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.

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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).

My dilemma

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Introduction

Two people have hurt me badly in the last few weeks. In both cases, after some thought, I was honest with those involved, expressing my response as lovingly as I could. However, they both reacted with anger and blame. Sadly, offering to meet for reconciliation has brought no response.

Since then, I repeatedly go over all that happened, which generates a constant, painful, and exhausting sense of dread.

The crux of my anxiety is that when someone hurts me, I don’t know whether I should speak out, or say nothing. Each approach has different consequences.


What did Jesus say and do?

As always, I look for guidance in Jesus’ teaching and example. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt and injustice, which I find confusing.

Until his arrest, Jesus always spoke the truth in love when people criticised or insulted him. He was, in fact, very direct. His honesty made him a lot of enemies, and contributed to his death.

After his arrest, Jesus said very little, no matter what he was accused of, and how he was treated. This puzzled his captors, perhaps antagonising them even more.

Over the years, I’ve tried both approaches. What happens when I follow Christ’s example in these two, very different, ways?


A. Speaking out

When I “speak the truth in love”, it almost always backfires. The person I’ve been honest with turns on me, angrily blaming me for what I said, even though it was their own hurtful behaviour towards me that I spoke about. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic chronic dread.


B. Saying nothing

When I say nothing, I simply allow the other person to hurt me, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. Without feedback, of course, there is a risk that they may continue to damage me. This makes me feel helpless and powerless, worsening my chronic depression.

Either way, I can easily end up feeling as if life is not worth living.


Forgiveness

Fortunately, Jesus is absolutely clear that whether we speak out or say nothing, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never recognise what they have done, and never say they are sorry.


Conclusion

When people hurt me, I ruminate endlessly about how I responded, and what went wrong. Whether I speak out or say nothing, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health.

Worse still, I also feel guilty for having “caused” the other person to strike back angrily at me, and to hate me from then onwards.

So, when someone hurts me, should I speak out, or say nothing? I still don’t know the answer to this question, which has plagued me all my life. All I can do is to pray for those who hurt me, asking God to guide and heal us all.

Image: Himsan, Pixabay


References

Introduction

Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me (Psalm 41:9; NLT).


What did Jesus say and do?

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

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:33; NIV).

The leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise (Mark 15:3-5; 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).


A. Speaking out

Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4:15; 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.

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


B. Saying nothing

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).

You have taken away my companions and my loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18; NLT).

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me (Psalm 42:7;NIV).

Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light? (Job 3:16; NLT).


Forgiveness

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).


Conclusion

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)

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

He will heal us (Hosea 6:1; NLT).

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One day at a time

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Don’t worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today’s trouble is enough for today
(Matthew 6:34; NLT).

Lord,

1. May I live one day at a time,
And forgive one hurt at a time.

2. May I learn one rule at a time,
And discern one truth at a time.

3. May I meet one test at a time,
And defeat one sin at a time.

4. May I face one fear at a time,
And embrace one hope at a time.

5. May I grieve one loss at a time,
And receive one grace at a time.

6. May I sow one seed at a time,
And go on, one step at a time.


References

1. Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:34; NLT).

If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive (Luke 17:4; NLT).

2. Learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world (Daniel 4:25; NLT).

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; NLT).

3. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 13:3; NLT).

Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways (Isaiah 1:16; NLT).

4. My Father! 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; NIV).

You have been called to one glorious hope for the future (Ephesians 4:4; NLT).

5. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss (Lamentations 3:20; NLT).

We will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:16; NLT).

6. The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others (Mark 4:14; NLT).

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).

Anyone who puts a hand to the plough and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62; NLT).

Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble (Proverbs 3:23; NIV).

When someone hurts me

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).


1. Lord,
When someone hurts me,
Please help me to forgive,
To love, and bless, and pray for them,
However long they live.

2. Lord,
When someone harms me,
Please help me to be glad,
Thanking you for what they did,
For you bring good from bad.

3. Lord,
When someone wounds me,
Please help me to hold on,
For you bring hope from everything,
Although my hope is gone.

