The only thing worse than being in the middle of a storm without an umbrella or shelter is being smack dab in the middle of a huge misunderstanding. Have you ever set out with the best of intentions only to have your motives scrutinized and come up short? Or have you ever tried so hard to word something just right and still your carefully spoken words got garbled somewhere between your mouth and the other person’s ears? Or maybe, to make matters even worse, your words were incorrectly translated by multiple sources until they ended up not even resembling your original intent in the slightest. By the time your innocent enough words have been mistranslated and gotten around town you’re not worth the dirt you’re walking on!
I hate misunderstandings. Loathe them. There’s nothing worse than being than being misunderstood. Especially when the misunderstanding has somehow been molded in the cement of time and repetition so that no matter how you try to rectify things, there’s no undoing the harm that’s been done. People no longer have faith in your word so they won’t hear your explanations. The damage has been done and you can’t clean it up no matter how hard you try.
That’s somewhat the position the apostle Paul found himself in in Acts 21 and 22. He had entered into Jerusalem with quite a following and began to teach as was his custom. But before he knew it he was caught up in a terrible misunderstanding. Some people thought they saw him doing something they didn’t see at all, thought he said something he never would have said in a million years, and thought he intended to do something he certainly shouldn’t do. And he wouldn’t have, for pete’s sake! He was innocent. But the damage had been done.
Acts 21:30 says, “And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.”
And it was more than a physical door that seemed to have shut in Paul’s face. It must have suddenly seemed that the doors of understanding had shut, the doors of opportunity had slammed closed, and the doors of friendship no longer even existed. Paul’s actions, words, and motives had been called into question and he had been thrown under the bus or the chariot.
Can you identify? Have you found yourself in the mayhem of misunderstanding recently? Have you ached to explain yourself, to sit someone down and make them listen to the truth, or at least to call a time out so you can figure out how to unravel the mess you somehow ended up in?
I’ve been in my share of misunderstandings alright. And I feel some comfort in the fact that Paul, David, Moses, and even Jesus experienced similar situations. But the greater benefit in reading passages like the one I read today is to find biblical solutions to messy human problems. So here’s what I’ve gathered from the examples of the likes of Paul.
- Wait it out. I tend to want to rush in and fix things, grab folks by the collar, swing them into a chair and make them listen to my side of the story. But Paul doesn’t act quite so irrationally. He patiently waits for the right moment to clear the air. And while he waits God works. At first, I’m sure he couldn’t see the hand of God doing much, but in the end he knew God had been busy on his behalf. Sometimes, oftentimes, we need to give God time to work instead of hastily trying to fix the problem on our own.
- Remain calm. Once again, I tend to get a little frazzled in such situations. And the more frazzled I get the more frayed the situation becomes. I use the wrong tone of voice, push myself on the other person or persons, say things I later regret, make accusations and cast blame. But Paul doesn’t stick his foot in his mouth while rushing to defend himself. It may be hard to walk in integrity when your character is already being dragged through the mud, but in the end, when the dust has settled, folks will undoubtedly notice that you have kept your remaining shreds of integrity intact. And that’s when it counts the most.
- Ask God to work. There are some things that only God can fix. In fact, most things can only truly be repaired by our omnipotent, omniscient God. You might get the chance to say something that will save your hide, but only God can really change a heart, redirect someone’s thinking, or clear the air. Ask Him to do just that.
- Speak the truth. When you do get a chance to “splain” things, resist the temptation to defend your actions, set someone straight, or express your hurt at the injustice shown to you and choose instead simply to speak the truth…in love. Allow God to defend your honor. He alone can really do that. You just speak truth with grace and love.
- Value the other people. They may be wrong as all get out. They may have behaved badly in their mistreatment of you. They may not deserve the time of day by the time they get around to giving you a little courtesy. But keep in mind that they are simply human, as are you. And they are God’s precious creations. Treat them with respect whether they deserve it or not. I believe that’s called grace.
Do you have any other suggestions for how to deal with misunderstandings? I’d love to hear them. I’ll probably be in one within the week…