I recently said something that deeply hurt one of my most favorite people in the world. I didn’t mean to hurt him. In fact, the intentions behind my words were a reflection of my love and admiration for this person. But as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized that to those hearing them, they meant something altogether different. Ugh.
Immediately, I felt guilt. Actually, it was more than guilt — I felt shame. I was disgusted by how my words sounded, appalled by how I had made my loved one feel. And he, thankfully, was not afraid to let me know it. He was honest about his hurt and anger; and gracious enough to forgive me, recognize my intentions, and assure me that he would get over it. But still, the damage was done.
This was one of those moments in which I was beyond thankful to have the faith I have. Not only do I believe in a Savior who has already done the work of forgiving my mistakes, I believe in (and have experienced) a Savior who can work in and through and despite my messes, bringing good from my bad.
Though I do not think living in guilt and shame is helpful or productive, I do think that feeling it can lead to conviction, which is useful. Conviction motivates better behavior. It leads us to take action on the things that matter most to us — like being in good relationship with those we love or living the kind of life that will positively impact the world around us.
But how do we express those convictions? We all are aware of these highly polarized times in which we live. And we are equally aware that convictions are not always shared in kind or helpful ways. People have all kinds of “convictions” and opinions and are not afraid to share them on the many platforms available to us. Sometimes, those opinions are shared in ways that seem judgmental, accusatory, patronizing. Feelings get hurt; people are offended and react defensively.
So how should we share our convictions? After all, it has been wisely proclaimed that “the world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” Jesus himself reacted to the criticism of self-righteous religious leaders who asked why his disciples did not follow rules for proper hand-washing before meals by saying, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person” (Matthew 15:11).
Think before you speak. Treat others as you want to be treated. Ask questions. Listen. If someone is convicted in a way that does not make sense to you, find out why. You may be surprised by their perspective. You might discover something new about your own. You may help that person think more deeply about why she believes what she does. You will likely think more deeply about your own beliefs. And perhaps it will lead you into more meaningful relationship with someone who seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Jesus rarely told people to change their ways without first entering into conversation and relationship with them.
And know that when you do say something that hurts someone else — even when you didn’t mean it to — it is good to admit your mistake, ask for forgiveness, and turn in prayer to a Savior who brings good from our bad, makes meaning from our messes, and leads us to the way of better relationship with God and others.