Written By Annie Caldwell, USA
Her demeanor was the first signal. The way she averted her eyes when I looked in her direction. Then, as we walked past her on our way out of church and my husband bid a friendly goodbye, her silence confirmed it—she was upset.
I mentally combed through the last two hours, searching for something that would explain her coolness. Did I do something to offend her? Or was she just having a bad day, and it was nothing personal? As I shuffled to my car, I settled on the latter conclusion. Simply my imagination, nothing to worry about.
However, a couple hours later, something caught me dead in my Facebook-scrolling tracks. “People are so rude. Lord, help your people please *face palm emoji*.” My eyes darted to the post time, and I did quick math to figure that she’d posted it when we were at church together—while I was standing just two rows away, chatting with a friend.
My stomach twisted as it dawned on me that this wasn’t just my imagination. It was personal. I had done something to offend her. I tried to wrestle away the feelings that immediately crept in—Guilt? Shame? Worry? Anxiety? I cringed at the thought of addressing this. After all, I didn’t do anything wrong!
The next day, while this whole ordeal still lay heavy on my heart and mind, the friend I had been chatting with after church reached out to me. She, too, had noticed her shifting eyes and off-putting demeanor. To my surprise, she hadn’t even seen the Facebook post, but the tension had been palpable enough to concern her. In all kindness, my friend encouraged me to address the tension so as to not leave the enemy any room for planting seeds of division . . . so this small misunderstanding wouldn’t fester to become something more.
The Joy of Conviction
Soon after this, I found myself reading Nehemiah 8:9-12. The Israelites were weeping after hearing the words of the Law read to them (probably for the first time in a while). They likely felt convicted for how they had fallen short of God’s laws. But surprisingly, Nehemiah then commanded the Israelites to celebrate and feast. The reason given was, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (v. 10).
I’ve heard this last line quoted often, and while it always sounded nice, I had definitely never thought of it in the context of conviction. But when we hear God’s truth, and then turn in repentance to Him, it is a joyful occasion. And that joy is what strengthens us to move forward into what He calls us to do.
I kept reading and found that after hearing the commands from God’s Word, the Israelites didn’t stay the same (vv. 13-18). They changed. They started doing the things God’s law called them to.
In my case, I already knew what I should do. I needed to set aside my own pride—to be completely humble and gentle, and to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through peace (Ephesians 4:2-3). Even though I wanted to hide from the stomach-knotting thought of confrontation and settle for making an intentional effort to smile at and greet her in the future (hoping that’d sufficiently smooth things over), I needed to apologize, and ask God to help me handle this situation according to His ways, not my own.
And He did help me. Even though I was embarrassed that I had upset this lady, and ashamed that I hadn’t been more sensitive, He reminded me that if I respond to the conviction by making efforts towards what is right and good, that would be a joyful occasion—not one to be plagued by shame and guilt.
Strength to Spur Us Forward
God gave me the courage to message the lady from church, and ask for her phone number so I could call to apologize. By God’s strength, when I called her, I didn’t defend myself, or point out her wrongdoings. Instead, I apologized for any offense I had caused (knowingly or not), and didn’t even mention the passive-aggressive Facebook post.
As we talked, I learned that she and my friend had actually been in the middle of a conversation when I walked up. I had unknowingly interrupted them. She admitted that it normally wouldn’t have upset her so much, except that a very similar thing had happened to her several times before at our church, with various people. Her disproportionate reaction had to do with the difficult time she’d had connecting at our church. She acted out of pain, and past offense.
No, it didn’t take away from the fact that she, too, should have handled the situation better. However, it did help me understand her a little more—to have compassion for her struggle, and to prevent division from sneaking into our relationship.
This incident has challenged me to not simply absolve myself from any responsibility when I don’t believe I’m in the wrong. Instead of quickly becoming defensive when I feel convicted about my role in a matter, I can ask myself,
Is there anything the Lord might want me to do that would work towards unity, or build up another person? A way that I can lay aside pride, and show someone love?
And I’m finding that almost always, the answer is yes.
Yes, we have daily opportunities to let God lead us into the joy that comes through seeking His way instead of ours. In fact, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it’s in surrendering these simple, mundane interactions that we have the best opportunity to do so!