The Choice to be Offended
Everyone today seems to be offended by something or by someone…it is the latest victim-mentality of the 20-teens, or whatever we’re supposed to call this decade of the 21st Century. You know how it goes, you do or say something, whether audibly or digitally, something that might reflect your unique feeling, opinion, or perspective on something, without considering if every. single. person. within range would agree with you, and BOOM! Conditions are ripe for offense.
A few weeks ago my toddler and I were having lunch with friends. You know the sitch- we’re talking, laughing, eating our weight in chips and salsa, and the child decides she no longer wants to sit quietly like the perfect little cherub. I feed her chips, one of those brilliant squeezy-pouch applesauce concoctions, and all the chicken from my soup, but she wasn’t having it. Like a fighter pilot in a tailspin, she searched frantically for the emergency ejection button to her highchair, to no avail. She let out a howl here and there, but this was not what an experienced mom like me calls a four-alarm tantrum…nothing requisite of a “trip to the bathroom” or an early departure– she was moderately irritating if I had to be honest.
But sure enough, as we are leaving, and I am criss-cross strapped with purse, diaper bag, and wriggling toddler hanging by one ankle, a gentle grandmother stopped our show to say this to me…
(get ready…this is gonna be GOOO —OOOD….)
“To have a child like that to disturb the entire restaurant, it’s rude!”
I thought she was going to say something encouraging, like, “Honey, this is just a stage, you’ll both get through this,” or “Way to hang in there, mom, you cannot give in to every whim of a toddler,” but no, she wanted me to know that the enjoyment of HER meal was wrecked by me and my “rudeness.” Somehow, I had offended her and apparently the rest of the more civilized patrons in my favorite Mexican restaurant.
I’m not gonna tell you yet what I said to her. First I want to address this new tendency to be so easily offended by others today…
This kind of social “offense” is personal and it is most often, a choice. We can choose to only consider our own perspective, experience, and feelings, and be irritated or outraged that others do not consider or even CARE about our sensibilities…OR…we can ignore those minor irritants and resist the agitation that moves us to take action. But it is still a choice!
And many today want to treat every affront as a sin, vicious attack, or violation of law, when in fact, they are not. People (Christians included) are impetuous- too quick to jump on an opportunity to correct others, defend ourselves, to oppose something we don’t agree with, without considering the other’s perspective or experience. James reminds us to cool our heels when we would ordinarily be swift to respond to others:
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) NIV
And what is the goal in these instances? Is it to be righteous, or just be right? If our primary objective is to prove we are right, even God’s righteousness becomes secondary.
Now, back to the old woman. Once I processed the reality- that she was not going to lift me up with words of hope and encouragement, but that she was going to kick me while I was down, I felt the sting of her reproach and was offended! I felt frustrated and angry at her judgment— ready to unleash years of parenting “wisdom” on her and how the old belief that children should be seen and not heard is not only archaic, but unrealistic and devaluing to children…but I didn’t.
As I looked at her, I saw my own 98-year-old grandmother. She says whatever comes to her mind without considering the cost. She is like a toddler herself, she can’t see beyond her own needs in the moment as with age and frailty, the mind seems to do a reversal of sorts. I saw someone who had NO IDEA how her words could hurt and harm me in my current state. And I chose not to allow this to offend me personally. This was HER experience. These were HER feelings. This was HER perspective.
And I responded with as much respect as I could, “I understand, ma’am, I’m very sorry.”
This was soooo difficult. My flesh wanted to defend my right as a paying customer to eat just the same as anyone else, but another voice reminded me, this was HER perspective and right or wrong and I can choose whether I will let it truly bother me.
Being offended is most often a choice. And we will have to make this choice many, many times throughout our lives and sometimes throughout the course of any given day. But once we slow down and consider another’s position, right or wrong, viewed with clarity or clouded by circumstances, we can actually choose whether we will be offended by them or not. It is a choice and one that holds great opportunity for growth, grace, and a wise response.
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11) NIV
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