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Dealing With Misunderstandings
THE QUARRELING STATESMAN
Early one summer morning on a grassy field outside Weehawhen NJ, two men stood back to back. They were mortal enemies. They had both fought on the same side as patriots in the American Revolution and after the war became distinguished statesman for the new nation. One served as the secretary of the treasury. Under his leadership the national debt was paid, the nation's finances were restored to order and a national bank was created. His picture is the only non-presidential portrait on our currency. The other man served as Attorney General for the State of NY, as US Senator; in 1800, he ran for president of the US but lost the election. Through a strange twist in the electoral process, he served as vice president. However, those two able politicians had been waging a battle of words for years. They were bitter foes. On this particular muggy summer morning, they had run out of words and choose to end their feud in a classic dual.
Misunderstanding and conflict are a normal part of communication. Morton Kelsey writes in his book entitled, Caring that conflict is an inevitable part of life.
Do not worry. God loves us so much and is so interested in our growth that in his infinite mercy and love he will always provide us with a few [enemies].1
Sometimes they can ignored, swept under the rug, without much damage to the relationship, sometimes they can be easily resolved, but then there other times when the differences seem so great, the issues so important, that a mutually agreeable resolution become impossible to obtain. What should we do? How should we handle ourselves in the conflict? How should we deal with the misunderstanding?
Lets us consider how Jesus handle the disagreements he had with his hometown friends to learn how we more effectively deal with misunderstanding.
You may recall that Jesus initiated the controversy by making a bold Messianic claim. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah, he announced that he was the one to fulfill the prophecies of the messianic age. The hometown crowd at first spoke very highly of Jesus. They were not listening. Misunderstandings usually begin because people do not listen to one another. They make assumption about the conversation and presume that they understand. On that Sabbath morning in Nazareth the hometown crowd was relying on their recollections. They remembered the playful child growing up and running through the streets of the town. They remembered the young man who took over the business of his supposed father. The words of Jesus took time to penetrate through their memories, but once the words were really heard, they became furious. How did he dare say such a thing? Didn't he know, that no man could make such a claim? Didn't he understand that only the Anointed One of God could issue such an announcement?
UNDERSTAND WHO YOU ARE
Jesus could handle the controversy because he first, knew and accepted himself and his call by God. Some may suggest that the first stage of dealing with misunderstanding is learning to listen to the other person. I would like to suggest that before you can listen to someone you must first understand and accept yourself.
Jesus knew who he was because he listened to the voice of God at his baptism. He then journeyed to the desert and wrestled with his inner fears, his inner doubts, and his inner temptations. He came to accept not only his own divinity but also the dark side of his own humanity.
Not only did he know who he was, but also
he knew what God had called him to do. Like the prophet Jeremiah, he had
been called him to proclaim God's message to the people of Israel; a message
calling for repentance and obedience.
An important step in understanding ourselves is a willingness to look inward and see ourselves as God sees us; to understand both the good and the evil that lurks within our human heart. We must be willing to put aside false illusions and delusions about ourselves.
The human ego easily constructs unreal images of who and what we are. The Walter Mitty complex is the most innocent form of self-delusion. You remember The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, James Thurber's classic comedy about the mild manner mouse of a man who escapes the boredom of life by creating adventures for himself in a world of fantasy. At times, our illusions can be innocent and harmless. However, we can also "...fashion an unreal self and become enmeshed in the nets of our own labor. It does not take long to begin to think that this self-this idol that we have constructed is all there is to us. We invent our own legend and come to believe that our salvation lies in perpetuating it."2
People who are trapped in their own illusions cannot tolerate anyone who disagrees with them. They cannot bear to hear different ideas then their own. They react to any difference of opinion by becoming emotional and hostile. They cannot read a book with which they disagree because they fight the author in order to protect their own cherished opinions.
The first step in dealing with misunderstanding is to understand who you are.
UNDERSTAND WHO THEY ARE
The second stage of dealing with misunderstanding
is to strive to understand the other person. Although Luke does not tell
us everything that happened that day we know from other passages that Jesus
knew the minds of the people. He did not need to take the time that day
to hear them out; he knew what they would say. He even anticipates their
response when he says, Physician, heal yourself! and then uses the proverb
"no prophet is accepted in his hometown. " to predict their rejection of
Francis of Assisi instructed the monks of his order to pray, "Lord, grant that I may seek to understand more than to be understood." This prayer must become the prayer of our heart.
LET LOVE RULE YOUR LIFE
An essential mark of maturity is the ability to give of ourselves without looking for anything in return. To truly listen to the other person to hear their hurts, their pain, their joy and their struggle. By striving to understand another person we affirm their worth and value as a child of God.
Such active listening requires the demonstration
of the kind of love Paul talks about in the book of Corinthians. Among
the many descriptions of love, Paul tells us that love requires patience
and I would add patience is displayed over time. Misunderstandings that
produce intense conflict are never solved quickly; forcing an agreement
or manufacturing a pseudo-compromise only camouflages the problem. It covers
the wound, but the injury is not healed. Nothing is resolved. Each person
JUST KEEP WALKING
Luke records that the people of Nazareth took
Jesus to the edge of the town to throw him off a cliff, but Jesus just
walked through the crowd. His actions remind us that you will not always
agree with everyone. After you have listened and if you truly know who
you are and have a strong sense of your mission in life, there comes a
point when you just keep walking. Rather, than get distracted by the conflict
and the naysayers, you simple go about and do what God has called you to
Jesus knew that God had a final destiny for
him, Regardless of the opinions or beliefs of his neighbors or boyhood
friends, he would not be distract. When they refused to believe he walked
away to follow the call of God. However, notice that he waited until they
brought him to the very edge of the cliff. Luke appears to convey the sense
that Jesus waited until the very last moment before he made his break.
He gave them every opportunity to respond and believe. But in the end he
had to accomplish his mission.
The third step in dealing with misunderstanding is to follow God's calling.
WHEN THE SMOKED CLEARED
After the smoked cleared, Alexander Hamilton laid mortally wounded upon the field. The next day he died from the gunshot wound. Aaron Burr had gained his revenge, but ruined his political career. The American public was stunned by the news. Burr lost the support and respect of the country. He fled to the Louisiana Territory. For the rest of his life he suffered financial hardship and eventually died in poverty at the age of 80, alone in an apartment in NYC.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were men who built their reputation on eloquent speech and their brilliant minds. They both made enormous contributions to the birth of our nation. Yet, both their lives came to a tragic end when they could not find an amiable resolution to their differences.
When we fail to settle a misunderstanding,
we do not just lose a friendship. We lose part of our own being. Conflicts
extract a heavy toll from not only everyone involved, but even from innocent
1 Morton Kelsey, Caring, (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), p. 168.
2 Morton Kelsey, Caring, (New York, Paulist Press, 1981), p 74 quoting from Elizabeth O'Connor , Search for Silence.
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