As many are aware, it seems that our language is being hijacked in a variety of ways. Certain words are being used to manipulate and control people, to corral us into a narrow set of acceptable behaviours and beliefs. In many ways, hard fought freedoms from constraints of one religion are being replaced by the constraints of another, albeit unnamed or recognised as such.
A couple of years back, the catch cry word was all about tolerance. There was a strong push from the media for everyone to be tolerant of others (particularly around certain agendas), with the most stupendous comment I heard being, “I’m intolerant of intolerant people”. To me, this demonstrated the whole problem of how this word was being used in a nutshell. The truth is, tolerance isn’t tolerance unless I am allowed to disagree with you.
More recently, we have upped the anti on this by adding a new commandment:
“Thou shall not offend me.”
And I have to say, lately offence seems to something of a disease, its contagion infecting many from every spectrum of society.
So the question is, when was the last time you found yourself getting offended? Or perhaps a better question is how often do you find yourself getting offended?
To make it a little clearer, feeling offended is usually that spark of anger rising up because of something someone else has said or done; the outrage or indignation that cries out, “How dare they!” It is that heightened sense of wrongness, that we may or may not acknowledge outright, which quickly takes over our thoughts and conversations.
Offence seems to be very much a go to for many of us at this time about a wide range of issues, be they personal or more global.
Right now, some would probably respond, “But I have a right to be offended! What “they” do/say is offensive!”
As much as it may be true that some behaviour is “outrageous” or even an offense in the strictest sense, our response of offense in return is far from helpful to us, though. In my own journey, offence was something that held me trapped for many years.
Going back some time now, I lived with offense as a primary protection mechanism. Because I was quite insecure and my sense of self was lacking, getting “prickly” was a way of keeping myself feeling safe. Basically, if I wasn’t feeling safe, getting offended toward someone helped me keep my distance and make them the problem, not me. Cutting them out of my relationships seemed the best option.
Whether or not they were the problem is irrelevant in the long run (and let’s be honest here, sometimes it is the other person, but sometimes it is also “me”!). Even when someone does behave in a way that is truly offensive and hurtful,
my response is always my responsibility.
I have a choice of whether or not I want to carry the burden of offence.
And it is a burden, very closely related to unforgiveness. When I am carrying offense towards others, either individuals or those with differing beliefs or ideas of acceptable behaviours to me, I am setting up a barrier, like a wall or even “a fence” (pun intended) to create a division that says “like me: not like me”. The more people I have offence toward, the further that fence has to go, and I have to maintain it, watch it diligently (just like Mexico), or before you know it, there will be an invasion of those I find offensive. But suddenly, while I am busy keeping them out, building that wall, I will find myself trapped and alone in a cage all of my own making.
Offence creates division and disunity in our society.
The bottom line is, if I am not prepared to allow anyone to offend me in anyway, I can either not have relationship with anyone (because no one is perfect), or I will have strict protocols which will drive most people away.
The other aspect of offense is that it leaves me in a place where I never have to question my own behaviour or beliefs. This is perhaps the most dangerous characteristic. If I don’t allow you to have a different belief or idea to me, or behave in a different way, then my behaviour and beliefs are the only right ones. Anything else is offensive! I am safe here and no one is allowed to judge me or tell me otherwise. Again, a very lonely place.
So, what is the answer? People are broken, they do behave in offensive ways. How do I not live under this burden of offense and still be safe?
For me, this comes back again and again to my relationship with God. I have to find my identity, my sense of self in Him. Unfortunately, this requires something else difficult. Accountability, transparency, ruthless honesty about myself. I have to be prepared to come to Him with all my own brokenness, hurts and false beliefs and be prepared for Him to shift, mend, heal and change me. The good news is though, however painful this may seem at the time, on the other side is true freedom – not only from my own brokenness and pain, but it also helps me deal with the brokenness of others without causing them further damage.
Next time you feel that slippery hand of offense around your heart, squeezing you to the point of outrage, take it to Father God and ask Him: “What do You want me to do with this? What do You want to do in me? How do You want me to respond?” You might be surprised at His response.