It was a tiny bit of a library misunderstanding.
My son played quietly with the toy trains and the dinosaurs (who knew dinosaurs and toy trains went so well together?) so I sat quietly and read.
That’s when I heard two little girls nearby trip along into a conversation pit without realizing it.
They were only about three or four years old, sweet as can be, with ponytails and pink shoes.
Here’s the transcript of what they actually said:
Girl 1: Can I play with you?
Girl 2: (As she searches the Lego bin for the right block): No, I’m playing Legos right now. We can play later.
Girl 1 then pauses just as she was about to pull a chair up to the Lego table. Her face reads surprise, then sadness and a little hurt. She turns away and plays with the farm animals instead.
There were no tears and there was no conflict. No one tattled or fought. Each just went about doing her own little thing, unaware of what the other little girl was truly thinking or feeling.
And, that’s the thing that gives me pause. Neither of these girls really understood what the other one meant to say. What each of them truly meant was:
Girl 1: May I play Legos with you?
Girl 2: Oh, sure! I’m playing Legos right now and I’d love for you to join me.
But that’s not what happened. Girl 1 was asking to join in the building fun.
Girl 2 thought she was being asked to stop her Lego building and go do something else with her little friend and by golly she was having a good old time making Lego animals right now.
Their conversation just missed a little. It’s like they shot two arrows. One went under the target and one went over the target, but no one hit the mark.
What resonates a bit with my heart today is when I’m offended or hurt and I let critical words sink deep into my soul, what if I’m actually misunderstanding?
Sometimes people say hurtful things and they mean them.
Sometimes people say hurtful things without meaning it, but the pain is there just the same.
But sometimes people say things and we just miss. We thought they meant one thing; they actually meant something else.
And we tote around that offense as a heavy burden, putting up walls of defensiveness in our relationships to protect us from future hurts.
Yes, they should be more careful. What you say and how you say it matters. Controlling our tongue and watching our words is a must.
What if we were slow to take offense, though?
I love the Amplified version of James 1:19:
Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]
At times the best thing we can do in a conversation is pause.
Taking time to respond rather than react can keep us from misunderstanding, from holding onto hurt, and from escalating conflict.
I have an email sitting in my inbox right now and I’ll be honest, I’m offended. It is critical of me in ways I feel are unfair. My defenses are up.
But I’m choosing to pause.
I’ve taken some time to ask, “God, is this true about me?” and I’ve waited and listened for the Holy Spirit’s truth.
I’ve considered whether I truly know this person’s intentions. Probably they didn’t mean it this way. It’s most likely, since I don’t know them very well, that I just don’t understand their humor or perspective.
I read over Proverbs 19:11:
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (ESV).
and even Ecclesiastes 7:21-22:
Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others (ESV).
We live in an easily offended world. People curse you for simple mistakes and seek vengeance for misunderstandings and accidents.
We are so often quick to anger and quick to speak, leaving behind the wreckage of broken relationships and the ache of loneliness.
I want instead to say little and to listen much.
Sometimes I fail. I am easily bruised by the criticism of others.
And yet, when I filter the comments of others through the gauze of grace, I can grab hold of truth and let the rest go. I can respond with more love than I was shown.
Pausing gives us time to choose humility and wisdom, grace and gentleness, and it helps us hit the mark instead of missing and messing up.