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An Offender for a Word

By Angela Hallstrom

Many years ago, a woman I visit taught asked to have me removed as her visiting teacher. I shouldn’t have known about this, of course — the visiting teaching shuffle is almost always a hush hush affair, especially if specific requests for change are involved. But I had an inkling that my visiting teachee wasn’t happy with me, and since I 1. have a need to be liked that occasionally interferes with my ability to behave in a dignified manner, and 2. have a need to know exactly what’s going on that occasionally interferes with my ability to behave in a dignified manner, I cornered the Relief Society President, who also happened to be my good friend, and straight-up asked her:

“Did so-and-so ask for me to be removed as her visiting teacher?”

I saw the expressions moving across the RS President’s face: Surprise, dismay, concern, resignation. She knew there was no hiding the answer at that point, so she sighed and said, “Yes, she did. I guess she took offense at something you said?” (You have to imagine the poor Relief Society president saying this with an apologetic lilt at the end of the sentence.)

I rewound the scene of my last visiting teaching outing and knew exactly the moment she was referring to. I’d said something about the importance of making sure our kids get a college education and how our girls, especially, needed support from their female friends and adult role models that made finishing college an expected goal. I hadn’t thought twice about what I said. But the minute I stopped talking long enough to notice the flush in my visiting teachee’s cheeks, it was too late. “Well, I didn’t finish college, and I think I’m doing just fine,” she said sharply. I stumbled all over myself, trying to explain that I didn’t mean that everybody needed a college education, and that all sorts of smart and amazing people don’t have college educations — but all my blathering didn’t do one bit of good, and, in fact, it probably made things worse. I remember slinking out of her house feeling terrible.

But by the time I cornered the Relief Society president, I’d stopped feeling terrible. By that time, I mostly felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that this woman had called my good friend to complain about me; embarrassed that the RS presidency had probably talked about it; embarrassed that there existed a person in the world who really didn’t like me and had the audacity to make that dislike semi-public.

“I didn’t mean anything by what I said, you know,” I told the Relief Society President. “It was totally innocent. I had no idea that she would take offense.”

She nodded grimly, fervently hoping, I’m sure, to get out of this conversation as soon as possible.

And then the next thing I said? This is what I’m most ashamed of. “But it’s not like I should be surprised. So-and-so makes a habit of getting offended.” Now, this statement was factually true. My former visiting teachee had a reputation for taking offense. As a matter of fact, I knew a bunch of women who’d had run-ins of one sort or another with her, and she was known as one of the more “difficult” women in the ward. But, at this point, any real regret over what I’d said had been replaced by an intense need to justify myself, to paint myself as faultless in the whole scenario. Me? I’m a nice person. I don’t say hurtful things on purpose. In fact, I am the victim of this difficult woman, this person who has obviously committed the sin of taking offense, a sin that we all know, as Mormons, is completely unacceptable and might eventually lead this frustrating woman straight out of the church entirely!

I mean, geez! It’s her fault if she chooses to be offended? Right? RIGHT?

And this is where the whole thing falls apart for me, because by following the line of reasoning above, not only did I manage to maneuver myself out of any personal responsibility for my own failings as her visiting teacher (and there were failings, to be sure — missed appointments, a forgotten birthday, and, yes, my own failing to be sensitive, since I knew in the back of my mind that she hadn’t finished college and still said what I did). But I also completely abdicated my responsibility toward this woman as a sister in the gospel. Yes, she was difficult. But her life was difficult. She struggled with crippling anxiety, a difficult marriage, and a son who was notorious for acting out in Primary. I knew this about her. Yet, in the face of her accusation that I had failed her as her visiting teacher, instead of seeing this as an opportunity for me to repent and do better, all I could think to do was justify myself. And the easiest way to do it was to use this word to describe her response to me:

Offended.

Many years have passed since this experience, and over time I’ve become more and more aware of the way we use the word “offended” in our culture. I’m not arguing here that we should never use the word; sometimes, “offended” is the best way to describe the way a person feels or reacts. And we should also warn against the perils of being too easily offended, because such behavior can indeed be personally destructive.

But. Imagine if, instead of the word “offended,” we used the word “hurt” to describe a person who had, say, become inactive. “Susan was hurt and stopped coming to church,” has a very different connotation to me than, “Susan was offended and stopped coming to church.” First, the word “offended” carries with it the whiff of pettiness. If someone is “offended,” certainly this is over something trifling, something that more emotionally mature people would not be bothered by. But even more important to me is the sense that when someone is hurt, then there is another party involved in the situation who is responsible in some way for the hurting. It is very easy, when we use the word “offended” to describe a person’s emotional reaction, to absent ourselves of responsibility for helping to heal this person’s wound. This person “chose” to be offended, and needs to learn to humble him or herself, a process that doesn’t seem to involve much communication or seeking for common ground between two parties. No, the act of “humbling oneself” is a very lonely process indeed — so lonely that some of our brothers and sisters whom we insist must endure it alone never return to the fold.

