“Say WHAT?” We usually don’t say that aloud, but our minds and hearts are racing with all kinds of defensive reactions. An acquaintance or family member said something in passing, and we sit and wonder what they meant. Why would she say something so hurtful? Why did he make that comment? We are, perhaps, seeking to understand. But we may not be seeking to understand the right thing.
A few weeks ago, my husband found out he was going on a surprise flight. Trying to have a good attitude about it, he said perkily, “Well, at least I’ll get a good meal tonight!” (His boss pays for meals on the road.)
What did I immediately think? “He doesn’t like the food I cook for him!!” I thought hard about the emphasis he put on the word, “tonight,” as if tonight were the exception. I stewed for 30 seconds about how hard I’d worked the last week putting up homemade sauce for my Italian guy. And then, God intervened. I took a deep breath and realized David was just putting a good spin on having to work another weekend night.
When you cut through the thin outer skin of an onion, something happens: a chemical irritant called syn-propanethial-S-oxide is released into the air. That substance finds its way to our eyes and we cry. Simple science.
How about when you cut a lemon? The sweet scent of citrus escapes, making the room smell cleaner and fresher. In fact, most other vegetables and fruits release a distinctive fragrance without making you cry. Just the onion family does that.
Am I an Onion?
So many times, I’ve taken something to heart in a way the original speaker never intended. Especially when the original speaker is my husband.
“He thinks I’m getting fat.” Maybe all he said was that the new shirt I just got was prettier than my older ones. But the new shirt is looser…
“She wishes she didn’t have to be spending time with me right now.” Maybe all she said was that she’s sad her other friend wasn’t able to make it. But I know they really enjoy time with just the two of them…
“He thinks I’m a terrible mother.” Maybe he did say something thoughtless, but his mind was still on something stressful that happened at work.
Negative thoughts and fears crowd my mind–and I’ve made most of them up in my own mind. I become defensive when I get cut, either snapping or just closing down. And, in a way, I release a noxious gas that breaks others down instead of building them up.
The Fact: Most of the Time People Don’t Intend to Hurt Us
Yes, there are a few people who have had a difficult life and intend to get back at everyone for all the hard knocks of the past. But, most of the time, people are just talking. You are not the center of their world and imaginations.
How do I know? Because I am also the knife-wielder. I’m chattering, just making conversation, when suddenly I see my friend or family member flinch. Something hit home–in the worst way–because I was thoughtless. Not because I meant to hurt. And I’ll soon find out if I cut into an onion or a lemon.
My husband loves me. He’s not trying to make me feel worthless. When I think he is, that’s actually my own mind busily destroying our marriage. “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” (Prov. 14:1, KJV)
My friends are loyal and kind. It’s my own insecurity that provides fuel for the flames that could burn our friendship.
Seeking to Understand
How do we hit pause when the knife touches our skins? How do we release grace and understanding?
I often think of a quote from a famous self-help book by Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” While I’m not normally a fan of self-help books that don’t make it clear that we need Christ for help, not our own bootstrap-pulling, those words probe deeply.
Covey was trying to get readers to work through conflict by first looking at the other person’s point of view. I am trying to do this another way.
If someone says something that hurts me, whether it’s my husband’s negative comments about the meal I made tonight or my sister’s comments about how I raise my son, I am trying to push the pause button before I react. I’m attempting to take some calm, quiet, mental steps, by God’s grace.
4 Steps for Seeking to Understand
Think about the relationship.
If you have a mostly good relationship with a person, you should assume he has your best interests in mind. Something stung? Consider the lack of motivation that person has to purposely hurt you.
Think about what Christ has done for you.
My mother-in-law likes to say that we don’t have the right to become offended after what Christ has done for us. She’s right. We have sinned in the worst ways against the holy and righteous God. What, in comparison, has anyone done to us? Even if they did it on purpose? We have no rights. We are the poor and the lowly, and we have a great need for a Savior. Just like those who cut us.
Try to hear what they’re really saying.
Maybe they’re really saying, “I had an awful day today. Help!” Or, “My stomach is hurting, and that’s why I don’t care for your food.” 🙂 Be quick to hear and slow to speak, as the apostle James urged. (James 1:19) And hear what’s going on inside, not just the words on the surface.
Ask God for patience, love, and help.
An onion doesn’t turn into a lemon or a strawberry overnight. We–I–need help to release the fragrance of Christ when we’re wounded. We need the One who can do all things to do this work in our lives.
What are some steps you take to slow down and seek to understand?
Let us know in the comments! (I need help in this area, folks!) 🙂
May God bless and keep you! And may He turn more of us onions into sweeter fruit, for the praise of His glory and grace.