Monday, June 25, 2012

You Hurt My Feelings!

Do any of these sound familiar? These are some everyday examples of self-inflicted pain that we women can so easily heap upon ourselves when we allow our feelings to be hurt.

  • You walk into a room and one really well-dressed woman seems to look at you in a disapproving way. “Oh, brother,” you think, “she doesn’t like the way I look.”  You become very self-conscious and your feelings are hurt.

  • A good friend makes a comment that you interpret to be critical.  Instead of talking with her about it, you retreat with hurt feelings and allow it to damage your relationship.

  • You send an email to a business associate, asking for information, and a week later you still have not received a reply.  You have always felt that this person doesn’t like you, and this just confirms it further.  Your feelings are hurt.

  • Your boss asks you to make some corrections to a report.  She gives you some specific criticism and suggestions for improvement.  You take it personally and consider it an insult to your intelligence – and your feelings are hurt. 

  • Your husband comes home from work and has very little to say.  Your questions seem to irritate him rather than draw him into a conversation.  You interpret it to mean that he doesn’t like to talk with you and you wonder if he still loves you.  He has hurt your feelings.

  • You learn that a friend at church had some other friends over for dinner and you were not invited.  Your feelings are hurt.
This is more a female problem than a male problem, because we were created with more sensitive natures, and we feel things more deeply than most men do.  Men are able to isolate their feelings and put them on hold, and that’s why they aren’t nearly as prone to take things as personally as we are. 

God gave us these nurture natures for good reasons, but like everything good that God created, sin has polluted and damaged it, and if it is not controlled, that sensitive nature can become our Achilles heel, our fatal flaw, and a source of continual self-inflicted pain as we allow our feelings to be hurt far too easily. 

I often remind myself and other women that people are not thinking about us nearly as much as we think they are thinking about us!  We assume it’s all about us, when most of the time it isn’t. We think we are far more important in the lives of others than we really are!  Most people’s worlds revolve around themselves, not us!

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25).  He is teaching us that being self-absorbed is the pathway to loss.  Overly sensitive feelings, which frequently throw us into the “it’s all about me” syndrome, can cause us to lose our life.  We can lose the purpose for which God created us; we can lose the peace and joy Jesus came to give us; we can lose the opportunity to reach out to others with God’s comfort and love.

The Cure for Hurt Feelings

So, what can we do to move out of this bad habit of being overly-sensitive and having our feelings hurt too much?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Break old habits.  When your feelings are hurt, think, “Is this really about me, or could there be some other reason that this person behaved in this way
  2. Buy time.  Don’t respond to your hurt feelings quickly.  Swallow those words you want to say, and simply buy yourself some time to be able to move from the emotional to the rational.
  3. Build healthy calluses.  Ask God to toughen you up, so that you are not so prone to take everything personally.
  4. Bring it into the open. If you feel you have truly been offended, write out how you were hurt, and put it away for two days. Then read it again, and if you are still truly offended, determine how you will confront that person in a biblical, loving way.  Chances are good that after two days you’ll tear up the paper and say to yourself that it’s really not that big a deal.
When we can make progress in this area, we are becoming more and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  Then you can turn hurt feelings into an opportunity to pray for that person, reach out to that person, and let God’s love flow through you.  This can be one of the best gifts you’ll ever give yourself, as you are set free from that overly-sensitive reaction and all those hurt feelings.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Can this relationship be saved?

Is there a broken relationship in your life at present?  Whether it’s a mate or a coworker or a friend, think of the pain and pressure that has brought into your life.  Consider the ripple effect of broken and hurting relationships, not only on the people directly involved, but inevitably on many others as well. 

Are we doomed to have to live with these broken relationships?  What is our duty and responsibility in trying to mend a broken relationship?  Can – or should – all relationships be saved?

Jesus’ “Fix” for Broken Relationships

Consider what Jesus taught us to do when a relationship has been broken or wounded.

Matthew 5:23 - 24:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus said we are to go to anyone who has something against us.  That includes, to mention a few:
  • those whose feelings are hurt because of us
  • those with whom we’ve had a misunderstanding
  • those to whom we spoke hastily chosen words
  • those who feel we’ve treated them unfairly or neglected them
Notice that Jesus didn’t limit it to those who have something legitimate against us or those who have a right to have something against us.  No, he says if you know that someone has something against you, whether it’s your fault or not, then you take action.

Earthly counselors would be more likely to say, “If someone has something against you and it’s not your fault, it’s not your problem.  Let him or her make the first move.”  But that’s not the way Jesus would deal with a broken or wounded relationship. 