I know a few people who have left the church. None of these people — not one — has left because they were “offended,” at least if we’re using the word with the connotations described above. Now, I’m sure there are examples of people who have left the church because they were offended over trifling things, who were so full of pride that they wouldn’t accept the help of their fellow brothers and sisters who continued to extend a loving arm of fellowship. But it doesn’t seem to me to describe the majority of cases. Leaving aside those who no longer consider themselves Mormon because they simply no longer believe, many people I know who have either dropped into inactivity or left the church are in deep pain, or struggle with terrible questions, or are stuck in the quagmire of sin and shame and desperately need the help of a loving and supportive community of fellow believers. Some of these people have been legitimately hurt in some way, too. Just as we would require both sides in a troubled marriage to acknowledge their mistakes before healing can begin, we should require the same thing of ourselves as members of the church if we hope to heal broken relationships between our members, or to lovingly persuade a friend who has left us to return. And this is true, I believe, even if we didn’t intend to hurt the other party, or if the other party made a lot of mistakes, or even if it is generally agreed that the other party is reacting in a way that seems irrational. Because what we want is for healing to begin, isn’t it? For people to return to Christ and His community of believers?

Yes, it is important that other people remember not to be easily offended. But, ultimately, my job isn’t to enforce other people’s learning curve. Nope. My job, as Jesus tells me, is to turn the other cheek. To love other people — not only those who have misunderstood my intentions or misunderstood my words, but even those who have dispitefully used me and persecuted me.

The expression “offender for a word” comes from Isaiah 29:21: “That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.” We often use the expression to describe a person who is easily offended, but that is actually a misreading of the scripture. The New International translation of the scripture makes its meaning more clear, condemning “Those who with a word make a man out to be guilty.” Sometimes I fear that our use of the word “offended” does just what we’re cautioned against here: shifts all the blame in a difficult situation onto one person’s shoulders.

Should my visiting teachee from so many years ago refrained from taking offense at an ill-considered comment? Yeah, probably. But whether or not she sinned is not my concern. Whether or not I sinned, however, is — and repairing our relationship was my responsibility. And I abdicated that responsibility. For a word.

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

48 thoughts on “An Offender for a Word”

  1. I really like the difficult situation you describe. As I'm thinking about it, I'm wondering if the purpose of visiting teaching, or at least one of the purposes of visiting teaching, is to teach women of different backgrounds to be reconciled to each other. Sometimes this is a difficult process. Have you ever thought of looking her up and trying to help her or make peace in some way? Maybe this is a very naive suggestion.

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  2. beautiful post.
    i love it. thank you.

    it seems to be a catch phrase in the church, especially in meetings. "offended"

    it's human nature to respond that way — it's like when the cop pulled me over and i knew i had been speeding … there is a need to defend. we never want to be 'those' kind of people yet we are all human and make mistakes.

    regarding nancy r's comment, i think this is something to learn from but let go.

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  3. No, Nancy, not naive at all. It's been so many years since this happened, though, and I've lost track of this woman completely. That's not to say that I shouldn't consider trying to contact her — but my instinct is, as Marcie said, to let this one go. The main reason I'd shared the story wasn't really to figure out how to fix it, since so many years have passed. More, I'd hoped that my story would be an example of how viewing others as "offended" can interfere with our own ability to grow spiritually and help those who need it. It's only with a few years of hindsight in this particular situation, though, that I even realized this.

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  4. I love this–thoughtful, insightful … and well-written! Thanks for making me think this morning. That's always a welcome change. 🙂

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  5. There really is no way I can express just how precisely I needed this post today. It is an uncomfortable and humbling answer to prayer. Thank you.

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  6. I thought this was beautifully written and has made me think. I really appreciate that you are taking accountability. I think it becomes a big problem in the church when we have opportunities to visit and proceed to teach the gospel according to us. I get tired of so much offense being taken but honestly I can also see how it happens so often. I think there are times when we all can be a little too self righteous and very insensitive. Anyways, please know that I am not on here to criticize I really did enjoy this so much. You are a beautiful writer.

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  7. This is really resonant for me right now.
    I'm in the thick of one.

    As a nursery leader (and oh yes, I am in some corner of my mind giving myself allowance for having accepted my second nursery calling in a row) I suggested that a set of twins in my class might do better if they were separated. (My ward has 3 nurseries, and these boys were consistently hitting, throwing toys and spitting, largely to provoke one another in an odd contest of "who can get in the most trouble.") My suggestion bothered/offended/hurt these boys parents to the point where their immediate response was, "well we'll just keep them home", which, yes, means they'll stop coming to church. I was mortified and unprepared for their response and have struggled with it for two weeks now. Was my suggestion based on what I truly thought best for their children? Yes. Was my suggestion affected by my desire for the well being of other children in my class? Yes. But was my suggestion also affected by my own desire for less of a challenge for myself (and my husband who's in there with me and has a shorter fuse than I)in the classroom? Well, yes. So I'm trying to figure out how to heal this situation, because at the same time I was right and I was wrong. I think it's important for me to acknowledge the part of me that was wrong and apologize for it. But how do I do that without forfeiting that parts of me that had a pure intent?

