I live in a household of women. Between myself and my four teenage daughters, we get caught in a crossfire of hurt feelings rather frequently. Someone, it seems, is always offended by a sister or two. She borrowed my shoes without asking; they’re not watching the movie I wanted; she got new jeans when I didn’t; they’re going out with friends and leaving me behind; she didn’t pull her fair share of the Saturday housework.
Right this very moment a child who will remain unnamed is furiously reloading the dishwasher oozing waves of self-righteous indignation because I reminded her that if she overloaded the machine, nothing would be clean in the end.
They can be easily offended, these young ladies.
But it’s not just them. It must be admitted, they come by their propensity for offense honestly. I get, as the internet puts it, “butt-hurt” in an instant. I can go from brimming over with joy to mortally offended in 2.2 seconds, especially when it comes to other women.
It just happened again this week. I finally (finally finally) got brave enough to sign up for a women’s ministry function. It’s been a long time coming. Years, really. Tuesday morning, I mustered up a few pounds of courage and called the number printed inside last Sunday’s church bulletin to sign up for “Coffee-4-Women.” When I got the women’s ministry voicemail, I left a message instead of hanging up. I was so proud of my daring, I even bragged on Facebook and Twitter.
Then I waited. And waited.
And no one called me back.
It’s been 5 days. Five days. Still no one has bothered to return a simple phone call.
I am hurt. My head keeps a running tally of reasons to be insulted. That was really difficult for me, to put myself out there like that with my social anxiety… How rude anyway, to have a sign-up for a function, advertise it, then not respond to interested people… This isn’t the first time someone at this church has dropped the ball on getting back to us; clearly, they don’t really care about me or women’s functions anyway… Or are they calling back other women and leaving me out? Maybe we should switch churches to a place where people are more welcoming!
Type unoffendable into the search engine over at amazon.com and you’ll come up with a small selection of resources, all Christian- two books, a teaching series on CD, and a song. Apparently, only Christians are throwing around this word or care to purchase media on the subject.
And no wonder. It appears to be a word we Christians have made up. My grammar and spell check program angrily underlines it in red. Dictionary.com led me straight to an explanation of the word offend when I typed it into their search bar. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary returned an error message to me when I queried “unoffendable…”
I had to laugh at Merriam-Webster’s suggestions. How deliciously ironic. I can’t find unoffendable in any dictionary, no, but it goes beyond that. Virtually unfindable both in theory and in practice, the concept of choosing not to be offended when you have been wronged is decidedly unfashionable in our culture. Instead we favor hurt feelings, safe spaces, and PC police.
There is, however, one area of life where I am generally unflappable, unoffendable if you will. In the classroom, I cannot afford to get offended; there is too much at stake.
You see, I am a GED teacher. My classroom teems with the drop-outs and the screw-ups, the low and the slow. Most of my students end up in my classroom after they failed at school or school failed them. For many of them, it was school after school. As you can imagine, a lot of those students walk into my classroom with high defense systems after all that failure. Two common protective mechanisms among my motley crew could be particularly offensive: let’s call them the “bad girl” and the “cool guy”.
It doesn’t have to come from a female, rather the “bad girl” attitude is one of open defiance. These students do the opposite of what they’re asked, poke you to try to find chinks in your armor, and seem to revel in the resultant consequences of their actions. I’ve got one in my class right now. She’s a felon 7 times over and won’t stop reminding me and the class of it. She enjoys stealing dry erase markers from my carefully hoarded stash of supplies, then using them to write cocky little notes on my white board, “Kate, I adore your pretty blue marker! Love, _________.” When I pull her into my office to discuss just how frequently she sets off f-bombs in my classroom, she chortles with joy all the way down the hallway, “Ooooo, am I in trouble again?!”
Her goal is to set me off and, as of yet, I haven’t bitten. I’ve managed to stay calm, directly address the offensive behavior without attaching it to her person, and not take it personally. Because it isn’t about me. It really isn’t. Her attitude has been her protection against the world. It’s her badge of honer, this bad girl status, and she wears it with pride.
As for the cool guy, I’ve got a dozen or so of those each semester. They’re invariably 16-21 year old males with test scores in the 3rd to 5th grade range, most often due to a learning disability. They don’t “get it” in class and their wall of defense is a fortress of cool. These gentlemen are too chill to care, too incurious to wonder, and too indifferent to participate. If called upon to answer questions, all they offer is an unblinking stare, a grunt, or a flippant remark.
The particular “cool guy” who is keeping me awake nights this semester and hovers near the top of my prayer list is a doozy. He comes ten minutes late and packs up ten minutes early. He doodles on every worksheet and sits stony faced through class discussions. When placed in a group, he pulls his chair a foot out of the circle, crosses his arms, and stares determinedly at a wall with his face tied in a hard little knot of uncaring.
Somehow, I have managed to remain unfazed, cheerily greeting him each day, doling out his fair share of one-on-one attention during practice time, and calling on him during class despite his unwillingness to respond. Then this week, I tried intervention. Realizing he lacked even the most basic math skills and did not want the rest of the class to know, I pulled him into my office privately for an hour on two occasions this week. While my co-teacher led the rest of the class in another room, cool guy and I practiced counting by 2’s, his three times tables, distinguishing between multiplication and division, and short division. There has been no miracle. He did not lose the tough guy attitude; he did not light up and blossom underneath my careful tutelage. Yet, even this does not offend me. Why would I be upset? It’s not about me! His demeanor is carefully constructed to protect him from being embarrassed. If he doesn’t try because if he doesn’t care at least he retains his pride and is protected from failure.
As I left the college late Thursday night after my last class, I congratulated myself on not rising to the bait of my “bad girl” or my “cool guy” that week despite multiple conflicts with both of them. I’ve learned over the years that if I ever want to get through those defenses, I cannot let myself be insulted.
Suddenly, I was convicted. Why am I so easily offended when other women do me wrong? Why can I easily dismiss the ugliest behaviors in my students to their backgrounds with such grace, yet mull over the slightest offense by a church woman until it festers? How do I smile into sullen student faces when I am unable to meet the eye of the women in the pew next to me? How do I rest so confidently in the fact that my students’ issues are not about me, yet turn every dissatisfactory interaction with a potential friend into something all about me?
When am I going to learn to extend the grace I have for my students to the ladies of the church?
When am I going to finally choose to be unoffendable?
I think I’ll start this week. First thing Monday morning, I’m calling back to get on that “Coffee-4-Women” list. I will choose to pick up the phone and try again. I’m going to assume that whoever receives those voice mails in women’s ministry was busy this week, or overwhelmed, or even on vacation. Maybe my phone cut out and she couldn’t catch my number. Maybe she accidentally hit delete when she meant to repeat my message. Or maybe she just dropped the ball, as I am so wont to do on so many occasions myself.
I can choose to give my sister grace.
I can choose to be unoffendable.
A person’s wisdom makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. ~Proverbs 19:11, NET
Photo Credit: With Our Eyes Wide Open by lil’_wiz on Flickr; used under Creative Commons License.