Are They Curable?
A SIMPLE MISUNDERSTANDING?
George and Glen attended the same church for twenty years. For fifteen of those years they scarcely spoke to each other. After church each week they smiled at each other, muttered platitudes, and pressed through the crowds to their separate cars, and drove to separate homes. But that was as near as they ever came to having fellowship.
Because of a simple misunderstanding.
One night, after the annual congregational meeting, George's telephone rang. Confined to his bed with a nasty virus, he had not been able to attend. When he lifted the receiver he heard the voice of another member, just returned from the meeting.
"Hey, George, how are you? That cold any better?"
"Well, right now I feel terrible. But, I should be back among the living by tomorrow night. Anything big happen at the meeting?"
"Well, the truth is, that's why I called, George. Something was said that I thought you should know."
"Remember Glen Sorenson? Listen to me, will you. Of course you remember Glen. You guys have been fishin' buddies for five years. It's just that…well after what I heard him say tonight, I guess it's hard for me to think of him as an old friend of yours. Don't misunderstand me, George…I've got nothing against Glen. I wouldn't even bring this up…but I thought you should know…"
"What are you talking about? WHAT should I know?"
"Well ... during our discussion about new elders your name came up as a candidate and Glen said something like, 'He's not really the man for the job.' Man, you could have knocked me over with a feather! Imagine him saying a thing like that! So I thought I should warn you. Next Sunday the names of the new elders will be in the bulletin, and I didn't want you to think that your name is missing because of some of the rest of us. Lots of us voted for you in spite of what Glen said. I'm sure worry to be the bearer of bad news, but I thought you should know who it was that swayed the voting."
SIMPLE MISUNDERSTANDING SIMPLY GROWS!
That was fifteen years ago! George has gotten bald since then. Glen has gotten grey. And neither has gotten any nearer the real truth. Glen noticed something wrong, of course. But he figured that if George had anything he wanted to talk about, he'd bring it up. Glen was never one to pry things out of people. At first he just tried being as friendly as ever - a slap on the back; a suggestion about fishing next Saturday; an invitation to come over to Sunday dinner. He tried everything. But there was never an affirmative response. Sometimes…quite often, in fact, he had dreams about George and the great times they once had together. At other times he had dreams of a reconciliation between himself and his cherished friend. But, since he could think of nothing more to do to make the dreams come true, they stopped. The two men just went on getting older ...
Misunderstanding is a terrible thing! It cannot be called sin, but it certainly can create intolerable and unnecessary barriers between believers!
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MISUNDERSTANDING?
By its very nature, it is a mental problem, not a moral one. Perhaps that is the cardinal reason why it seems so unassailable. It does not lend itself to the same treatment which sin requires. Jesus has told us, once and for all, precisely what to do when someone SINS against us. The instructions are very clear in Matthew 18.
But misunderstanding is different.
There is no sin to confess. There is no repenting to demand. There is no handy set of verse to quote.
HOW DOES MISUNDERSTANDING OCCUR?
In the first place, it can occur because of misinformation received.
One person lies to you about someone else.
This is the simplest mode by which the seeds of misunderstanding can be sown.
"Sally said you are completely unreliable!" Words like these can destroy the relationship between two people. And there may not be a grain of truth in them. What Sally really said may have been the reverse. But, once the falsehood is uttered, the implications of it may live forever!
One person gives you partial information about someone else.
"I suppose you've heard that Irwin is homosexual?" Someone whispers into your ear. The truth is, Irwin was. The truth is, Irwin still had some effeminate mannerisms which carried over from the old life. But the rest of the truth is: Irwin is no longer a homosexual. He ceased that practice the moment he was converted!
What a man once was is only part of the story. What he not is is the most important chapter!
Sadly enough, it is often more scintillating to report the sordid than the salutary. And the resulting fragmenting tale becomes the foundation for a total misunderstanding!
One person gives you distorted information about someone else.
It's difficult for any of us to report facts without twisting them, at least a little. So, someone comes to you and says, "This guy might be a Christian. But he's an emotionalist!" Of course the brother bringing the report is from a denomination which despises Charismatics. His opinion, therefore, is filtered through his theological bias.
Someone else tells you, "That fellow you met at the Graham Crusade. You know what he is? He's a hypocrite, that's what! He does not practice what he preaches. Don't ask me what he does. But, take my word for it, he's a hypocrite!"
What, you may ask, is the inspired source of this indictment? Easy. The observer saw him coming out of a bar last Saturday night. What he neglected to document was the fact that the man in question has gone into the bar to rescue a young friend whom had been conned into going back to his old ways and was in dire need of being relocated!
WE SIMPLY TEND TO TRUST OUR HEARING
In the second place, it can occur because of your own ears. You may have partial statements.
You tend to trust your own hearing more than you trust that of others. So, when you are going out of church and you overhear, "Has she got a baby already?" you can easily conclude that someone was pregnant before married and the disgraceful fact is now manifest by the infant's untimely arrival. Had you heard the rest of the conversation, your impression would have been very different! The ladies discussing the newborn also mentioned that they fondly hope that the two-month premature baby will live! They are not decrying the sin of the mother. There is no sin. They are declaring their hope for the lovely child's survival!
You may hear jocular statements.
If all the words used in innocent jest were recorded on God's permanent record, to be faced on the last great day, the finest saints might find themselves in the lowest hell! Fortunately for us all, God has a better sense of humor than we. He knows exactly when statements are to be taken seriously and when they are not.