    So I'm curious, in the scenario you're describing. How do you wish you had behaved differently, after the offense?

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  8. One of the newer sisters on my VT route always calls me by the wrong name, and at our last visit, asked if I was pregnant.

    I'm not.

    I'm also not offended – kind of amused, really – but I'm trying to figure out how to correct at least the name thing without making her feel bad – or perhaps it doesn't matter. I myself have a talent for sticking my foot in my mouth.

    On several occasions where I've caused hurt, and apologized profusely, the response has been very negative. The feeling I got was, "What, me? I don't get offended, I'm too good for that." Except when you call the primary president and rip me to shreds, I know otherwise.

    So. You have a very good point – we should be loving and sensitive and apologize when needed (whether the person wants to hear it or not). I've learned to think twice before opening my big mouth. Still, misunderstandings happen because we're all human and still learning. I've come to accept that some people won't like me, won't forgive me, no matter how hard I try. (And I do try.)

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  9. Em, your situation is a really tough one. I don't think you have to forfeit the part of you that had pure intent — I think that all of your intent was pure, even that part of you that thought it would be easier for you if they were separated. It makes total sense to want to do what's best for the twins, for the other kids, AND for you.

    However, I can also see how the twins' mother might have taken it personally, even though it wasn't intended that way. I remember when I was a new mom it was so very important to me that other people thought my kids were well behaved. Their behavior reflected on me & I wanted to get a motherly star on my forehead for having "good kids." Perhaps this woman is purely exhausted by worrying what other people think about her. Perhaps this woman has a hard time thinking that others view her kids as "difficult." Neither of these things have anything to do with you, though — they were just brought into stark relief when she received the necessary news that her children aren't doing so well in nursery. It seems to me that the only thing you can do is tell this woman that you hope her twins come back. That you miss them. (Ack– even if you don't? Being a nursery leader is SO HARD.) That if she thinks they do better together, you'd be happy to take them both. And then you can retire to your mansion in heaven. (Again, being a nursery leader is SO HARD. Bless you.)

    As far as what I wish I would have done? I wish two things. I wish I hadn't so vigorously defended myself to the Relief Society President at the expense of this other woman's reputation. I wish I had been big enough to accept that I had made a mistake, even if it was unintentional. And I really wish that I had done a better job of reaching out and being friendly to this woman after the fact. I don't think I was ever anything more than pleasant in her company after all this, but our relationship was cooler than it had been, and I kept my distance a bit.

    The thing is, as far as the actual incident went, I apologized at the time, and I don't think there's much more I could have done with that. The truth was, she had every right to request to have me removed as her VT if I wasn't meeting her needs. I like to think that I'm a nice person, but I know that sometimes I can be a little much for some people. What I didn't need to do was blame her to other people, and then hold a little grudge against her in my heart.

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  10. I appreciate this post. I had been in a similar situation when my companion and I unwittingly offended a sister we visit taught. She and her husband were being sealed in the temple that month – something they apparently had not wanted advertised, but the bishop told the RS president who told her counselors (my companion) who told me, and when we sincerely congratulated them with the best intentions, they were hurt that their personal information was being shared around the ward. She never let us come visit her again. She later became my companion and would come with me, but I think that she still didn't let other people come visit her. This situation has definitely made me think more about what information is shared around a ward, even with good intentions.

    I think you are right that we sometimes use "offended" as a way to pass blame. It is far too convenient to pass responsibility rather than think about (or repent from) our actions that hurt someone.

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  11. Wow, Angela. I just love love love your posts, and this one was another one that I need to read and re-read.

    I have had much experience with people who are "easily offended" and I will admit to not having always taken the high road when thinking about them and the pain that I have unwittingly caused them. It's hard to be the offender. It's painful to admit that my actions have affected someone else's equilibrium, have stolen some of their peace. It's also painful when heartfelt apologies don't heal the breaches.

    I've found that the atonement covers both my pain and the pain I've caused. Sometimes the pain I've caused has created rifts that I can't find a bridge over, but Christ has been able to, after lots and lots of lessons in humility.

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  12. How have I offended/been offended? Let me count the ways. No, I'm not kidding!

    I liked the idea suggested in Nancy's comments that one of the purposes of the visiting teaching program might be to learn to deal with these kinds of conflicts. When I got called as RS president, a lifetime ago, one of my first thoughts was "I wish it was EQP instead of RS, women are so complicated." And sure enough, my calling placed me in the middle of much matronly muck.

    While we're sharing VT stories, I had a visiting teachee years back who loved small nippy dogs and smoking. As I am allergic to dogs, and dislike smelling like smoke, my visits were preceeded by allergy treatments and deep breaths and followed by a shower and a load of laundry. On the way to a visit, my companion and I heard an NPR clip about how the way we view animals depended on whether we are city folk or country folk. City folk, they said, kept animals nearby, safe. Country folk kept animals outdoors, where they felt they belonged. We talked about this and shared our thoughts, in (we thought) casual conversation, with our visiting teachee upon arrival. She got huffy and remarked that we had been visiting for so long and never let her dogs hop up on us or petted her dogs like we were glad we were there. Now, I'd done a good bit of faking it, I thought, but it is true that when a dog hopped up on my companion, she'd startle and hop up herself every time. Long story short(er) the RS president got a call and we got a new assignment. My allergies and I are not sad about it either.

