My action plan

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Introduction

On 19.8.20. I posted an article called “My dilemma”. It described the inner conflicts I face each time someone behaves unacceptably towards me. As a Christian, should I speak out, or should I say nothing? Jesus used both of these approaches at different times in his life, so I have never been able to reach a conclusion about how I should respond.

Unfortunately, this uncertainty means that regardless of how I handle each individual situation, I ruminate for months afterwards about what happened, and whether I reacted correctly. My endless self-questioning generates a constant sense of guilt, worry and dread, which I find impossible to shake off, and which can easily lead me into depression.

Since writing that article, I have spent a lot of time praying, reflecting, and talking this issue over with others. From the insights gained, I have put together an action plan to follow next time a hurtful situation arises.

Rather than seeing my response as a straight choice between speaking out and staying silent, I am now treating it as a series of stages, each of which is open to reflection before taking any further action.

1. Withdraw, pray, reflect

So, from now on, when someone behaves unacceptably towards me, I will withdraw to sleep on what happened for at least one night, taking time out to pray and reflect before responding. This will prevent me from reacting in the heat of the moment, with a high risk of damaging both the other person, and our relationship.

2. Decide whether or not to speak out 

A. If I decide it is pointless, or inappropriate, to speak out to the person concerned, I need take the matter no further. Instead, I will work on forgiving them, and praying for them.

B. If I decide to tell the other person how their behaviour has affected me, I need to think carefully about how best to approach them, perhaps by email, text, a phone call, or by arranging a meeting. It’s important to remember that they may have had no intention at all of upsetting me, and may therefore be taken very much by surprise when I raise the subject.

3. Speak out briefly, and lovingly

If I decide to give the person feedback, I will do so as briefly and lovingly as possible. My aim will simply be to remind them of what they said or did, and to be honest about how it has hurt or disturbed me. Anything beyond this is superfluous, and risks generating angry retaliation.

4. Wait to see if there is a response

A. If the other person doesn’t respond, there is no need for me to say any more. The matter is finished, and I will let it go. Each of us is responsible for our own behaviour, and I can’t expect everyone to respond as I wish. Instead, I will focus on loving them, forgiving them, and praying for them.

B. If the other person contacts me, I will take time to consider how best to reply, depending on what they say:

i. If they take responsibility for their behaviour, and apologise, I will accept this immediately, reassuring them that I have completely forgiven them. We will be reconciled, and the whole matter will be closed.

ii. If they react hurtfully, I will withdraw, considering the matter as being finished. Anything else is pointless, and risks generating more damage. Of course, I will still forgive them, and pray for them, but I can choose not to expose myself to further hurtful behaviour, in order to protect my own mental health.

5. Start again

Finally, if, despite doing my very best, the situation doesn’t work out as I hoped, or turns out badly, I will resolve to put it behind me, and start again. Every time I find myself ruminating about what happened, I will remind myself that it’s finished. There is always more to learn in life, and I can refine my action plan in the light of each new experience.

Conclusion

Throughout my life, when anyone hurts me, I’ve never known whether I should be honest with them, or say nothing. When I say nothing, I am left with a burden of powerlessness and distress. When I speak out, and the other person reacts angrily, I am left with a burden of guilt and dread, believing that I have sinned, and that the breakdown in relationship is all my fault.

From now on, when someone hurts me, I will remind myself immediately that I always have choices about how to respond, and that I have an action plan to follow. My overall aim will be to keep a careful, Christian balance between being honest, preserving relationships, and protecting my own mental health.

Image: Mustangloe, Pixabay


Acknowledgement

My warmest thanks to all those who have engaged in discussing this issue with me, especially Alan, Dianne, and John. Your contributions have been invaluable.


References

Introduction

Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21; NIV).

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them (Luke 17:3-4; NIV).

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7; NLT).

The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me (Job 30:27; NIV).

1. Withdraw, pray, reflect

Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer (Luke 5:16; NLT).

The Lord of Hosts […] is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance (Isaiah 28:29; NKJV).

Harsh words make tempers flare (Proverbs 15:1; NLT).

Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back (Proverbs 29:11; NLT).

2. Decide whether or not to speak out

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there [and] Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-4; NIV).

When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins (Mark 11:25; NLT).

3. Speak out briefly, and lovingly

Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).

4. Wait to see if there is a response

Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you (Luke 6:27-8; NLT).

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them (Luke 17:3-4; NIV).

NB Matthew doesn’t mention whether the person has to say sorry or not:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:20-21; NLT).

5. Start again

Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-9; NLT).

I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly (Ecclesiastes 1:17; NLT).

Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40; KJV).

Conclusion

Be angry but do not sin (Ephesians 4:26; RSV).

I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say (Psalm 39:1; NLT).

Love your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27; NLT).

