Recently someone sent me a letter, urging me to pray about the contents and think about changing my ways.
“What in the world does this even mean?” I thought in bewilderment as I read the letter. It was full of Bible verses and vague interpretations. I had no idea what to make of it, other than guessing from prior interactions with this person.
Whenever someone confronts me, I feel obligated to seek out the truth even if I don’t like it. I know that I need to consider what I can’t see about myself. My only hope for learning about undesirable behaviors is if God reveals them to me through the gentle teaching of the Holy Spirit, the daily reading of Scripture, and the insightful guidance of others.
But sometimes accusations send me into a tailspin, and I find it very hard to make sense of what is happening in the other person’s brain, in my heart, and in the relationship between the two.
This letter got me thinking about several things regarding handling accusations.
First of all, does the person accusing me ever have anything positive to say about me? Are almost all of their interactions with me negative? This doesn’t mean that what they say doesn’t have any weight–it certainly might. I need to consider that. But it’s very likely that if their feedback is always negative, they have another bone to pick that is much bigger than the immediate issue we’re looking at. This can be helpful in sorting through ideas, reactions, and feelings that don’t make sense to me.
Also, is the accusation clearly about a behavior pattern or is it attacking me, either directly or indirectly? When I feel confused or shattered, often the attack is on me as a person. After I received this letter, my friend Eugene* gave me one of the most helpful insights that I’ve ever received about how to process accusations. If they’re lobbing a bunch of words at you, he said, and making you figure out what the accusation is, whatever accusation you assemble in your mind is the one that is most pertinent. It’s an autoimmune response. They get your own mind to accuse you.
Any time my own imagination has to figure out what’s going on, or the conversation turns from a wrong way of thinking or behaving to who I am as a person, the goal is manipulation, not redemption.
Finally, what do the people closest to me say? I find that my closest friends are the ones most able to be helpful in a difficult situation. They truly understand my heart and have gentler ways of guiding me to holiness. When I’m blindsided by the weight of words thrown at me, others whom I trust are better able to sift through the evidence and figure out what to do.
This makes me thoughtful about how I interact with others. If I disagree with them and openly say so, have I earned that right by walking with that person through the joys and sorrows of life? Am I giving God room to work or am I trying to rush ahead of the Holy Spirit? Are my words saturated with the gentleness of wisdom? Am I clear about what I disagree with, and careful to highly value each human being I interact with as being precious to Jesus?
I still have to figure out what to do about that letter. Should I try to respond and find out more about what the person is thinking? Should I leave it to Jesus, knowing He will confirm it if there’s something I need to learn? I’ve learned not to respond to accusations as long as I still feel defensive. I think I’ve moved past that in this case, but I’m not exactly sure what to do next.
Thankfully I’m not alone, and I’m trusting God to lead me with clarity and wisdom.
*You can see some of Eugene’s beautiful photography here.