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  13. As one who has teetered on the edge of inactivity and fell over that edge for about a year or so, I can attest that the reason I stopped going was NOT because I was "offended." People are stupid and they say stupid things, even lovely well-meaning people who are members of the church. Other things pushed me over the edge, and I've worked hard to come back to activity.

    I will say, though, that those feelings of "hurt" that you describe really have made it difficult for me to come back. It hurt deeply when I wasn't invited to parties organized by ward members (not RS activities, just girls' nights out), book club, or play dates with other kids my kids' ages. It hurt deeply when people who I'd considered friends in the church stopped answering my phone calls or returning my emails. It hurt deeply when ward members stopped allowing their kids to play with mine. At the moment when I MOST needed an understanding heart I was given the cold shoulder. It was tough. But I made my way back.

    I know I've done and said things that have offended and hurt others, we all do. One insight I've gained in this experience is when someone goes inactive people will often say, somewhat self-righteously, "Well, they must have been offended…" that there's a heck of a lot more going on than just being "offended." Reach out. Show them you're their friend regardless of their activity level.

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  14. Angela, I like that you made the point that people don't become inactive because they're "offended" as in "hurt". My inactive and ex-Mormon friends would thank you for that.

    I do know people who have left parishes that my husband has served because someone "offended" or "hurt" them. Sometimes it's a petty thing on the part of the person who left and sometimes it's a genuine issue where someone really hurt the person who left and they're not sticking around where they feel unwelcome. I totally think that we do need to look at both sides of these things.

    Em, I think in your case, the parents know that their kids are hellions and "keeping them home" is code for "we're already not happy and we're looking for someone to do something so we can blame that for us leaving". As a pastor's wife, I've learned how to read those things because they've happened in every parish I've attended as both a layperson and a pastor's wife.

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  15. Wow-this is so well written!  What a great read for me as I also am quick to put myself up on the "Rameumpton Tower" and praise myself. Thank you for the "hurt" perspective-it is much more gentle & understanding.

    In fact, it makes me think of that quote which says (and I'm paraphrasing here)-"we have enough women who are  critical ,we need more women who are charitable.  We have enough women who are…we need more women who are…, etc". You know the one?  I don't have time to look it up now, but it's a great quote and I will find it tmrw during my free time as I need to think on this piece you've shared so well for more than a "minute".  

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  16. I really liked this post, especially the point you made about saying someone is "offended" makes it their fault rather than the fault of whoever did the offending.

    In our last ward, I made a follow-up comment in Sunday School one day that came across as very uppity and critical to the lady who had previously commented. I realized a moment later that she was right and I was wrong. Oh, how I was embarrassed. But, being in a class I couldn't really continue the conversation. After the class I immediately went to her side and told her how sorry I was. I was so grateful that she said it wasn't a problem, her feelings weren't hurt at all. I could tell that she sincerely meant it, and she meant for me not to worry about it. I can't describe the peace I felt at being forgiven.

    Many years ago, I made a stupid, but I honestly think harmless, comment at a group dinner that was offensive to a friend who – like the lady described in the post – had a reputation for being offended. Violently offended and very ugly about it – it was well-known that you didn't want to be on her bad side. Her reaction – and subsequent refusal to forgive when I apologized profusely more than once – stunned and hurt me in return. It took a long time for me to be able to completely turn it over to the Lord and remember the occasion without pain. She moved away from our YSA ward shortly after the incident, and while I've talked to her a couple times since then, I don't think she's forgiven me. I'm not sure what else to do. It hurts to think that there is someone out there who is angry at me, but I've prayed and asked for forgiveness, and I don't think I can do anything else except let my own soul heal and love her should our paths cross again. Thought?

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  17. Great article. It made me realize how often I make my husband an offender for a word–if he doesn't read my mind or see the situation the way I do or leap in and help me when and exactly how I need it. I realized I need to extend forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt to him more as well.

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  18. For some reason this post is really resonating with me. A few years back I was offended by several people at church over something that was very important to me at the time. I sulked over it for a while and then I decided it wasn't that important and I let it go. Looking back I realized it was my lack of communication, (I wasn't going to church because I was on bed rest) with both my husband (men!) and my RS president put me in that situation. I learned that I was the one who chose to be offended in this situation. My husband and the RS president didn't intend to hurt me. I just need to say or write down, this is what I need right now. I also learned to never have my husband relay a message other than, "call me." He just gets busy at church and forgets anything more lengthy than that.

    Since then, I've tried to be more sensitive to others feelings. I hope that I have helped prevent some offense of some type. I've also noticed that some people just tend to get offended easily. I've wondered what is wrong with them that they would do that? A lot of it is that we are all so different! We are in different places in living the gospel. I've tried to keep that in mind.

