Disrupted by Misunderstanding

Posted by Deborah Childers
In this Caldwell Blog, Dialectic School teacher Deborah Childers reflects on how misunderstanding connects humanity with Christ and how Christians can use it as an opportunity for good.    
Have you ever done something with the desire to bless and had your motives questioned?

Have you ever worked hard toward helping and then been criticized?

Have you ever been cast in the worst possible light by a friend?

Each of these scenarios exemplifies misunderstanding. Misunderstanding can bring deep pain. It is like offering a gift and having it thrown away. It feels unfair. Unkind. Cruel.

When I am misunderstood, I want to set the record straight. After all, I spent three years in high school honing my debate skills. I know how to dissect an argument, refute someone’s position, and prove I am right. These skills assisted me greatly in winning debates and writing papers. In the world of relationships, however, my skills are called “defensive” and I repeatedly see their impotence in reconciliation. When my main goal is to be right, somehow my desire to love gets shoved in a closet.

It seems I am not alone. In our commitment to truth, we Christians have become a very touchy lot. We don’t want to be misunderstood, so we use a lot of words trying to defend ourselves. Recently it seems like defending Christian values has taken on new energy. It feels like we’ve created an “us-versus-them” narrative. We are good, and the people who criticize us are bad. Our focus is not simply on defending the truth. It is on defending ourselves, and often we are too willing to forsake love in the pursuit of rightness.

Jesus provides a different response. The gospel accounts make clear that Jesus was misunderstood. He was misunderstood by pagans, Jewish leaders, His family, and His followers. Whether for Jesus or against Jesus, most people struggled to make sense of His unorthodox ways. He disrupted the propriety of the Jewish religion by dining with moral compromisers like Mary of Magdala and Zacchaeus the tax collector. He disrupted the zealots’ idealism by eating with Pharisees. He disrupted His followers’ expectations by talking to a Samaritan. When Jesus preached one particularly vivid sermon in which He spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, many of His followers turned away. In short, Jesus experienced significant rejection and pain from being misunderstood.

What can we learn from this?
  • Misunderstanding is not to be avoided. Yes, it stinks. Yes, it seems avoidable. But if Jesus was misunderstood while doing His Father’s work, clearly misunderstanding serves a purpose in the kingdom of God. The Bible records Jesus using relatively few words trying to defend Himself or help people understand His intent. Perhaps obedience to God will always result in misunderstanding. After all, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are in conflict. Misunderstanding is a natural consequence of this conflict.
  • Misunderstanding is valuable. It is easy to love the people who see the best in us. Far harder is to love those who bring pain through believing the worst in us. They may be friends, family members, or colleagues but their misunderstanding is a form of persecution. How else are we to “love those who persecute us” if we constantly sidestep or assault misunderstanding? Misunderstanding invites us into a deeper experience of love.
  • Misunderstanding is part of suffering for Christ. If Christ was misunderstood, do we think we can somehow avoid misrepresentation by our skillful communication? The issue is not better communication. The issue is we share the enemy of Jesus. Satan constantly seeks to divide and devour. Misunderstanding is his attempt to lure us into traps of anger, defensiveness, and resentment. We must recognize misunderstanding is the enemy’s attempt to divide. 
  • Misunderstanding matures us. These are hard words to write. I hate being misunderstood. But as one who often loves peace and people more than I love Jesus, misunderstanding has been a valuable part of my life. I recall one particularly intense season when my motives were maligned, and I was cast in the worst possible light. It was so unfair and my internal debater staged many mental debates. But being misunderstood was God’s push for me to learn to love better, to love those who criticized, and to love Him more than people’s approval. (Full disclosure: This took months of shutting down the mental debate rounds and substituting prayer for those who had hurt me. Please hear me say standing in misunderstanding is NOT easy.)
  • Misunderstanding is redemptive. Have you ever considered how Jesus’ crucifixion was the result of Him being misunderstood? Some Jews and Romans thought Jesus was preaching insurrection. A few more witnesses and a well-delivered defense by Jesus perhaps could have corrected their accusations and prevented His death. Instead, Jesus stood silent before the Sanhedrin, silent before Herod, and silent before Pontius Pilot. Jesus chose to be misunderstood because He knew His death would redeem the world. Is it possible our willingness to withstand misunderstandings could help us be redemptive agents in this broken world?
There is great power in speaking the truth in love. May we not forsake love and let us be wise as to when we should speak. As our lives are disrupted by misunderstanding, let’s choose a path other than the well-worn path of defensiveness. Let’s embrace the words written by the apostle Peter: “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19)

Deborah Childers is a Caldwell teacher and former Caldwell parent. She is a regular contributor to the Caldwell blog. This post was used with permission from her personal blog.
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