3 Lessons I Learned When I Offended Someone


Keith Ferrin explains three lessons he learned after offending someone: it is always best to go to the source, Christians don't have to agree, and negative comments stick with us far longer than positive ones.

When you hit “Play” on your voicemail, you never expect to hear a voice say “You offended me.” And I certainly didn’t expect to hear those words in reference to my latest book. But I did. Twice. Along with troubling once and misleading once.

What do you do when someone offends you? Glad I learned these lessons.

At first, I didn’t quite know what to think or do. It certainly didn’t feel good. I offended her? Really?

At the end of her voicemail, she said, “You can always get back to me at…”? While I typically don’t respond to negative comments, I had this nagging feeling (Yes, Holy Spirit. I know it’s You.) that this time I was supposed to respond.

So I called her.

We talked for about 20 minutes. When we hung up the phone, we didn’t come to any agreement. I didn’t win her over. She still didn’t like the title of my book (and even encouraged me to change it and reprint).

But I’m still really glad I called her. I learned a few valuable lessons. Not “this is life-altering rocket science” lessons. More like “these are some basic truths that will be helpful if you remember them” lessons.

Lesson One: It is always best to go to the source.

I actually have a great deal of respect for this woman. Now, I don’t know if she talked to anyone else about it, but the fact that she called me makes me respect her. Most people don’t. Most people would have chosen to say something nasty about me to her friends, post something mean on their Facebook wall (or mine!), or send a nasty email.

She did none of these (at least not that I know of). She called me. She left her real name. She left her real phone number. Which led to a real conversation. Just like it should be.

Lesson Two: Christians don’t have to agree. (A.K.A. There isn’t always someone who is “right.”)

This woman loves Jesus. A lot. So do I. A lot. She finds the title of my book offensive. I find it, well, a good conversation starter.

She shared what troubled her. I shared what I thought was a pretty good explanation. She still didn’t like it. Attempting to take a different angle, I walked through why I think that one of the problems with the way the most Christians talk about the Bible is not that we teach that the Bible is true – I believe that too! – but that we stop there. She still didn’t like it.

Neither of us raised our voices. Neither of us said anything nasty. Both of us shared. Both of us listened. We didn’t agree about my book. What we did agree on is that THE Book is fantastic. (Much more important in the grand scheme of things, wouldn’t you say?)

I have a good friend who says, “Sometimes we need to let go of our need to be right. Even when we’re right.” Yup.

Lesson 3: Negative comments stick with us far longer than positive ones.

There are two sides to this coin. On the receiving end, it’s too easy to focus on the negative. Too easy to let the one snarky comment ring in our ears while the many encouraging words fade from memory. To stew over the one person who didn’t like what we did, effectively dismissing the numerous people who told us how we blessed them.

Not. Helpful.

The other side of that coin is equally important – if not more important – to keep in mind. Our negative words sting. They tear down. They destroy. And they last. They linger in the minds of our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our students, our employees. Spoken too frequently, these venomous words begin to shape their identity. We must be careful.

Before you and I let that flippant comment pass our lips, we might want to remember the wise words from Proverbs 18:21 “The tongue can bring death or life.” and Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I sure didn’t like hearing that voicemail. But I needed to be reminded of these lessons. I can honestly say I’m glad she called.

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