Have you ever felt hurt and upset by something someone said to you? How many days, weeks, or months (or years) did those words haunt you? Did you try to find a way to stop these words from creeping into your thoughts? What did you think would mend the relationship or bring relief? We face this situation all the time. Sometimes the words leave scratches—sometimes deep wounds that stay for years. Sometimes they are the result of a legitimate rebuke. (We can’t forget Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”) Other times, they inflict only harm (Proverbs 12:18 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts…”).
After words hurt us, what should we do? Where should we go for help? Even if these words were intended as a rebuke, what can we do if their source is harsh rather than gracious, and we are reeling from the pain? I want to share something that happened to me a few years ago that helped me answer some of these questions.
A sister in Christ had said some critical things to me about my professional life. Within 24 hours, another sister had made some caustic remarks about my life as a wife and mother. Maybe it was the conflation of these two encounters, but I felt really hurt. At first, their words certainly felt like “sword thrusts.” Later, however, I tried to view them as helpful criticism. But no matter how I envisioned their intentions and message, their words seemed too harsh and hurtful. I felt awkward around these women. I was afraid to speak while I was around them because I feared more criticism. I also felt reluctant to be enthusiastically kind to them. This behavior I knew to be wrong, but I couldn’t seem to change my attitude. I kept thinking about what each one had said, and I often imagined the perfect solution: I thought the best way out would be for them to admit they were too harsh and apologize. I kept checking my email for an apology, but the longer I waited, the more I knew that nothing would come.
An email inbox is no place to find hope. But that’s where I was looking.
The thoughts kept circling in my mind like vultures eyeing a huge rotting mess: Why would she say such a thing? I’m sure by now she realizes she shouldn’t have said it. Maybe she’ll apologize today. Maybe she’ll tell me she didn’t mean it, that she didn’t mean to be unkind . . . .
I knew I needed a way out of all this turmoil, but I felt like it was impossible.
In God’s goodness, He gave me hope by reminding me of His word:
I remembered Psalm 40:2-3:
“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”
I had always thought of David’s “miry bog” as something external. It was a metaphor of course, but I thought it represented his outside problems paralyzing him. I could see, though, that I was in a miry bog. It was a pit of my own making inside my own mind. I had been trying to get out, to stop the cycle of my destructive thoughts. But it was like quicksand—just when I thought I was making progress, I would just sink further down. If I went a day without thinking about those words, they might still rush back on me the next day and overwhelm me with hurt. Just like a person in a pit of quicksand, I knew I couldn’t pull myself out. I was looking for someone else to fix the situation—to pull me out of this pit by apologizing.
But God wanted to rescue me as only He could. Looking at David’s example, I cried out to Him for rescue. I was surprised when, after that prayer, I immediately felt safe. When I submitted my feelings to Him, I realized that I didn’t need to be angry or hurt. I didn’t need to hold onto it until someone apologized. God had rescued me from my thinking, and I could forgive because He was giving me grace to do so even without an apology.
Then I did feel like singing out to God! (“He put a new song in my mouth…”) I stopped checking my email and started to think of all the ways I was thankful for these women. Even if they had said some harsh words, that didn’t actually negate the good they had done in my life up until that point. Forgiveness mixed with thankfulness, through the grace of God, creates the perfect extinguisher for the corrosive flames of bitterness and resentment.
Of course, there is more to the story. One day of forgiveness isn’t the end. We must endure and keep following Him. I had felt immense relief as God lifted me out of this pit of bitterness. And I was out! I had a song to sing, and I wanted to tell others about what God had done. (“Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”)But wayward person that I am, it’s possible for me to walk right back into that same pit. So I’ve erected a big sign in my mind that says, “Danger! Watch your thinking!” When I catch myself going down the same path, I have to warn myself that where I’m going leads to a dangerous pit. I know how prone I am to think these things. But I also know that God can and will rescue me again. I just need to keep looking to Him (not to myself or other people) for a way out.