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When was the last time someone misjudged you or tried to drag your reputation through the mud? How did you respond? When someone makes a false claim about my character, my first response is to express my outrage. I know all too well what my faults are, and the list is plenty long without adding things that aren't true. We all have moments when we use our self-righteousness to get us through our self-doubt, and false accusations can provoke our battle defenses. Whether these attacks come from misunderstanding or malice, we tend to fight back in the same way. We think if we deflect the negative attention onto our accusers, it will discredit their claims. But that is usually not effective and causes lasting damage in our relationships. That damage is avoidable, and it's our responsibility to prevent it, no matter how the other parties choose to behave. Of course, like most issues that belong in a TED talk, that is easier said than done.
Why are you accusing me? The first natural question to help clear up a misunderstanding is, "Why are you thinking this about me?" The problem is, we tend to convey this as, "I can't believe you're saying this about me!" or "You're crazy to think I would do that!" Well, they are saying it, and denial will not change their mind. So the smarter approach is to accept that they have a reason and find out what it is. That is the simplest way to get to the bottom of things if the accusations stem from misunderstanding. Even if the other person jumped the gun in their assumptions, focusing on their error won't make things any better. And if it's clear that the claims against you are outright lies, then addressing the motive is a good way to get the rumors to stop. That doesn't mean we should validate vengeful falsehoods, but we can better prove them wrong when we act deliberately.
When someone chooses to spread spiteful or one-sided stories, it's hard to sit back and let them "win." Actions speak louder than words, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak out. We just need to do it with grace. And no, that doesn't mean posting a novel to your Facebook wall. It also doesn't mean slandering the other person. But we can tactfully clear the air when tensions creep into our other relationships. For example, suppose your accuser shares their version of events with a mutual friend. In that case, it can't hurt to reach out and say something like, "Hey, I noticed you've been avoiding me/acting differently and I am wondering if it is related to something _ said. If so, are you willing to meet up and hear my side of the story?" The next step is to relate your "side," focusing on your true actions rather than that of anyone else. And if that friend says they haven't heard anything from _, then it's often best to leave things be, rather than spreading the fire.
The truth will set you free. The saying "the truth will set you free," doesn't always play out the way we hope, and the value of that lesson is deeper than the meaning we give it. The origin of that phrase is from the mouth of Jesus. And in context, we see His message was not "the truth will always come out" but that if we live in His truth, we will have freedom. With that in mind, we can know that the words of others don't define us. Only our genuine character can move us forward.
Sometimes it's the people closest to us who misjudge us the worst, even if they don't tell others. So what should you do if your spouse, family member, or best friend makes a false assumption? Well, communication is the center of any relationship, and you should start with the "why" process above. But if the person chooses not to believe you or engage, it can come down to a matter of patience. The hardest part of this step is loving that person in the meantime. When the line of trust is severed, it's natural to turn a cold shoulder and develop hopeless and callous feelings. It can seem like a betrayal when someone who is supposed to know you completely misreads and distrusts you. That is when we need to remember that we are all fallible humans. We all get misled by fear and anger. Grace and love are the only things that will keep us from tearing each other down. The best we can do is continue to show we care and stay honest about who we are.
In the moments when people attack our integrity, we don't have to feel like no one gets us. We have a Father who sees our hearts and minds and knows how hard we try. He loves us with all our good and bad, and He wants us to share that grace with those who wrong us. When we feel trapped and unseen, we can pray for Him to search us and know that He is by our side.
"You have searched me, Lord, and you know me." - Psalm 139:1-3
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.