    I think the real key to being offended is to decide before it happens that you will not be offended. Unless someone starts their comment with the phrase, "I don't mean to offend you but….." This usually means that what they are going to say you will find offensive. I've tried to avoid using that phrase. It's a big pet peeve of mine.

    I was also reminded of this fantastic conference talk by Elder Bednar on this topic. It's worth reading often. http://lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/and-nothing-shall-offend-them?lang=eng

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  19. The definition of offended= hurt or upset.

    I understand that you're trying to differentiate between the words we use and how those words make people FEEL. But the unfortunate bottom line is that no one can MAKE you feel anything. You choose your reaction, period.

    And I find it interesting that our church leaders, who carefully word each talk, still use the word "offended". Their talks are quite sensitive without selling-out the message.

    And in all honesty, most of the situations above are actually pretty funny if you step back. Way back. I think most people would benefit from a "chill pill".

    Time to get out and SERVE!

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  20. Excellent post, though it drives home for me that the way men relate to men in the ward is vastly different (and much simpler?) than the way women relate to women.

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  21. Thank you for opening your heart on this topic, Angela. It can be so hard to do just that — to open our hearts, especially when accused of some action. Self-justification or -defense often seems easier in the short term — either to get out of taking responsibility for our own actions, or to resist reaching out to those who may be hurting, putting the blame on them in a smug kind of a way.

    But I do think there is a flip side, as evidenced by this comment above: "I don’t think she’s forgiven me. I’m not sure what else to do. It hurts to think that there is someone out there who is angry at me, but I’ve prayed and asked for forgiveness, and I don’t think I can do anything else except let my own soul heal and love her should our paths cross again. Thought?"

    I've been in situations like this, too, where I really have felt God saying, "You've done your part. Let it go." We can't *make* people like us, and sometimes really toxic relationships can be built on this kind of dynamic.

    So for me, the bottom line is that I think only the Spirit can really help us discern the difference and help us look into our hearts to know whether we are holding back or holding grudges, or if we truly have done all we can do.

    I also really loved this:

    " As I’m thinking about it, I’m wondering if the purpose of visiting teaching, or at least one of the purposes of visiting teaching, is to teach women of different backgrounds to be reconciled to each other. "

    I think that is a key part of what the Church in general is about! Human relationships can be so hard, and I think that it is through difficult relationships that we really learn to become more like the Savior…who both loved and forgave His enemies AND understood boundaries and agency.

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  22. Angela,

    Thank you for this. I am guilty (more than I’d like to admit) of invalidating another’s concern by considering it petty. It is an easy road to figure that if I didn’t mean to give offense I can’t help it if someone took it, so it’s not my problem. But, as you said, what the other person should or shouldn’t have done is not my concern. Whether or not I meant to give offense is not the point either. The fact is that person feels justified in feeling how they do (they’re not making it up), so pretending on my part that it isn’t real isn’t going to help. I need to see their experience as real and valid (because it is for them) and proceed accordingly.

    Thanks for the reminder.

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  23. I'm learning in my "pattern changing" class for abused women that every one has a bill of rights and one of them is this: I have the right to not be liked by everyone. Knowing this right would of stoped the whole process right at the atart. You wouldn't have worried about what you said or what she said, but just excepted it and moved on being yourself when you are around her or not beacuse that is one of the rights too. I have he right to be me at any place and time. Just as you have these rights, so does she. That's the equality of it. Happy VTing!

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  24. It is difficult for me to respond to this. As the daughter of a man who has effectively left the church because he was "offended," I echo the sentiment that the offense he holds so dear was and is an excuse, a facade, a cover.

    My Dad has received multiple apologies, and the loss has been remedied by the Lord despite my father's attitude. Yet he remains disconnected from the church. The offense was the tangible thing my Dad could point to, he has other very private reasons for walking away from the gospel that have nothing to do with the offense. But when people ask him in a loving way why he doesn't participate he isn't about to bear his soul and sins, which he isn't willing to forsake.

    There is always something more behind the offense. People are not so simple that one thing really causes so much hurt, it is complicated, always.

    I appreciate Becky's comment. The offenses that I personally focus on are those against members of the Godhead: the Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, and God the Father.

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  25. Thanks so much for all your great input. It's an excellent discussion so far.

    I did want to respond to the Wicked C of the Northwest, who said:

    "I find it interesting that our church leaders, who carefully word each talk, still use the word 'offended'. Their talks are quite sensitive without selling-out the message. And in all honesty, most of the situations above are actually pretty funny if you step back. Way back. I think most people would benefit from a “chill pill”.

    Time to get out and SERVE!"

    I want to make clear that I'm not saying *I* am not required to avoid taking offense, especially over trifling things. But this post is not about being the one who has taken offense. It's about being the one who has GIVEN offense, and how our use of the word "offended," since it's such a potent word in our culture, can occasionally allow some of us to avoid behaving as Christ would have us behave. Our church leaders have spoken quite a bit about forgiveness, asking for forgiveness, humility, kindness, and reaching out with love to those who are struggling, even when it's hard. These are the behaviors I'm trying to explore in this post.

