Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes on what lies before you. (Proverbs 4:25; NLT).
I fix my eyes Beyond this world –
Who shares my life.
I fix my mind Beyond this grief –
Who shares my loss.
I fix my heart
Beyond this fear –
Who shares my dread.
I fix my soul
Beyond this pain –
Who shares my cross.
I focus on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3:13-14; NLT).
This blog is about dealing with hurt feelings. In three short articles, it charts my learning over a period of several months.
1. My dilemma – written on 19.8.20.
Image: level17-design, Pixabay
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me
(Job 30:27; NIV).
Introduction During the summer of 2020, two people hurt me badly, on separate occasions. I decided to be direct with them, and did so as lovingly as I could. However, both reacted to my feedback with anger and blame, and neither was willing to work together towards reconciliation.
My dilemma: Should I speak out, or say nothing? This breakdown in two significant relationships left me ruminating for many weeks about all that had gone wrong, generating a constant sense of dread. Sadly, this was not a new experience. Dealing with hurt feelings has posed a serious dilemma for me throughout my life: is it better to speak out to those concerned, or to say nothing?
What did Jesus say and do? As always, when I don’t know what to do for the best, I looked for guidance in the teaching and example of Jesus. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt, criticism, and injustice, which I have always found confusing.
For example, on one occasion he stated: If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3; NIV).
Yet he also said: If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also (Matthew 5:39; NLT).
So, what happens when I try to follow each of these two apparently very different approaches?
Speaking out Experience has taught me that when I speak out directly to someone who has hurt me, it almost always backfires. In response to my feedback, they turn on me with anger and blame, or end our relationship. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic endless sense of dread.
Saying nothing On the other hand, when I say nothing, I allow the other person to hurt me without protesting, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. This makes me feel powerless, worthless, and depressed.
Thus, whichever approach I try, I generally end up feeling as if life is not worth living.
Forgiveness Fortunately, Jesus was absolutely clear that whether or not we speak out, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never acknowledge what they have done, and never apologise. Forgiveness gives me something positive to work on during the months of emotional distress which follow each time someone upsets me.
Conclusion When people hurt me, I see myself as having only two basic choices: to speak out, or to say nothing. Either way, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health. Not knowing how to resolve this dilemma has plagued me all my life, and remains a serious problem to this day.
After writing the piece above, I began to talk my dilemma over with a few, trusted people for the first time ever. Gradually, my thinking about it began to change, as described in the next article.
2. My action plan – written on 30.8.20.
Image: Jackson David, Pixabay
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).
Introduction After writing the above article, I spent a long time working out how to improve my ways of relating to those who hurt me. From the insights gained, I gradually put together an action plan to follow whenever a crisis arises.
My action plan Rather than seeing my response as a stark choice between speaking out and saying nothing, I decided to tackle each situation in a series of stages.
Stage 1: Withdraw, pray, reflect When someone behaves unacceptably towards me, I will not confront the person involved immediately. Instead, I will simply tell them that I need time to reflect on what they have said or done. I will then withdraw to sleep on the matter for at least one night. Taking time out will enable me to pray, discuss the situation with someone I trust, and think carefully, before responding. This should help to prevent me from reacting angrily in the heat of the moment, with a high risk of permanently damaging the other person, our relationship, and myself.
Stage 2: Decide whether or not to be honest During the time out, if I decide it is pointless, or inappropriate, to speak directly to the person concerned, I need take the matter no further. Instead, I will work on praying for them, and forgiving them.
On the other hand, if I decide to tell the other person how their behaviour has affected me, I need to remember that they may have had no intention, or awareness, of upsetting me, and might therefore be very taken aback when I raise the subject.
Stage 3: Speak out briefly, and lovingly When I decide to give direct feedback, I will do so as briefly and lovingly as possible. I will remind the person of what they said or did, and be honest about how it has hurt me. Anything beyond this is superfluous.
Stage 4: Wait to see how the person responds If the other person reacts badly, there is no need for me to do anything further. We are all responsible for our own behaviour, and I can’t expect everyone to respond exactly as I wish. Instead, I will try to put the whole matter behind me, though I admit that I have always found this impossible.
On the other hand, if the other person reacts positively, and apologises, I will accept this immediately, forgiving them completely. We can then be reconciled, and the whole matter will be resolved.
Stage 5: Start afresh Finally, however badly things turn out, I can try to start afresh each day. Every time I find myself ruminating about what happened, I will remind myself that the matter is now closed, and that it’s time for me to move on.
Conclusion From now on, when someone hurts me, I have an action plan to follow. My overall aim will be to maintain a careful balance between being speaking out, preserving relationships, and protecting my mental health.
After finishing this article, I made further progress in dealing with hurt feelings, as described in the final piece of this series.
3. My further learning – written on 23.1.21.
Image: Manfred Antranias Zimmer, Pixabay
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves
(Philippians 2:3; NLT).
Introduction Despite my hopes, putting together my action plan didn’t make me feel any better about my two shattered relationships. I was still living with constant dread, which drained my already very limited energy. My sleep and dreams were disturbed, and I began to slip into depression. Clearly, my approach to dealing with hurt feelings was incomplete.
Then, one day, I suddenly realised that when I’ve been honest with someone about their behaviour towards me, and they have taken it badly, or stopped speaking to me, there is one more step I can take, in the hope of resolving the situation.
One more step I can write to the person concerned, saying how sorry I am about everything that has gone wrong between us. I can tell them that I’m praying for them, and for our relationship, and let them know that I long for us to be reconciled. Even if they don’t respond, I will then know that I have done all I possibly can to put things right between us.
