love; here are a few:
Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. (Ephesians 4:3 NLT)
And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. (2 Peter 3:14 NLT)
This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11 NLT)
But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. (1 Thessalonians 4:9 NLT)
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Don’t let bitterness, resentment, anger, or irritation destroy you. Don’t let them destroy relationships or communities. The enemy LOVES when Christians do this! Don’t let him have the satisfaction.
Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back. (Proverbs 29:11 NLT)
And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23 NLT)
I strive to take the following steps whenever I am in situations where I am hurt, and I do my best to not assume anything about the person. These have helped me tremendously and I hope they are useful to you as well:
- Consider the context: What is the person going through? If you don’t know, then offer grace and understanding instead of becoming angry immediately. Ask questions instead of assuming.
- Remember that no one is perfect, including yourself. Offer grace.
- Think about the true cause of the offense: why is it bothering you? Was your pride hurt?
- Always assume the best about the people you love and not the worst.
- Communicate! In person is the BEST way to do this, but if the other party won’t consent to doing so, make your written communication clear and your emotions known, remembering that words are powerful. Text leaves so much to the imagination and it can often make issues far worse than they were at the beginning. Talk about things immediately, don’t blindside someone years later.
- If the person matters to you, make the effort to humbly make things right. Put aside your pride.
- Don’t allow misunderstandings and misperceptions destroy relationships. Life is too short and too precious to allow bitterness and resentment to steal our joy.
We are here on earth to love one another, to encourage, to build-up, to lead others to Christ. Resentment prevents us from fully loving God and others, and it lets the enemy win.
Choose love, choose joy, choose humility. It’s worth it.
Of all the things that bother me about the way our culture in America has changed during my lifetime, the tendency to be so easily offended is probably at the top of my list. It’s something I don’t understand, and, unfortunately, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
You don’t dare say something that might “offend” anyone, even if it is the truth. This goes hand-in-hand with our culture’s lawsuit mentality – another thing that drives me crazy. People live their lives in fear that they might accidentally say or do something that someone will sue them over, and it has become absolutely ridiculous.
I worked in the political arena – as a volunteer and as an employee – for several years, and I saw this all the time.
In the political world, people allow party lines to be roadblocks to open communication. In the legislature, simply knowing that a bill was written by someone of the opposite party can mean that it won’t pass, despite its merit and worth to society. People choose to be offended simply because someone sees something differently than they do. This is especially amusing because our culture says that everything is relative…
One of my favorite quotes about this topic is from the movie The American President – which is one of my favorite movies of all time.
‘America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”‘
– The American President
Our Founding Fathers didn’t agree on everything, but they didn’t let these differences prevent them from coming up with solutions. They had reasonable discourse, even if heated at times, and they were respectful of different ideas (as evidenced in many documents from that time).
They realized that we all come from different backgrounds and have different ideas, and all of them are worthy of consideration. If we all thought the same way and believed the same things, life would be incredibly boring and we would have nothing to discuss. Yet, our culture has lost the ability to respectfully dialogue and discuss issues with the intent of truly learning from the other side.
Our country was founded on the concepts of several freedoms, one being the Freedom of Speech – and that freedom only works if you are willing to respectfully listen to those who disagree with you (as the quote above says). History aside, this is a significant problem in our culture today.
In terms of the Freedom of Religion, the best example I can come up with at the moment is Christmas: Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. It is a religious holiday – more specifically, a Christian holiday. But, don’t you dare mention Jesus or have a Nativity scene set up to celebrate, because you might offend someone.
Yes, I realize our culture has largely changed Christmas into a secular holiday as well and has made it all about gifts and Santa and whatever else, but it is supposed to be about JESUS. It’s not called “Christmas Vacation” anymore in schools because you might offend someone who doesn’t celebrate the holiday (which, really, is a very small amount of people since it has become so secularized). People say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” for the same reason (even though holiday comes from “holy day” so it’s essentially the same thing).
When did we become so sensitive, and why?
This is something I simply cannot understand, because I have never been offended by a Jewish menorah or Star of David. I have never been offended by Kwanzaa or Ramadan. I have never tried to secularize these holidays so that I can benefit from the celebrations. Why? I recognize the right of these groups to celebrate what they believe in openly and publicly. As long as what they are doing is not destructive or harmful, then why does it matter what they celebrate? It doesn’t. So why are Christians and Christian holidays singled out as being so offensive?
From a theological standpoint, I understand why people are offended by Jesus. The Gospel offends because it acknowledges sin in our lives and we don’t like to be told that we are wrong. There is also a very real enemy who roams around the earth trying to turn people against Jesus. I get all of that. But it seems like the only religion that brings offense in our culture is Christianity.
I maintain that it is a choice to be offended. It is a choice to refuse to listen to the other side of the issue and discuss things rationally. And the root of this is selfishness – “it’s all about me, so don’t you dare do anything that I don’t like.”
We have forgotten how to love our neighbors. We have forgotten that each person has value and deserves to be respected. We have forgotten that there’s a huge difference between tolerance (“the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with“) and acceptance, and we let our emotions and selfishness rule our behavior.
This is a dangerous path and if we don’t take the time to instill within the younger generations what true tolerance is, and encourage them to not be easily offended, things are only going to be worse in the future.