Originally published Wednesday, 12 July 2023.
Life is hard and the wounds left by its treacherous journey of valleys and mountaintops can be deep. Most of us have faced more battles than we know what to do with, as we swing against rejection, loneliness, financial ruin, loss, and pain. Family wounds, heartbreak, and financial challenges can leave us limping. Repeated broken hearts leave us mutilated, emaciated, and weak. The wounds left by those battles can sometimes leave a bitter root that, if left unattended, can develop a full-fledged tree of offense.
Some of us aren’t even aware of how deep or offensive our offense actually is. We aren’t aware that some cringe when they see us coming because we’ve carried the weight of offense for far too long and the stench of its odor leaves a lasting impression long after we’ve left a room. We wear our offense as a badge of honor. I told her where she could go with that attitude! I sure told them off! I made sure they knew where they could stick their…. You get the point.
Many of us are in the fight of our lives with our children, spiritual walk, mental health, finances, and more. We are tired and stressed and overwhelmed. And yet, we don’t know how to fight effectively in the spirit, because we’re too busy fighting things that don’t matter, becoming offended and wasting time, energy, and effort fighting temporary things. We get bowed up and worked up by things that won’t make a difference in the end. We cannot win the wars we’re in, when we do not know who we fight. Let me give you one example of such wasted energy.
I was a 25-year-old corporate executive. I was quickly finding success in the realms of corporate America. I was the boss and everyone was going to know it. Pride and arrogance oozed from every part of me. I’m sure I was quite the joy to work with. One afternoon, I pulled into the parking lot of a local dry cleaners with my absolute favorite business suit in tow. I needed it cleaned for an upcoming out-of-town conference. I gave the clerk the suit with instructions, which I’m sure she appreciated, and revisited the cleaners a few days later to get my suit. I brought it home and hung it in the closet. A few days later, I reached in my closet for the suit, as I was packing for the trip, and to my horror and dismay, the pants were not with the jacket. ‘How dare they!’ I immediately thought! The cleaners had lost my favorite pants. The inefficiency! I would have someone’s head over this. I hurried over to the phone and called the cleaners, demanding to speak to the manager. What transpired over the next several days became affectionately known in my family as the ‘Dry Cleaners Incident of 2002’. I conducted an all-out war against this cleaners. They had lost my pants and did not even care. They told me they didn’t have them and that was that. Everyone within a 50-mile radius was going to know how that cleaners had wronged me and didn’t pay for my pants. I told friends. I told family. I told coworkers. I even wrote a letter to the Better Business Bureau. I called them incessantly asking about my pants. Finally… finally... after sufficient mourning and way too much grumbling and complaining, I decided to let the incident go.
Several weeks had passed and I was sifting through my closet to donate some items. I pulled out my beloved, pants-less suit, and decided to donate the jacket, since no longer had its match. But wait a minute! What did I discover securely tucked on a hanger underneath my jacket?! You guessed it. My pants! The pants had been on the hanger the entire time. I had never actually lost my pants. I simply could not see what was right in front of me.
While a comical example, this highlights so perfectly our willingness to go from zero to sixty over the slightest of affairs. In those days, I was too busy being offended to understand how to fight. I thought the problem was the rude clerk and her attitude or the countless encounters with rude coworkers or waitresses. I thought the problem was everyone else’s attitude. I was prideful and self-righteous. I was too busy playing victim, focusing on how I had been wronged, or what was owed to me – to see the root cause of why I was always so easily offended. I had a propensity to complain at the least of offenses and demanded that someone pay.
What I later learned was that the root cause of my easy-to-offense was abuse and sexual assault and the death of my parents and countless wounds that had gone unhealed and unaddressed. The wounds made me bitter and angry and someone had to pay, so I lived my life swinging offense like holy water at a Pentecostal retreat!
I’m thankful I’ve suffered some of the tragedies I have. I’m thankful I even walked through my easily-offended season. Why? Because I learned some things in that journey that I’d like to help you with today. May you be blessed and challenged as you read on:
Recognize the plan of the enemy // He comes to cause division. He comes to steal your joy, kill your hope, and destroy the strong friendships and relationships you hold. He comes to wreak havoc in every area of your life. It is his plan for your heart to be easily wounded, such that you need to lash out at others. It’s his plan for you to harbor unforgiveness that grows into a bitter root. Know who you war against.
Evaluate the root // Hurt births offense. What’s going on beneath the surface? Are you hurting from an old wound? Has the death of a loved one lingered and caused you to lash out at others in pain? Did the divorce or lost relationship cause you to lose joy and become bitter? Are you personally irritated with an individual, making all they say and do offensive to you?
Assess the truth // Often offense comes from misunderstandings or a lack of communication. Take the time to assess the truth about the situation. Don’t assume that they meant to hurt you or the situation is worse than it is. Sometimes, the email really wasn’t meant to hurt you and the words weren’t meant to cut you. Let’s issue grace to one another instead of assumptions, as we evaluate intentions behind words and actions.
Bask in the presence of the Spirit // Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. There is freedom to forgive quickly and move on. There is freedom from anger and bitterness. There is freedom from a bound life of constant offense. The more we know the Holy Spirit intimately and his leadership, comfort, and guidance, the more we can lay down the burden of offense. Offense is a habit that we must learn to break.
Others thoughts aren’t our problem // The way someone thinks about you isn’t your problem. If they gossip or lie or think ill of your intentions, it doesn’t matter. God is our ultimate vindicator so we don’t have to right every wrong or address every untruth or confront every liar. We don’t have to live our lives on a mission to ensure we address what they did or said. It doesn’t matter. They are often operating from their own unhealed wounds and there is too much that God has called you to do to be wandering in the wilderness of someone else’s opinion. Take your right place as a redeemed, restored, righteous daughter of the King, called for a purpose, and lay the rest down.
Forgive easily // Forgive when it isn’t deserved. Forgive when they don’t ask for it. Forgive often and easily. A root of offense has no time to grow or form or wreak havoc in our lives, when we are quick to forgive. Now, this is no small feat, no doubt! But the easier we move through forgiveness, the easier offense is to battle. Be reminded of all you’ve been forgiven of.
Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others.