In that culture to “leave your gift there in front of the altar” and go would have been viewed as very unorthodox behavior.  Jesus was making the point that reconciliation is so important, we should drop what we’re doing to be reconciled.  Nothing is more important.

When we procrastinate in trying to be reconciled, the break in the relationship grows deeper and wider.  The reason for the break is exaggerated and amplified way beyond reality.  Innocent people are hurt; gossip sets in. Putting it off is just going to make things worse.

Humbling Yourself vs. Enduring Humiliation

It is obviously a very humbling thing to make the first move in trying to reconcile, especially if you feel you have done nothing wrong. But remember that the Bible teaches us that if we humble ourselves, we won’t have to be humbled.  Whenever I refuse to humble myself, I discover that sooner or later that humbling comes in a much more painful way.  So, humbling ourselves is easier than being humbled.

Humbling ourselves is not the same as submitting ourselves to humiliation.  God has not called us to suffer intentional abuse in our relationships.  There is no justification for allowing ourselves to become a doormat.

Where is the line between humbling ourselves and allowing someone to humiliate us?  That’s a question that would have to be considered in each situation, but if you will pray and sincerely ask God to give you guidance, and then perhaps seek some advice from trusted friends or counselors who are Bible-based, God will give you directions in your relationship concerning whether you are humbling yourself or allowing yourself to be humiliated.

No Guarantees for Success

Of course, there is no guarantee that your attempt to mend this relationship will be successful.  And that’s because you cannot control the other person.  All you can do is obey the Lord, do what we’re supposed to do, and let God take care of the outcome.

Romans 12:18 says:

            If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Of course, there are times where a relationship has been damaged so much that full restoration is not possible.  But to the extent that it can be restored, it should be restored.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Do You React Or Respond?

Do you react or respond? What’s the difference, you may ask.  A reaction is an involuntary, uncontrolled action resulting from external stimuli of some sort.  A response is a controlled and intentional action that is carefully thought through.

 Jesus responded.

Jesus knew exactly how to respond to people and situations, and therefore His words and actions were the right ones at the right times.  For example:
  • Sometimes He walked away.
Remember when His hometown crowd was angry at Him they wanted to kill Him.  In Luke 4 we read that Jesus "walked right through the crowd and went on His way." There was no reasoning with this angry mob and Jesus knew it was time to walk away.
  • Sometimes He confronted.
In John 8:43-47 Jesus confronts the hypocritical Pharisees and religious leaders very directly.  He said to them, “Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. . . The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

He responded to their accusations and evil motives with a strong confrontation, carefully worded so that they could not miss His point.
  • Sometimes He shamed people.
Think of how Jesus handled the crowd of men who wanted Him to stone the woman caught in adultery.  Quietly, without a word, He shamed them so that they all walked away and left Him alone with her.
  • Sometimes He ignored people.
When the crowd told Jesus not to bother coming to Jairus' house because his daughter was already dead, Jesus ignored them and told Jairus to do the same. 

Mark 5:36 tells us:  "Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, 'Don't be afraid; just believe.'"   

Jesus was never in react mode. He knew exactly what He wanted to say, said it with emphasis, and did it to teach and help others.  He always spoke the truth, sometimes in strong words, sometimes in gentle words, but always from the right motive – because He loved the people. 

Get beyond the reaction to the response.

An inappropriate reaction often happens involuntarily before we can stop it.  But we can learn to get past the reaction, and not allow the reaction to control our behavior.

A reaction of anger or self-pity or revenge is not unusual. The problem begins when we allow those reactions to control our behavior because we don’t wait until the reaction has passed, and then decide how best to respond.

Prepare to respond

Responding rather than reacting has to be learned – it won’t just happen.  We must be intentional about it, pray about it, and depend upon God’s Spirit within us to both motivate us to want to respond rather than react, and give us the power to do it.

Plan in advance what an appropriate response might be for certain people or situations. For example, an alternate strategy for that person who is negative is to say something positive in response.  An alternate strategy for the person who is very critical is to thank him or her and acknowledge that you will  consider the suggestion.

Then when you feel your reaction level starting to rise, when you sense your emotions are starting to take over, when you know that you're not exactly in control of your reactions, send up a quick prayer.  "Lord, please help me here.  This is a tough one for me.  I want to respond rather than react, but I need your help." 

These verses remind us of the need to respond rather than react:

Proverbs  18:13:  He who answers before listening - that is his folly and his shame.   

Proverbs 12:16:  A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

I Thessalonians 5:15: Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always be kind to each other and to everyone else.

The power of responding

Can you imagine the impact we would have in our working worlds if we Christians were responding more than reacting?  We would surely be lights in dark worlds, because most of the people around us are in react mode most of the time.  To be truly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, which is our mission as believers, we need to become responders rather than reactors.