I say to the Lord, “You are my God;
give ear, O Lord, to the voice of my supplications.”
O Lord, my Lord, my strong deliverer,
you have covered my head in the day of battle. Psalm 140:6-7
Few things are more difficult to live with than being misunderstood. Sometimes it’s downright unbearable.
When you’re misunderstood, you have no defense. And no matter how hard you try to correct the misunderstanding, it usually gets worse. You go fully loaded, ready to “set them straight”, and all you do is dig yourself deeper! The harder you work, the worse it gets and the deeper it hurts.
In his book, Communication: Key to Your Marriage, Norman Wright points out six types of misunderstandings that may enter the bloodstream of any healthy conversation and immediately begin breaking it down.
- What you mean to say.
- What you actually say.
- What the other person hears.
- What the other person thinks he hears.
- What the other person says about what you said.
- What you think the other person said about what you said.
Not exactly encouraging news.
Do you have a “friend” or family member giving you grief? Tell God on him. That’s why you have a Savior and a Deliverer.
Learn to bring your misunderstanding to Him.
A young lady named Caitlyn and her mother, Denise, began to attend my last church. They had both come from a toxic and abusive previous church experience. They were so excited to find a safe church with a safe pastor. The younger woman began to do some administrative work for me. The mother began attending a woman’s bible study.
Caitlyn’s husband, David, was agnostic and hated preachers. They asked me to pray for him. After months of prayers, he attended a Christmas Eve service. First time he’d been in church since he was a little boy. They were so excited.
Some time went by and we needed to buy a copier for the church and David said that his company would donate a used copier to us. He and I worked on that transaction and developed a relationship. We had coffee together several times and over time, he began coming to church with his young bride and mother-in-law.
Caitlyn and David had tried and tried to have children, but were not able to. They asked our church to pray, so we gathered around them, anointed them with oil like it teaches in James 5, laid hands on them and prayed.
Soon after they conceived! Our church was elated along with this young couple and the future grandmother. Life was going so well. This whole story was a big win for God, his church, and the restoration of this family’s faith in Church.
On Mother’s Day that year we asked the middle schoolers to hand out single red roses to all the mothers. The place was packed and it was going slower than I would have preferred, so I grabbed a handful of roses and began to hand them out. I gave one to Denise who was seated right behind her daughter, Caitlyn and David, who had begun to come to church every week.
I offered a rose to Caitlyn, then pulled my hand back and with a smile and a wink said, “Nooo. Not yet.” She laughed. He laughed. I turned to walk back to the front of the church, then I turned on my heels and said, “I’m kidding. Here’s two roses.” And I gave one to Caitlyn and the other to David. They smiled and gave me a hug.
As I hugged Caitlyn, I was face-to-face with the mother, Denise, in the row behind her; she was not smiling but for some reason it didn’t register in my brain that anything was wrong.
The next Sunday Denise was a greeter at Church and I said good morning to her and she lit into me with a fury I have rarely encountered in my life. I had to ask a deacon and his wife to take her into a side room to calm her down so that I could begin the worship service.
Over the next two weeks I worked with the deacons, their wives, and Denise to try to make amends. I apologized profusely, but nothing I could say could diffuse the situation. The young couple were not upset at all, but the mother was furious.
One statement she made, with hatred in her eyes, that I’ll never forget was, “Pastor, for all your talk about being a safe place of grace and restoration, you are a cruel man.”
She left the church. Caitlyn and David continued to come but they eventually quit coming to church as well.
I would give anything to have never teased that young expectant mother with that rose on Mother’s Day. I realize that much of that conflict was embedded deeply inside the wounded heart of the mother, but the fact is that the misunderstanding caused a relational breakdown that every effort I tried could not repair.
I hurt for a long time over that one. Although the suffering from that sting is gone, the memory is not. I’d like to tell you that I’ve only gone through that kind of misunderstanding once. But that would be a lie.
To be sure, the mistakes I’ve made as a pastor pile higher than Mt. Princeton; and the times I’ve been misunderstood are about as high. It has happed in every church I’ve pastored. It has happened a few times already at my current one. It goes with the territory of being a pastor. I get that.
Still hurts, though.
I’ve learned something: Wounded hearts can be as fragile as a soap bubble and some relational bridges can never be rebuilt, so learn to grieve and give them to God.
Over the years, I’ve released many wounded church members to the care and control of the Great Physician. It’s the safest place for them.
It’s the safest place for me, too.