(Please excuse the corny title, I couldn’t resist.)
A long time ago in a church far, far away I received a letter in the post. It was a rather critical letter. My friend and colleague in the church, David, had been sent a copy of the letter and as soon as he got his he phoned me and urged me not to respond for 24 hours and then to meet with him prior to doing so.
I took his advice.
I mulled for 24 hours (which is shorthand for thinking, praying, agonising, worrying, praying, feeling upset and trying to listen to what God might be saying). After that period of time I met with David and he suggested that I look again at the letter and see where there was truth, where there was inaccuracy, where there were misunderstandings and where it was unkind. His suggestion was to reply in a letter, but to lace the letter with grace. Endorse the truth (and apologise if necessary), gently correct inaccuracies, clarify misunderstandings and pray forgiveness over the unkindness but don’t respond to it.
I wasn’t sure about that approach because I was still smarting from some of the comments, but because I trusted his wisdom and judgement I attempted to follow what he had advised.
Truth is always truth. It does not change and is worth endorsing and affirming even if it shows up our failings and inadequacies. If we take the time to mull on challenges, even those that sting, God’s Spirit can minister truth to us.
It is worth correcting inaccurate statements. Not to prove that you are right, but so that the other person may be able to evaluate the situation more accurately and won’t appear silly if they rely on something that is wrong. But this is about inaccuracies of fact, not opinion. If I have a different opinion to someone else that is something that needs to be discussed not enforced on them.
Misunderstandings are a bit like inaccuracies, but I try to treat them as a failure on my part to communicate clearly enough. If I can clarify what I am trying to say then it will make it easier for the other person to understand me, even if they still don’t agree with me.
And responding to unkindness with forgiveness? Well Someone once said that we should ‘turn the other cheek’ – it is a way of defusing anger and diffusing tension. To respond in kind to the unkind just escalates and antagonises. To refuse to retaliate is to emulate Jesus and that’s well worth doing.
I am so glad I listened to David and mulled because it inspired* me to write a very different letter to the one I would have written had I replied immediately. I believe God used my reply to help change that person’s perspective so that they could see the issue that was the subject of the initial letter differently. When it was ultimately brought to a Church Meeting they actually voted in favour of the issue that they had been so strongly against in the letter!
It’s not new. It’s age-old wisdom. Thousands of years ago in the Book of Proverbs (15:1) we read:
A tender answer turns away rage,
but a prickly reply spikes anger**.
And remember that if someone’s words to you appear sharp it may be because they are trying to squeeze them in edge-ways!
Be blessed, be a blessing
* hence the title!
**from The Voice translation