It’s frustrating having your motives misunderstood.
Sometimes people will innocently misunderstand. Other times they’ll deliberately twist your motives because they dislike you. It’s a part of life; we all will face it sooner or later.
Sometimes – and I’ve seen this in the lives of friends recently – it is your excellence that will get people distorting your motives. Though they don’t realize it, they’re irritated because they see you working hard to do your best, and it makes them insecure.
Or it might be that you made a mistake, and people will try to decode why without having all the information (i.e. without asking you).
If that’s your situation today, you could be friends with David.
One day Jesse had told his son David: “Take this half-bushel of roasted grain along with these 10 loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. (v.17)
… Check on the welfare of your brothers and bring a confirmation from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah fighting with the Philistines.” (v.19)
…When he arrived, he asked his brothers how they were. While he was speaking with them, suddenly the champion named Goliath, the Philistine from Gath, came forward from the Philistine battle line and shouted his usual words, which David heard. When all the Israelite men saw Goliath, they retreated from him terrified. (v. 22-24)
…David spoke to the men who were standing with him: “What will be done for the man who kills that Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26)
David’s oldest brother Eliab listened as he spoke to the men, and became angry with him. “Why did you come down here?” he asked. “Who did you leave those few sheep with in the wilderness? I know your arrogance and your evil heart — you came down to see the battle!”
“What have I done now?” protested David. “It was just a question.” Then he turned from those beside him to others in front of him and asked about the offer. (v. 28-29)
“What have I done now?” honestly makes me laugh. Classic little brother moment. Clearly this isn’t the first time for David. Ask him and Joseph: being the last in long lines of Israelite boys doesn’t pay well.
But as with so many other things, the outcome will usually boil down to how we handle these moments. I don’t know a lot, but I’ve found three things that help.
1. Don’t defend yourself
I know what I would have said in David’s place, accused of coming down to watch the battle: “What battle? Last I checked, the battle participants were on the sidelines quaking in their boots.”
But that wouldn’t have gone over well. Similarly, I tried to verbally lawyer myself out of a misunderstanding the other day at work. No dice. Perhaps something about arguing causing defensive reactions to entrench and such.
Someone (I think it was Neil T. Anderson) said something that caught in my mind years ago: “If you’re wrong, you don’t have a defense; if you’re right, you don’t need a defense.”
If you’re in the right, don’t leap to your own defense, or at least limit the energy you put into it (like David). It’s frustrating; it feels like giving up, letting lies prevail. But Proverbs 15:1 doesn’t say “A soft answer turns away wrath” for no reason. If you’re misunderstood, go your way and show character and decency for a while. It’ll win favor, and later, once the fight-or-flight reactions have died down, people will be more willing to listen.
2. Distinguish it from sin
It’s common for us to pull this trick: we’re called on the carpet about something and we defend ourselves with “well, they just don’t understand.”
No, they get you. You messed up and are getting called out for it. Don’t dig your heels in by refusing to admit a mistake. Not only is it the wrong thing to do, it diminishes your respect in others’ eyes. How far a simple willingness to admit error can take you in this world cannot be overstated.
3. Fall back on the Father’s identity for you
Jesus was misunderstood. He was hunted, gossiped about, and dismissed for numerous reasons, from disrupting spiritual mediocrity to threatening ecclesiastical power structures. Yet when folks stood around being thick in response to his teachings, he always had the same fallback: the identity his Father gave him.
Don’t work for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal of approval on Him. (John 6:27)
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one. (John 10:29-30)
You, too, have been made God’s son or daughter through Christ. God guards you from condemnation with the same fierce love that any good father would, for you bear his name. Read Romans 8 some time. It’s great for this.
If you were trying to do the right thing and got misunderstood (or just tried an ineffective solution), your heavenly Father knows your heart. He sees you. Do you believe that? Does it lift your heart in times of misunderstanding? Few things will test our faith in this concept quite like being maligned and gossiped about. It’s like being tossed from boot camp to the front lines.
But this is what it means to let Jesus’ words remain in us (John 15:7). Let’s live like that. Let’s allow it to make a difference in our hearts.