When I was ten years old I owned a Crossman 766 pellet gun and was proud to know that my peers shot with far inferior models. There was a little strut in my shot when we waited in the back yard that Summer to send some squirrels and chipmunks to an early grave. One August evening I began to wonder what it would look like to catch fireflies (we called them lightning bugs) and force them down the barrel of the air rifle, pump it up to its maximum capacity while removing the pellets and then pull the trigger for an air-only shot. I can still remember standing in the driveway of our home in Lilburn and watching the sky illuminate with the a neon-yellow luminescence as a dozen or so fireflies exploded from the tip of the rifle with a gentle poof. Going for another round of death I hurried to jack the forearm pump on the rife as quickly as I could in order to proceed with further insect assassination. In my haste, my thumb slipped into the mechanism that attached the plastic forearm to the stock of the gun and on the next pump I sliced deeply into the tip of my thumb. The wrath of God had fallen on me for killing bugs without due process. I’m not sure but I think I heard the roar of thousands of nearby lightning bugs mocking me as I wept and wrapped my bleeding thumb in my shirt and called it a day. I had been unexpectedly cut and the fun and games came to an end. Today, more than three decades later, I can still see the half-circle chunk on my left thumb where the damage was done.
Some of you are being sliced up right now. Back in fifth grade I suffered that evening from a self-inflicted wound and, frankly, got what I deserved. You, however, know the pain of receiving an unexpected cut from somewhere or someone that you never expected. Someone has been talking about you. Their words are being loosed, heard, received and believed. Somebody did some damage to your name and the hurt is very real. This year has been that kind of year for me also and I am learning that there is little you or I can do when sharp tongues slice into our lives, our reputations and our hearts.
The wounds of slander and gossip will heal but usually leave raised scars.
What will you do about that person who misunderstands and subsequently misrepresents you? Will you label them as evil, wicked, hateful and unholy? It may be possible for you to go in that direction with what you think of them but I offer an alternative for you to consider: maybe they just got it wrong about you but are convinced that they have it right. It could be that they think they are sharing truth that needs to be shared. Maybe they are not evil but, instead, misinformed and miscalculating when they share their words with others. We tend to up the ante when we find ourselves on the wounded side of someone’s words about us. It is much easier to believe that they are a cousin to Linda Blair in The Exorcist and that, when they finish supper each night, their head spins around and the devil takes ownership of their vocal chords as they engage in warfare against who you know yourself to be. I have to slow down and really think when I am being ill-spoken of. Part of the downside of public ministry is that you are living out your life in front of many eyes and no one pair of onlooking orbs sees the same thing about you. What is it that people see about you that causes them to draw conclusions and express opinions that are inaccurate and hurtful? Is it really as simple as them being evil and you being the just and victimized one? I do not believe this is the norm. I cannot count how many times I have drawn inaccurate conclusions about others and later come to understand how wrong I was about them. You have misjudged others before and it should be no wonder when the same thing happens to you. Yet we rarely place the same stringent evaluation upon our own tendency to get it wrong about others as we do when they get it wrong about us. We will admit our mistakes in our mis-evaluations (if we have integrity, that is) but we never think that we were evil or malicious. Yet we quickly ascribe that depth of malice to those who misjudge us and publicly share their conclusions. I need further help from God in this area. Jesus told us to treat those who act as enemies with love. We are to remain open and gracious, merciful and kind to those who spear us with slander or gossip. Most of the time, I find myself looking for my Crossman 766 and want to light up the night sky with my detractors. Certainly God is not pleased with the disparity in our reactions. So I think I will leave us with a simple word of counsel and two verses of scripture.
My counsel: Shhhhhhh. Draw conclusions about others if you must but do not speak them. Chances are, if you wait a while longer, you will see that you miscalculated and they aren’t the head-spinning miscreant you thought they were.
Scripture for those being misjudged and misrepresented:
“If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from Me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you.” – Isaiah 54:15
“Indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…” – 2 Thessalonians 1:6
These verses remind me that, if by chance you truly are dealing with a hostile, vindictive assailing person who seeks your reputational harm…then your Father will see to it that the scales are balanced. Wait for Him and go about your business. Most of the people around you actually think you are a pretty great person.