    And I also wanted to make the broader point, beyond my small personal experience, that our use of the word "offended" to describe those who have stopped coming to Church can sometimes 1. make us feel justified in not reaching out or trying to mend wounds and 2. become a stumbling block for those seeking to come back, since they feel that others believe their pain is petty, especially if real hurt has occurred and no responsibility has been taken or amends made for that hurt.

    If a bishop or other Church leader needs to help someone work through their propensity to take offense, that's one thing. But this is not MY job. My job is to love people to the best of my ability. And, as Emily f reminds us in her wonderful comment, sometimes we do just that — love, reach out, ask for forgiveness — and the person still won't respond. At that point, we have done our duty and should try to let it go. We can't make others forgive us. But we are required to try.

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  26. This was an interesting and timely post for me. As a very newly-called Primary president, it's been sobering over the past few weeks to realize that it's going to be almost impossible to avoid offending people. I already have several people who are not happy that we've released them from their callings (even though it was clear those releases need to happen). I've had more than one conversation with other people where it's become clear that if I make a certain decision or take a certain path, people are going to be hurt, even if it's the right path for our Primary. It can be almost paralyzing, for someone like me who can't bear the thought of offending people or not being liked, to ponder all the possibilities for giving unintended offense when you are leading an organization.

    Among other incidents, during VT'ing last week I learned that my new partner was offended by something careless but innocuous and unintended that my dh and I did seven years ago and is still hurt by it. SEVEN years ago. I had NO clue that this person was even thinking about this, as she's been friendly to me all these years. And she expected me to remember the incident like it was yesterday, while I honestly had no clue what she was talking about until well into the conversation. I admit to reacting much like you described at the beginning of your post–placing all the blame on her for feeling offended. And honestly, I still have very mixed feelings. I can't go back in time and change what happened. I can–and should–apologize. Yet I also just keep thinking, "Seven years!?" If I had realized that she was upset at the time, I believe I would have profusely apologized and tried to rectify the situation. But I didn't know. And so that's where I do think that she had the bulk of the responsibility to either come to me and tell me much sooner, or to let it go. 'Cause we can't make right something we don't know about. I think it was this incident, kind of the straw that broke the camel's back, that made me realize just what our leaders are getting when they give these talks putting the responsibility on the one offended to choose not to be offended. So in this particular situation, I'm still trying to figure out what my responsibility is for what happened.

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  27. I recently started a new job that involves a lot of customer service, and a lot of information that I need to know. The learning curve has been steep and I often feel like I don't know what I'm talking about. I know I've sometimes given wrong answers or said the wrong things, and I've had to deal with really grouchy people sometimes. I have also realized, as you've talked about in this post, that if I get defensive or put all the blame on the other person in the interaction, I don't learn anything. It's very humbling to say "I was wrong", "I'm sorry", "I could have said that better". But I have to learn and accepting that I've made a mistake is the first step to learning and changing. I've noticed that I actually usually remember better the things I did wrong the first time around–sometimes embarrassment is actually a good way to learn!

    I've also had plenty of experiences of hurting people (usually unintentionally) and feeling hurt (also usually unintentionally) at church. It's hard sometimes to just keep going and to keep trying to build good relationships with people, since I think that's a key reason for why we attend church.

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  28. The point of our imperfect interactions at Church and elsewhere is for us to learn from our mistakes. We should all be rough stones rolling towards a more spherical shape due to bouncing off one another.

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  29. Wow. Angela, way to make my morning/early afternoon have thinking involving something other than Thomas the Tank engine! You know there's good commentary when you find yourself wanting to take notes on replying to those whoa re making such great points. I loved this. I love the concept of replacing offended with "hurt" in our minds…. not because offended isn't the "right" word, but because the denotation and connotations of things become so twisted with use that we get confused by them. Like the definition of Charity (the pure love of Christ) and charity 9service and or welfare monetary assistance in some instances..). Or so many others. To redefine offended so as to remind ourselves that the pain felt by offense, intentional or not, is emotional hurt and needs healing, whether by our own choice to accept the atonement and heal, or by our choice to help administer healing to others as best we can, is essential to an firm understanding of this concept, I think. Angela, excellent job, and thank you for provoking all this thought and commentary… and all, I appreciate your doing so in a NON offensive way, lol.

    I particularly love what Jen (#16) said, and Ana (#21). how often I take offense at something my husband says? Way tooooooooo often. Is it ALL my fault? Is it ALL his? Neither…. as we're continuing to work on our trust with each other, and learn how to communicate, we both make mistakes, some intentional, some unintentional. thank you for the reminder that this concept applies to my family as well… if i can convince that to my ten year old daughter who is hormonal, however….

