During a recent walking weekend with my sister, she asked me if I had read the book she had given me for my birthday. Feeling somewhat guilty I replied rather sheepishly that I hadn’t got round to it yet. Once back from the weekend I made a concerted effort to find the book in question and at least read the first few pages.
The book is, ‘Unoffendable’ by Brant Hansen. I’m only a few chapters in but am really enjoying it. Now I can’t put it down. I am challenged by its content. It has made me think and I wanted to share those thoughts here.
Hansen challenges us, as Christians, to become ‘unoffendable.’ When I first unwrapped this book I mistakenly thought that the title meant that I shouldn’t cause offence to anyone else. Perhaps that was my reason, albeit unconsciously, in not picking the book up again. Bit of a tall order isn't it, not to cause anyone offence, even unwittingly. However, as I discovered on picking Hansen’s book up again, his meaning is about me not being offended by others. The challenge is therefore, how do I make myself unoffendable?
And therein lies the challenge. As a Christian we could, perhaps somewhat piously, overlook a minor offence of a non-Christian friend or acquaintance. They don’t know any better anyway. What about if the offence was more serious and caused us real pain or involved one of our loved ones? The scale of the offence might not make it so easy to ‘turn the other cheek.’ What if the offence actually came from a family member or close Christian brother or sister; the very ones who are supposed to love us and have our best interests at heart. What do we do with their offence to us then?
In this life we will get hurt. Jesus Himself told us we would have trouble: “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world." (John 16: 33 The Message). We will feel angry, bitter, injured, upset and wounded at someone else’s intentional or unintentional, but sometimes inconsiderate or careless, action or remark. And that is ok. It is ok to feel an offence, we are after all human. It would be unhealthy not to recognise what we feel. To suppress or ignore what something or someone has made you feel is to store up problems for later on. How then can we become unoffendable?
I haven’t yet read to the end of Hansen’s book so I am unable to draw on his conclusions. But when thinking about this question for myself I kept coming back to the word GRACE. What is Grace, apart from a girl’s name? Some have quoted it as an acronym which goes something like; God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. God’s unmerited favour and love. His outpouring of spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit on us. Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us. That is Grace, yet I still didn’t feel it portrayed what I was trying to understand in linking it with our being unoffendable.
Being unoffendable is a choice, it is our own personal choice not to take offence at another person who has provoked us in some way. Who has ‘got our goat.’ Grace is how we do it. Grace, I realised, is about having compassion on the offender. Really? Yes, it means being able to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective. What might have caused them to do that or say that. Who is the person, what may have happened to them? It is a drawing alongside, slowing down and being able to look outside of yourself and your own feelings into the other person’s world and recognise that their view might be vastly different to yours. In another of my favourite books, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Atticus imparts a crucial piece of wisdom to his daughter: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” That is Grace. In December 2015 in the city of Worcester around twenty-five men took to the streets wearing stiletto heels in a campaign entitled ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’. The campaign’s aim was to bring attention to crimes of violence against women. The men quite literally stepped into their female counterparts’ shoes. How often do we really do that for each other? How often do we stop and ask ourselves; why is this person behaving in this way? Why did they say that? Aren’t we more concerned with being offended ourselves? The person at peace with himself will be able to let go of himself, the other person will matter more. If we know God’s love and mercy for us, we can be free. Free to become unoffendable.