What do church-going Christians want? Only a novice at seminary dreams of parishioners calling him or her to expound on books of the Bible, or to interpret the deeper doctrines of the faith. What people actually want to know is what to do about the pain they get from other people, especially people they care about. In a word: offense! In three words: hurt and offense! I certainly know what they are talking about: I get my share of it too.
How can you live without being hurt? How can you avoid being offended by the words or actions of others? The closer you live to people the more it happens. Perhaps that’s why so many of us have chosen to live “cocooned,” isolated from contact even with our nearest neighbors. Yet, it can’t be avoided.
We see offense happening all of the time in the close confines of our “religious community” among the residential members of the addiction recovery program at the Old Savannah City Mission. Every one is a genuine Christian, yet everyone gets hurt and/or does the hurting—usually both. Some leave angry. Some stick it out by trying to “keep to themselves.” Either way they miss God.
I tell them when they first come in that the Lord has a very different idea about spiritual growth than they do: They think living with other Christians is going to be peaches and cream. He knows better—and seeks to use the inevitable times of hurt and offense to provoke spiritual growth. Now that He has them committed to staying with us, He wants them to learn how to deal with the pain of their emotional reactions within the boundaries of substance free living and within the rules of a Christian community (no violence or threats of violence allowed).
For those of us in church life, this means staying in the church despite times of offense—without spreading tales about what others have done, especially if they have done it to you!
There’s got to be a way out. There has to be a cure for the “common cold heart.” And there is! Here are the rules of what we call “relational recovery”:
Number One Rule? Forgive!
Rule Number Two: Go to your brother (it’s all male) and try to work it out.
Rule Number Three: Turn the other cheek (ie. don’t go to your brother; go to God and let go of the insult with His help). Beating your wounded pride down won’t kill you; it will actually give you an advance.
These three rules all come from Jesus. He loves them and practices them Himself. What’s more, He seems to be quite serious about us learning to apply them with His help. Fortunately for us, He is already on the inside wanting to live though us. These ways really work, though not always in the way we might prefer to see up front. Like anything else that is worthwhile, they require persistent practice to become perfected. I wholeheartedly recommend them to you.
Rule #1: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25 ESV
Rule #2: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15 ESV
Rule #3: “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Luke 6:29 ESV
Being a part of this close Christian community as chaplain to the men, I completely understand why one of the top four rules of monastic life was stability (poverty, chastity and obedience being the other three). Even a thousand years ago the monks wanted out if their feelings of hurt and offense made them feel fed up with their current companions. The rule of stability they swore to uphold forced them to stay in place when the going got tough. That way it was either be filled with the garbage of junked up emotions, or seek hard to learn the Lord’s way of casting those cares on Him. Close Christian community is a hot house for spiritual growth!
For steps to help you forgive anyone for anything see “How to Forgive the Unforgivable” at our website for healing.