One of the unforeseen blessings of spending a year in near isolation was the ability to grow more proficient at naval gazing than I've ever been before. It was glorious if you like that sort of thing. There were few people to discourage, dissuade, distract me, nothing to hold me back, and with those circumstances you'd think I'd excel in every area of my personality and proclivities. But you'd be wrong.
This morning I pulled a load of laundry out of the dryer and turned on a sermon a few friends have recommended to me over the past few months. It wasn't a sermon I felt a particular need for (after all, I've spend a year being unoffended by everyone except myself), but when more than four people you trust say, "Listen to this sermon," you obey. And so I listened as I folded laundry.
There is no great exegesis in this hour long talk, no wow moments of Scripture's depths, and at times it sounded more like a youth pastor exhorting a youth group than a treatise on offense and forgiveness, but, friends, it is good.
In my year of aloneness and in the absence of people and opportunities and ministry, ministry, ministry, God unearthed some things in me I'm still reckoning with. Bitterness I never knew I carried, fears uncovered, shame and offense, all of these ugly sins I'd smashed far enough down for long enough that they seemed nonexistent, but when it's just you and mirror for long enough, you can't help but see them. God has been faithfully tending to each of those areas, slower than I'd like, but with care and discipline.
It is so easy to take up an offense about nearly anything. Feeling misunderstood, feeling a lack of empathy, missing out on something, being overlooked, not being considered as worthwhile or the best for an opportunity. Matt Nelson, in the Unoffendable Heart, says this, "The enemy is glad to serve up offendable situations all day long." I'm offended that she didn't text me back, or that he didn't reach out when he said he would, or that she didn't try to understand my heart and barely understood my words, that he wasn't as attentive as I wish he'd been, or that she doesn't see past appearances. All day long there are missed connections, missed opportunities, times when stress gets the better of us, or we've felt far from the Lord and divided with others—and each of these moments is a sliver the enemy can slide into.
After the sermon was over and I was putting laundry away, I began to think of all the ways my seeming offenses at others are ultimately rooted in feeling offended by God. Theologically I know God is perfect, without flaw, without menace, and always good in all He does. But literally? In my life? Sometimes he feels everything but. If he intended good, why didn't he stop this? If he understands me perfectly, then why can't he make this person live with me in an understanding way? If he is without menace, then why does he let all these fiery darts come at me a thousand times a day?
I don't really know the answer to that, though I could venture a guess for my own life: because he longs for my heart to be humble, to truly mourn over my own sin as it affects others and grieves him, and to trust him more than I trust the opinions of others.
Mark 12:14 says, "And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God..." I read this earlier in the week and I thought about it again today while listening to the sermon: most of my offenses are because I do care about everyone's opinions (particularly my own) and I am swayed by appearances, and I am more true to myself or my own preferences than I am to the word of God. To be easily offended, or offended at all, is to not be like Jesus.
And I want to be like Jesus.
If you've found yourself keeping a record (no matter how small: annoyances, unforgiveness, grudges, withholding love or affection as payback), I'd recommend listening to this today.