You have saved your money for many years and have made many sacrifices to purchase an expensive new car. Finally, the day arrives when you have enough money to buy it.
As you are driving your new car home, you hear a thump-thump-thump. You pull over to the side of the road and discover that you have a flat tire. “I can’t believe this car!” you exclaim as you slam the door. “I spent all that money on it—and for what?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, you pull a can of gasoline from the trunk, douse the car, and ignite it. The new car with the flat tire is obliterated in an inferno.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Who would destroy a fine car because of one minor problem?
Yet how many of us have allowed a relationship we have nurtured for years to “go up in flames” because of one careless remark? Or how many of us have forgone church activity because someone has offended us?
Chances are that within our own ward and stake, someone will offend us sooner or later. Elder Marion D. Hanks, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, has said that the way we handle these situations may have serious ramifications:
“What is our response when we are offended, misunderstood, unfairly or unkindly treated, or sinned against, made an offender for a word, falsely accused, passed over, hurt by those we love, our offerings rejected? Do we resent, become bitter, hold a grudge? Or do we resolve the problem if we can, forgive, and rid ourselves of the burden?
“The nature of our response to such situations may well determine the nature and quality of our lives, here and eternally” (Ensign, January 1974, page 20).
The following five keys can help keep us from becoming offended—or if we have already been offended, quicken the healing process:
. Build a Firm Foundation
We are easily offended when we feel insecure about ourselves. Do you remember a time when you wore an article of clothing that didn’t fit well? You probably felt self-conscious about how you looked. And you may have worried that the slightest giggle was from someone laughing at your attire—or that other people’s conversations were directed at you and at your appearance. It was easy to become offended, wasn’t it? Why? Because you were insecure about yourself.
To avoid taking offense, we need a firm foundation. We must be firm in our commitment and testimony of the gospel, in our sense of self-worth, in the knowledge of who we are, and in our sense of our divine potential.
When Absalom sought to usurp the kingdom from his father, David, he and others deliberately tried to offend and humiliate his father. For example, Shimei cursed David, threw stones at him, and mocked him (see 2 Sam. 16:5–10). When David later regained the kingdom, his men insisted that Shimei be put to death “because he cursed the Lord’s anointed.” David’s response shows his personal sense of worth and identity: “Shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel?” (2 Sam. 19:21–22; emphasis added).
David knew who he was. He had nothing to prove. Punishing Shimei in revenge would not have confirmed David’s kingship. Similarly, a strong testimony and knowledge of who we are can help us weather storms of criticism and offense.
Understand the Intent
Although we sometimes don’t like to admit it, the intent of someone’s criticism may be to help us. We should be gracious enough to receive the criticism, understanding that the person may be trying to help.
Moroni, the Nephite military commander, was a man of God, “a man of a perfect understanding,” and “a man who was firm in the faith of Christ” (Alma 48:11–13). Yet, as are all of us, he was vulnerable to error. As he led the Nephite armies against the warring Lamanites, he sent a letter to Pahoran—the chief judge and governor over the land of Zarahemla—requesting reinforcements and food for Helaman’s army (see Alma 59:3). But Pahoran did not respond.
Moroni then sent another letter to Pahoran, this time criticizing him harshly for his “thoughtless stupor” in not supporting the armies: “It is because of your iniquity that we have suffered so much loss,” he wrote (Alma 60:7, 28). He also accused Pahoran of disobeying God: “Ye know that ye do transgress the laws of God, and ye do know that ye do trample them under your feet” (Alma 60:33). After a long letter criticizing Pahoran, Moroni concluded by threatening to come to Zarahemla to get the needed provisions himself, “even if it must be by the sword” (Alma 60:35).
Unknown to Moroni, Pahoran had not sent the reinforcements and provisions because he was having to fight his own battles at home: An insurrection had arisen against the government, and king-men—in league with the Lamanites—had taken control of Zarahemla.
How did Pahoran react to Moroni’s harsh judgment? How would we feel if we had been unjustly criticized by someone we admired?