To acquire wisdom is to love oneself (Proverbs 19:8; NLT).

At least (#1 of 2 linked prayers)

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He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out the flickering candle
(Matthew 12:20; NLT).

Lord,

1. When I can’t help someone,
May I, at least,
Not accidentally hurt them.

2. And when I accidentally hurt them,
May I, at least,
Not add to their distress
By failing to grasp
The damage I’ve done.

3. And when I fail to grasp
The damage I’ve done,
May I, at least,
Not add to their pain
By blaming them
For their response
To what I said,
Or did,
Or failed to do.

When I try to pray

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Father,

1. When I try to pray
In vain,
Wearied by distress,
Or fear, or pain,

2. Help me, instead, to rest
Safe in your hand,
Because you care,
And always understand.


References

1. The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26; RSV).

I am weary from distress (Psalm 57:6; NLT).

2. Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28; NLT).

The Lord will hold you in his hand (Isaiah 62:3; NLT).

He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7; NIV).

God understands all hearts (Proverbs 24:12; NLT).

Help me, Lord

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Help me, Lord (Psalm 109:26; NLT).

1. Help me, Lord,
To live with my poor body,
So I can bear the damage
Life has done.

2. Help me, Lord,
To catch my careless judgments,
So I can change them,
Growing like your Son.

3. Help me, Lord,
To face my darkest moments,
So I can share them with you
Day by day.

4. Help me, Lord,
To find you in my spirit,
So I may rest with you
Along the way.


References

1. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested (Hebrews 2:18; NLT).

2. We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5; NIV).

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you (Luke 6:37; NLT).

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him (Colossians 3:10; NLT).

3. Lord, see my anguish! My heart is broken and my soul despairs (Lamentations 1:20; NLT).

You have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul (Psalm 31:7; NLT).

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me (Psalm 23:4; NLT).

4. You will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all soul (Deuteronomy 4:29; NIV).

Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us (Colossians 3:11; NLT).

Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28; NLT).

Help us all (for M.R.)

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Lord,

1. Please help us all
Throughout today:
Those who are lonely,
Those who’ve lost their way;

2. Those who are hungry, homeless,
Those who’ve strayed;
Those who are grieving,
Comfortless, afraid;

3. Those who are sick, or dying,
Old, distressed;
Those who are longing
For your peace and rest;

4. Those who have ceased to hope,
And cannot pray:
Father, please help us all
Throughout today.

Work without resentment

1. Help me, Lord,
To work without resentment,

2. Carrying my cross
Without complaint.

3. Then help me, Lord,
To wait on you in silence,

4. So I can serve afresh,
Without restraint.

References

1. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:39-42; NLT).

What gain has he that he toiled for the wind, and spent all his days in darkness and grief, in much vexation and sickness and resentment? (Ecclesiastes 5:17; RSV).

2. Then he said to them all, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23; NIV).

3. Be silent before the Lord, all humanity (Zechariah 2:13; NLT).

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28; NIV).

4. Serve him wholeheartedly (Joshua 24:14; NLT).

Born again

1. When you send us into exile
We are born of human flesh –
Our chance to seek your only Son,
Who shares all our distress.

2. When we give our lives to him, Lord,
We are born on earth anew,
But this time of your Spirit,
Who helps us to grow like you.

3. When we take our final breath
We are reborn in heaven above,
To rest with you forever,
Reunited, Lord, in love.

 

References

1. I sent them away to exile and brought them home again (Ezekiel 39:28; NLT).
Keep on seeking, and you will find (Matthew 7:7; NLT).
In all their suffering he also suffered (Isaiah 63:9; NLT).

2. If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23; NLT).
Unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3; NLT).
You can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit (John 3:8; NLT).
Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:24; NLT).

3. The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).
Return, O my soul, to your rest (Psalm 116:7; ESV).
You have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God (1 Peter 1:23; NLT).

Distress

My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out (Psalm 40:12; NLT).

1. Father,
You forgive my sins
As soon as I confess,
But I cannot forgive myself,
So I am in distress.

2. Father,
You wipe out my sins
Once I have made amends;
But I cannot forgive myself,
For I have hurt my friends.

3. Father,
You forget my sins;
You’re merciful and kind;
But I cannot forgive myself,
Or leave them far behind.

4. Father,
You remove my sins;
You love to heal, and give;
Please help me to forgive myself,
Then I’ll be free to live.

References

1. He forgives all my sins (Psalm 103:3; NLT).
I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone (Psalm 32:5; NLT).
I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me (Psalm 51:3; NIV).

2. The blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7; NLT).
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God (Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).

3. I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins (Jeremiah 31:34; NLT).
How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! (Psalm 11:6; NLT).

4. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12; NLT).
He heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3; NIV).
He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy (Psalm 68:6; NLT).
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10; NIV).