    Emily (#20) your commentary made me think so much of a dear friend I had in high school. Everyone knew not to "mess with," or "get on the bad side of" her. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I had offended her one time too many (this time by daring to get engaged too early for her liking) that she spat back angry words at me and I retreated from the relationship. I longed for her friendship often, but dared not return to it, realizing finally what I had glossed over too many times before. Though each of our friendship circle "knew" not to offend her, and that she would get back at us, or be offensive as possible in return, and each knew to walk on eggshells around her, none of us realized that by enabling that behavior, we were helping create a more and more insecure person (in ourselves and within her own self) AND putting up with verbal abuse. Yes, she had a short fuse. Some folks do, even good, kind, Christian folks struggle with that problem. Otherwise we would be practically impossible to offend, offense meant or not! BUT….it wasn't until I had distance from that friendship that i could realize how unhealthy it was… on both sides. Several years later (this was fifteen years ago, btw) we became friends again. I reached out to her, gently, and she reached back. It is partially due to my marriage that she had the courage to accept the proposal of her sweet husband, after years and years of distrust of men. Are we as close as we once were? no. she has no power over me in that way. However, our relationship is matured in a good way. So… if you have reached and your friend cannot reach back, yet, there may be something preventing her from doing so. You were brave to not allow her verbal abuse of you (and, it sounds like, others) to control your situation. If you have apologized and attempted to reach in love and true Charity towards her, you do not need to "fix" it. not everybody, as Becky (28) mentioned, has to like you…. and that might be their problem, not having to do with you.

    I think when we come back to the concept of Charity, that it suffers long, is kind, doesn't envy, isn't puffed up, isn't seeking "her own" (as we all are so wont to do, teaching and hanging out with those similar to ourselves in whatever way), and not being easily provoked…. all the things I'm trying to teach my kids, and still trying to learn myself. Perhaps the opposite of the pride that causes and accepts offense is the pure love of Christ?

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  30. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing!

    I often think about my 'foot in mouth' moments and like many here feel haunted by them. And, as many here have noted, sometimes right after someone has been wounded, they aren't able to listen anymore and we aren't able to explain things away.

    I hope that karma kicks in and that when I forgive others who say or do stupid things to me, somehow the Lord helps heal those who I've hurt. Sometimes I wonder how much of all this stuff will spill over and need to be fixed into heaven before we can become perfect.

    In Heaven will we . . .

    *at some point learn of the times we unknowingly severely or seriously hurt others?

    * be made aware of the stumbling blocks we have been to others, and be asked to remove those?

    *have the opportunity to meet people we have became estranged from (death, moving, 'offenses'), and consequently at that point need to ask forgiveness/give forgiveness?

    *receive apologies from others as they move through their growing processes?

    *be required to make amends with others before continuing on our eternal paths?

    In other words, in heaven will we be like 'My Name is Earl' running around crossing things off our lists?

    Then, at other times I think that sounds silly and we might all just in a very efficient way get together and all agree that, "Hey, there was an atonement, let's just move on. Earth life sucked, it was hard for everyone. We all stepped on each' other's toes down there. Heck, we were only using 10% of our brains!Glad we're through! We learned a lot of lessons and are better for it. What's next?"

    We're talking about foot-in-mouth styndrome for the most part, but does this equate to murder, abuse, theft, etc.?

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  31. Just one more thought,

    I find it interesting is that our trivializing of 'offenses' originated in pioneer days when 'offenses' where actually more like life-and-death issues. The Marsh's milk strippings fable as past down in mormon folklore is a terribly inaccurate story!

    Common early LDS 'offenses' resulting in apostacy or church estrangement often revolved around:

    *Water rights (life threatening in a dessert!)

    *land disputes (again, life threatening in an agrarian society)

    *Property, animals, homes, etc. Again, life-sustaining in a shaky early agrarian society.

    *Polygamy

    *Accusations (he said/she said you are dishonest, a liar, adulterer, fill in the blank ____). This type of slander could result in shunning from the community, could decimate chances for marraige, and even cause spiritual repercussions if one's reputation was muddied such that he/she and the entire family could not obtain saving ordinances.

    *Loss of social standing (by insults, backbiting, foot in mouth syndrome, etc.) meant a loss in social capital. Social capital in a homogenous religious society affected everything from business interactions to church standing, family reputation, your entire social existence, your standing with those whom you symbiotically relied upon for survival, etc. It meant essentially everything.

    I don't see anyone stepping back and laughing at how trivial these 'offenses' were!

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  32. I've been thinking about this post a lot, and it seems that there are points along the continuum between "hurt" and "offend." There are times I've been hurt by what someone has said, and times when I've been offended. The "offense" usually comes when something attacks my pridefulness, and the "hurt" comes when it affects something deeper, more personal. For example, my wife and I were unable to have children; none of those she carried to term survived. Althought it wasn't the best of choices, sometimes we tried to replace the emptiness with "stuff." Offense comes regularly in a church that almost fetishizes fertility. One of the hardest sacrament meetings we ever attended was a Mother's Day where the bishop asked all the women to stand, and to keep standing for the next higher number of children the women had. Did my wife sit down immediately, or keep standing for the number of pregnancies we had? We learned to develop a thick skin on that, and to avoid church on Mother's Day.