This insight enabled me to write carefully and lovingly to the two people who had hurt me. To my delight, one responded with great generosity of spirit, though sadly the other did not reply. However, by sending these letters, I finally managed to stop ruminating about all that had gone wrong. In consequence, my abiding sense of dread slowly began to diminish.
The teaching of Mother Theresa At this point, I believed my action plan was complete. Some weeks later, though, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s teaching about how to deal with exactly the kind of hurtful situations that had destroyed my peace of mind for so many months.
In her book, “The Joy in Loving” (Penguin Books, 2000), Mother Theresa offers brief but powerful advice on how to become more humble, and therefore more Christ-like. The wording varies slightly in different editions of the book, so I have amalgamated the most relevant points into a single list which hopefully maintains the spirit of her approach:
Do not dwell on the faults of others.
Accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.
Accept insults and injuries.
Accept being slighted and disliked.
Accept contempt, being disregarded, and being forgotten.
Be courteous, kind, and gentle, even when provoked.
Inspired by the simplicity and clarity of these teachings, I began to absorb and practice them. Not long afterwards a friend unexpectedly censured me for something which was not under my control. Feeling hurt, I began to defend myself, but quickly recalled Mother Theresa’s wise words, “Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.” I stopped speaking, and turned away. Overwhelmed by despair, I started to weep. To my friend’s credit, she quickly realised how much she had hurt me. She approached me, apologising profusely. We clung together for a long time in great distress, comforting each other. Eventually I was able to explain how afraid I had been of her sudden anger, and how much her words had upset me. I told her that I loved and valued her, and we were fully reconciled.
Humility, acceptance and courtesy This was a deeply healing experience, unlike anything I had previously experienced. Moreover, it was not followed by dread, or depression, which seemed little short of a miracle. I therefore resolved to adopt Mother Theresa’s approach of responding with humility, acceptance, courtesy, kindness and forgiveness whenever someone hurts me.
Conclusion These three linked articles have described how I resolved my lifelong dilemma about the best way to respond when someone hurts me. I no longer see myself as having a straight, binary choice between speaking out and saying nothing. Nor do I need a complex action plan that relies on how the other person reacts at each stage. Instead, from now on, whenever I am criticised or attacked, I will use the simple, humble approach encapsulated in Mother Theresa’s teaching.
To my delight, this completely resolves my original dilemma, as it is entirely in accordance with the spirit of Christ’s own words: Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also […] Then your reward in heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High (Luke 6:27-9, 35; NLT).
There can be no finer action plan than this.
My warmest thanks to all those who engaged in discussing this issue with me, especially Alan, Dianne, Rosemary, and John. Their contributions have been invaluable. Many thanks also to Ber, whose technical help and personal encouragement enabled me to write and organise this document.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
and knows what lies hidden in darkness (Daniel 2:22; NLT).
1. You know I’ve been abused.
I’m traumatised, and scarred.
I’ve had to live with shame, dread
And depression. It’s been hard.
2. My physical and mental health
Have failed, time and again.
I’m sure my mother never guessed
Her rage would cause such pain.
3. Since then, I’ve tried to be
A Good Samaritan each day,
But now I see that I, too, was attacked
Along the way –
4. Stripped and beaten, left half dead,
Despised, passed by, ignored,
Then you drew near to care for me,
My Priest, my God, my Lord.
5. At last, I’ve grasped your promise,
And your plan has been revealed:
My suffering will end one day –
In death, I will be healed.
1. God has seen your abuse (Genesis 31:42; NLT).
2. The tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself (James 3:6; NLT).
No one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8; NLT).
The tongue can bring life or death (Proverbs 18:21; NLT).
They live wicked lives and they misuse their power (Jeremiah 23:10; NET).
You did not reflect on your actions or think about their consequences (Isaiah 47:7; NLT).
3. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers (Luke 10:30; NIV).
4. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road (Luke 10:30; NLT).
By chance, a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side (Luke 10:31-2; NLT).
I am insignificant and despised (Psalm 119:141; NLT).
I look for someone to come and help me, but no one gives me a passing thought! No one will help me; no one cares a bit about what happens to me (Psalm 142:4; NLT).
Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine, and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, “Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here” (Luke 10:33-35; NLT).
I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you (Hosea 14:8; NLT).
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess (Hebrews 4:15; NIV).
“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:28; NLT).
5. My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled (Psalm 119:123; NLT).
We receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22; NLT).
This is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6; NLT).
The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever ( Revelation 21:3-4; NLT).
2. Dark dread,
3. Black scorn,
4. New faith,
New love: New Way!
1. The star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was (Matthew 2:9; NLT).
A child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6; NLT).
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6; NLT).
I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life (John 8:12; NLT).
2. Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44; NIV).
If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39; NLT).
The traitor, Judas, had given them a pre-arranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard.” As soon as they arrived, Judas walked up to Jesus. “Rabbi!” he exclaimed, and gave him the kiss. Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him (Mark 14:44-46; NLT).
3. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!” (Matthew 27:42; NLT).
When they came to the place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross [and] Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-4; NLT).
Jesus called out with a loud voice […] “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” […] Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last (Mark 15:34,37; NLT).
By this time was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock (Luke 23:44; NLT).
4. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:27-9; NLT).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3; CSB).
I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other (John 13:34; NLT).
Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit (Romans 7:6; NLT).
Be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him (Colossians 3:10; NLT).