You may not be so accurate. Someone in whom you trusted may one day flippantly call you "ugly," and you may believe it. Someone else may tell you a hilarious story about "the Norwegian who went ice fishing, and came home with twenty pounds of ice." You may hear only the reference to your beloved fatherland, and take the tale as criticism.
Granted, some humor is in bad taste. Some jokes with racial overtones are not in order. Ethnic stories may injure others unintentionally. But, so often they are just that: unintentional. And you must not automatically conclude that a story is always a weapon of hate. It is probably intended as a vehicle of good humor.
You may hear pressurized statements.
Very commonly even the best of God's servants speak "out of character." It is not their way of life. It is exceptional. But, it happens. And when the pressures of obligation, sickness, or griefs are upon them, they may say something which in no way reflects their true character intention.
If, under such pressure, a friend of yours speaks words that seem harsh, you can easily misunderstand his intentions.
YOUR OWN OBSERVATIONS
In the third place, it can occur because of your own observations.
Perhaps you have seen, at a distance, someone pulling his child into the house while the child screams as if it were about to be dismembered. You instantly conclude that the father was brutal!
What you failed to see, one moment before, was the near-miss of a speeding car which almost took the life of the youngster who had disobediently run into the street.
Perhaps you watched the zealous activities of one who substituted for you when you were temporarily incapacitated, and interpreted the zeal as an attempt to take your job. Had you read your benefactor's heart, you would realize he was trying to retain it for you by keeping the level of effectiveness high in your absence.
Perhaps you saw the Sunday school superintendent making particular efforts to keep some of the pupils in your class happy, and were certain she was attempting to get them to transfer to her own class. What you didn't know was that God had given her a special concern for some of the class members she knew how Gospel-resistant and nonsupportive their parents were (a condition you had neglected to investigate).
HOW CAN MISUNDERSTANDING BE CURED?
You must always being with a foundational assumption, which is crucial to every individual case of misunderstanding:
What you have assumed to be evil might not, in fact, be evil at all. Therefore, you absolve every suspect in advance.
You always assume that you probably do not have sufficiently accurate information to draw a final conclusion about the quality of the person's words or actions.
I well remember, many years past, hearing the report of the supposed marital infidelity of a minister of the Gospel. I was shocked, because I knew him to be an effective soul-winner and saint. But, the heresay evidence from usually reliable sources, seemed conclusive. The next time I visited a brother of mine I mentioned the matter to him. His reply was pointed.
"Yes. I've heard that, too. But I decided not to believe it! I refuse to think of him as guilty." From that day to this I have assumed him innocent. And I have never been shown any more conclusive evidence of his guilt. So, I will assume his innocence 'til I die. The result is that my reactions to him are not clouded in the least by suspicion.
Since God is God, and far more knowledgeable than I, He may know him to be guilty. But, lacking that perfect insight, I happily call him "innocent"!
Acquire accurate information.
Armed with the frame of mind which gladly assumes innocence, you may safely search for further information when the misunderstanding effects you - that is, when it is within the sphere of your responsibility.
How do you get such further information?
You speak to the source. You talk to the person himself.
"I have been hearing things about you which make me sad. I do not believe what I am hearing, but I know that if false charges against you are going around, they can only hurt you more. Rather than circulate them further, I would like to hear the real story from you, so the next time something is said, I can do my part in stopping the information."
For many years I worked in the same department with a certain woman. All during those years she seemed offended by almost everything I said. I could not understand it, so I cried to God repeatedly about the matter, asking Him, "What have I done, Lord? Please reveal to me what I have done wrong!" I never heard one word from heaven in reply to those cries. Finally, after delaying far too long, I asked her what I had done to offend her. She looked at me through startled eyes and said, "What? I don't ever remember you offending me in all the years we've known each other!" In one instant the entire misunderstanding had been cleared up. What a relief. And how foolish of me not to have gone directly to the source long before!
More recently I took a special trip to California to visit one of my brothers. He has lived there, in that distant state, for many years. I experienced growing sadness about the fact that, even when he did come to my part of the country, he seldom came to see me. I searched my memory for some reason why he should be "cold" toward me. I always came up empty. When I finally went to California, primarily to get this matter cleared up, I told him about my deep concern and asked if I had offended him in any way. He told me, frankly, that I had, and related the specific instances of those offenses. I had gotten accurate information about the misunderstanding between us. It hurts to discover that I had been wrong. But it was well worth the hurt! I apologized, and asked him to forgive me. After years of failing to go directly to the source, we had been drawn together again.
We are duty-bound to acquire accurate information from the persons involved whenever possible! And I suspect that God has meant it to be this way, so that the very process of investigation will tend to draw us back to the people we misunderstand.
Ask for mediation.
Sometimes you may find it difficult to express yourself adequately. Sometimes you have reason to believe that the person who is the subject of your potential misunderstanding is not approachable.
In such cases a mediator is very helpful. Find a "peacemaker," and ask for his help. He can make arrangements for a meeting, and arbitrate and clarify during the conversation between you. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Calling on the help of such a person will introduce a "blessed man" into the picture and further facilitate the dissolving of the problem.
By the way, you may be curious about the end of the story of George and Glen:
The words Glen actually spoke in the annual meeting were these,
"George's gifts are such that I would like to see him be a deacon in our church. I believe God has really equipped him for that special calling. So, I would like to suggest that his name not be offered in nomination as an elder. He's really not the man for the job. However, the next time we expand our board of deacons, I suggest we could do no better than to have George on it!"*
Fifteen years of misunderstanding! Because nobody took steps to remedy the remediable!
*Note: The story of George and Glen is a hypothetical composite of what happens all too often in the church.
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