4. Lord,
When someone grieves me,
Please help me to rejoice;
Then peace will be my watchword,
And your way of love, my choice.

To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! (Ephesians 3:20-21; NIV).


References

1. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you (Matthew 6:14; NLT).

Love your enemies! (Matthew 5:44; NLT).

Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you (Luke 6:27; NLT).

2. I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, prosecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10; NLT).

Should we accept only good from the hand of God, and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6; NIV).

Be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; NLT).

In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).

3. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise (Hebrews 10:23; NLT).

“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11; NLT).

The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone (Acts 27:20; NLT).

4. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us to develop endurance (Romans 5:3; NLT).

Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15; NLT).

Follow the way of love (1 Corinthians 14:1; NIV).

When someone hurts me

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Father, forgive them,
for they don’t know what they are doing
(Luke 23:34; NLT).

Lord,

1. When someone hurts me
Very deeply,
How can I explain
Without offence?

2. I try so hard
To speak the truth, Lord, gently,
But then they turn on me
And are incensed.

3. I pray for them,
For reconciliation,
And friendship,
But their love has changed to hate.

4. Lord, how can I set boundaries
With others
So they don’t blame me,
And retaliate?

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References

1. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3; NIV).

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

Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me (Psalm 41:9; NLT).

3. Pray for those who hurt you (Luke 6:28; NLT).

See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! (Psalm 25:19; NLT).

4. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, just as God through Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-2; NLT).

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4; NLT).

At least (#2 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. May I listen carefully
To those whose paths cross mine,
At least, not hurting them, because
They are your holy shrine.

2. May I speak the truth in love
To those along my way,
At least, not wounding them, because
You care for them each day.

3. And may I ask your blessing, Lord,
For those whose lives I touch,
At least, not crushing them, because
You love them all so much.


References

1. The wise listen to others (Proverbs 12:15; NLT).

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9; NKJV).

Do you not know that you are God’s temple? (1 Corinthians 3:16; RSV).

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

The Lord cares deeply (Psalm 116:15: NLT).

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

Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).

Show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).

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).

God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16; 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.

Consequences (#1 of 2 linked prayers)

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Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ
(Ephesians 5:2; NLT).

1. Consequences flow from all I do, say,
Think, and feel.

2. Every act can wound, or soothe,
Can devastate, or heal.

3. Every word can hurt, or comfort,
Shatter, or restore.

4. Every thought can urge me
To despise, or love still more.

5. Every feeling tells me
To break contact, or renew.

6. Lord, please help me day by day
To grow much more like you.


References

1. They must bear the consequences of their sins, declares the Sovereign Lord (Ezekiel 44:12; NIV).

2. You did not reflect on your actions or think about their consequences (Isaiah 47:7; NLT).

Do everything with love (1 Corinthians 16:14; NLT).

3. What you say flows from what is in your heart (Luke 6:45; NLT).

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

4. Out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person (Matthew 15:19-20; NIV).

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged (Luke 6:37; NLT).

Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5; NIV).

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

5. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart (Luke 6:45; NLT).

6. O Lord, I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day (Psalm 88:13; NLT).

The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT).

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

Damaged (#2 of 2 linked prayers)

Image: Counselling

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life
(John 6:54; NIV).

1. Lord, we are
Your intricate creation,
Hurt by life in body
And in mind;

2. Damaged, Lord, in heart,
And soul, and spirit,
Which makes us frail, deaf,
Captive, lame, and blind.

3. But every time we take the Host
You heal us:
Bit by bit
You set us free, dear Lord;

4. And every time we share the Cup
You fill us:
Drop by drop,
Until we are restored.

Image: jwskks5786

References

1. Your hands have made me and fashioned me, an intricate unity (Job 10:8; NKJV).

2. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).

3. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3; NIV).

4. He restores my soul (Psalm 23:3; NKJV).

Image: Frederick Hake, Pixabay

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).