    The "hurt" came when we were accused of choosing the stuff over the children. We both would rather have lived in a mud hut with all those pregnancies carried to term and the children surviving, but life did not give us that option. We did the best we could with the hand we were given.

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  33. I had written a post about being offended not long ago. I agree with you. We tend to blame the person who is offended which takes the responsibility off our shoulders.

    Although you did not purposely intend to hurt someone there are people in our wards who do, or are completely insensitive. To blame someone else for being hurt (which is really what is going on) is unfair.

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  34. I remember once, I asked a question in a Sunday School class. The next class member who spoke was so dismissive of my question that I was insulted. I felt almost as though I had been slapped. My breath caught in my throat, my skin flushed, and I looked down into my scriptures to hide the tears that fell from my eyes. I was hurt and offended, but I didn’t say anything. Two days later I found out I was pregnant. Later that week, I miscarried. I think my strong reaction to his comment was related to my physical and hormonal condition. And although I knew at the time that he intended no offense, and was completely unaware of how his words were received by me, that didn’t diminish my reaction. I’m very glad I didn’t make a scene or huff out of the room or in some other way make public my hurt. Because it passed, and I could see that the comments, the entire discussion, weren’t that big of a deal. I was hurt privately, and I forgave privately.

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  35. Thank you for these insightful comments. It took me a long to time to learn that when others do things that seem unkind or offensive they are most often hurting. What a relief to know it isn't always because of me.

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  36. Wonderful post, Angela.

    I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments, as well. jendoop's #29 and CS Eric's #37, especially, added insight into the overall topic that was important for me.

    I like the distinction between "being offended" and "being hurt" – but, as an "outsider", it really is almost impossible in some situations to know which one is more accurate. In those cases, I believe it is critical to try to view the person as charitably as is possible – which probably means adopting the "hurt" view over the "offended" view. I know there are plenty of cases, like jendoop describes, that really are much more someone being offended than being hurt (more the fault of the person doing the distancing than the one being blamed) – but, lacking clarity and personal insight, I believe it is important to see the person as "hurt" and in need.

    Again, thank you for a wonderful, thought-provoking post.

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  37. I really loved this post. I wish every time someone gave a talk or lesson on not being offended, it would be followed up by one on not giving offense.

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  38. Saw this come through my FB feed tonite and thought of this post:

    "Accepting the gift of another's humanity means recognizing that the choices others make are not *our* affair. Our concern must be limited to our own right conduct, not theirs; we need to concentrate not so much on the choices others make as on the choices *we* make. (see Bonds That Make Us Free, p. 299)"

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  39. Love this, Angela, your honesty. Been there, done that.

    I've only recently begun to describe my feelings as hurt, instead of anger. Anger is powerful, hurt, not so much. But we all, even career whiners, are usually coming from a place of pain which we interpret as offense. It is something inside of us–that little voice that says "she said women should go to college, you suck because you didn't" and then we start arguing inside ourselves and vent outwardly.

    I'm not going to dispute that people can hurt us. I've never bought into that "choose to be offended or hurt" train of thought, although, I've had the very best of intentions at times and people have gotten mad at me.

    We are called to be Christians. If we can emulate the Savior and see further into people's souls, we might find a way to make a connection and ameliorate the hurt that we have unwittingly caused in each other.

    I spent a couple of years mad at my stake president for something he said to me, only to finally confront him with it and find out he meant something entirely different (and frankly flattering) than I'd interpreted.

    "get out and serve?" gag a maggot.

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  40. JAT, love your comments. And yes, I think we will have to do those things. For most of us (excluding Hitler-like people)I don't think it will take an inordinate amount of time. Of course, time in the spirit world is relative.

    I recently had an experience where it was made known to me that my first grade teacher (over 50 years ago) who'd hit, shook and verbally abused me experienced exactly what you described and she felt terrible remorse for what she did to me.

    I still feel badly for my little girl self, but knowing she truly regrets what she did totally took the sting out of that memory.

    We will all regret. All of us. In that, we are equal before God. It's so easy to make ourselves the wounded hero of our own story–one of my best things, really–but Jesus paid that price for all of us and thank God, in the end the hurt will be lifted.

    Those of us who learn that earlier are really the lucky ones.

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  41. More great points, everybody. Thank you. Annegb, thank you for this, especially: "We will all regret. All of us. In that, we are equal before God. It’s so easy to make ourselves the wounded hero of our own story–one of my best things, really–but Jesus paid that price for all of us and thank God, in the end the hurt will be lifted."

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  42. I see that you are a nice person who does not say mean things on purpose. As such, it may make it harder for you to ever identify with mistakes.

    I have heard people say how a person is responsible for their own membership and of course we all bear responsibility for ourselves. But that does not mean that we do not have a need to have people make right wrongs or that a person has the right to offend.

    I think different people filter the world in different ways. While I may have been hurt sometimes, I am not a black and white thinker and I can see so much good done by the other person. Others may gravitate more to the offense.

    Nevertheless, I do believe in trying to soothe the pain and validate the pain for a time in hopes that the compassion will bring healing. I don't have to make the person a bad guy to acknowledge that things can hurt.

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