Pahoran’s response is a lesson in restraint and understanding: “In your epistle you have censured me,” he wrote, “but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:9; emphasis added). Pahoran understood the intent of Moroni’s criticism; Moroni sought only for the glory of God and for the freedom and welfare of the people. Despite the accusations, Pahoran was not offended; he understood and rejoiced in Moroni’s righteous intentions.
When you feel you have been improperly judged, falsely accused, or offended in some way, pause to reflect upon the person’s intentions. Frequently, you’ll discover that the intent behind the criticism was constructive and was offered in an effort to help.
Be Swift to Hear, Slow to Wrath
“Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). Why should we be “swift to hear” advice, complaints, or criticism? Perhaps because we honestly need to change something about ourselves. Perhaps we truly need to heed the advice or the criticism.
In addition to being “swift to hear,” we should also be “slow to wrath.” It is easy to react quickly to offenses and to respond in like manner. Arguments can easily escalate from one caustic remark to another, with each person reacting to the other’s remark. When we let our emotions dictate a hasty response, we relinquish control of ourselves and of the situation.
Alma’s son Corianton was guilty of committing serious sin while serving as a missionary. “Thou didst forsake the ministry,” chastised Alma, “and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
“Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted. …
“Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes” (Alma 39:3–4, 9).
Corianton needed to listen to his father’s chastisement. And he needed to act upon it by repenting. Was he “swift to hear” his father? Was he humble enough to be “slow to wrath”? The Book of Mormon record is silent about Corianton’s immediate reaction. But in later chapters, we learn that “the sons of Alma did go forth among the people, to declare the word unto them” (Alma 43:1). Corianton is mentioned by name among those missionary sons who were teaching, baptizing, and helping to bring peace and prosperity to the land (see Alma 49:30).
Don’t Seek Revenge
Elder H. Burke Peterson, then of the Presiding Bishopric, related the experience of a group of teenagers who were picnicking in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona. One of the girls was bitten by a rattlesnake. Instead of immediately seeking medical attention, the group pursued the snake and sought revenge by killing it with rocks. Unfortunately, during the precious minutes that the group wasted in exacting revenge, the poison had time to move from the surface of the girl’s skin into the tissues of her foot and leg; her leg later had to be amputated below the knee.
“It was a senseless sacrifice, this price of revenge. … The poison of revenge, or of unforgiving thoughts or attitudes, unless removed, will destroy the soul in which it is harbored,” said Bishop Peterson.
When we are offended, feelings of hate, dreams of vengeance, or misguided feelings of righteous indignation poison our minds and spirits. In the end, we are the ones most hurt. On the other hand, continued Bishop Peterson, “forgiveness of others for wrongs—imaginary or real—often does more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. That person who has not forgiven a wrong or an injury has not yet tasted of one of the sublime enjoyments of life” (Ensign, November 1983, pages 59–60).
My two-year-old son, Brian, was playing in the sandbox with his friend Scotty. Suddenly, sand was thrown, feelings were hurt, and Scotty started crying. I started toward the sandbox to initiate a parent’s perennial patching up, but before I had taken two steps, Brian reached out and hugged Scotty. Tears stopped as quickly as they began, hurt feelings were mended, and friends were reconciled. Then they both continued playing as before.
“And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled” (D&C 42:88). We need to take the initiative by seeking reconciliation with the person who offended us. The best way to do so is to quietly take the person aside and openly discuss the situation.
The Lord knew his disciples would face storms of criticism and severe persecution (see John 16:2). During his last hours prior to his crucifixion, he strengthened his disciples’ testimonies and provided them with an eternal perspective of who he was and who they were. Indeed, some of the Savior’s most profound teachings are contained in the chapters of John just before those that recount his betrayal (see John 13–17). Jesus wanted to fortify the disciples’ testimonies and build a firm foundation that would withstand all offenses. “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended,” he said (John 16:1).
Do we, like the Lord’s disciples, need to work harder at not being offended? Testimonies and personal relationships are worth more than an expensive new car. How ridiculous to let them go up in flames when a flat tire momentarily disrupts our journey.