Last year, I received an email I wasn’t supposed to. From the opening line onward, there was a detailed list of complaints that an individual held against me with insults and slander throughout. It was one of the most painful emails I’ve ever read. At the core of the matter were differences in theological positions but also a dislike of me as a female speaker and leader. Even worse, this person was sharing their thoughts with a large group of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, asking them to boycott me and my work. I would have never known about any of this except somehow my email address was accidentally included.
I wrestled for a long time with what to do with that email. Should I respond? Should I reach out to the person? Should I expose this email to the online world and vindicate myself of what I felt to be false accusations? After much prayer and counsel from respected friends and the elders of my church, I chose not to respond.
Sometimes we can engage with folks who truly desire to have a productive conversation and are willing to engage us with mutual respect. We can clarify, perhaps educate too when necessary. But usually when negative words come flying at us, the best thing we can do is to first hold our own tongues. We can exercise self-control and choose not to sling the metaphorical mud back at our accuser.
Jesus models for us how to respond to violent words with words of peace. Jesus, our Prince of Peace, gives us peace at all times in every way (2 Thessalonians 3:16). In fact, Jesus’ peace is to rule over our hearts (Colossians 3:15), and He encourages us by saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God” (Matthew 5:9). The writer of that email had no interest in personally engaging with me, and I knew that fighting back, even defending myself, would not lead to peace. In fact, speaking angry, hurtful words back at my accuser would have only created more division and tension, not reconciliation.
Violence of any kind only perpetuates more violence. We often think of violence only in terms of our bodies, but words can be just as damaging. James 3:6 says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Verses 9-10 continue, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” Painful words linger with us long after they’ve been spoken. As Xochitl Dixon says, “Negative words often appear to have the sticking power of superglue.” Months, even years, can go by, and the wounds of accusations, insults, and lies can feel just as raw as ever.
Lashing back out, however, is neither helpful nor biblical. Winning an argument may make us feel better for a moment, but it doesn’t show love and peace to a other person. In the movie, You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan tells Tom Hanks that she’s always wanted to be able to say just the right words in just the right moment to stick it to someone. When she finally gets her chance, though, she feels terrible afterward. Putting someone in their place never satisfies us in the way we think it will.
I’m continually challenged by the words of Romans 12:17-19, which states, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge.” Think about that line for a moment: “If it is possible, live at peace with everyone.” This is incredible and perhaps one of the hardest challenges for us even still today.
We live in an age of cancel culture, of critiquing everyone for everything. Instead of making space for each other, whether it’s our different theological views or stances on the hot topics of the day, instead of learning to live in the tension and awkwardness of finding a way to get along, we say, “It’s my way or the highway.” Everything is either this or that. You’re either on “my team,” or you’re my enemy. None of this is living with a posture and heart for peace.
God challenges us to a better way. He invites us to forgive again and again, to be slow to speak and slow to anger, to cling to God’s Word and find healing in the knowledge and truth of who God says you are. We live in a violent, broken world, but we can be agents of transformation, breaking cycles of violent words and replacing them with words and indeed realities of peace.Leave a Comment
Leutisha Stills says
Good Morning, Michele:
Thank you and God bless you for your share today. I had a similar encounter with someone I still consider to be a friend of mine, and like you, I refrained from trying to defend myself – in fact, she over-talked me so I couldn’t defend myself, although I wanted to dearly. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, and directed me to separate myself from this individual. I remained in prayer and sought out a Christian counselor who wisely advised me to do what I needed to do to remain safe.
A month later, the same individual invited me to her house for a celebration for her son, so I went. A day later, she called to mentioned I looked “fluffy” and asked if I were sick or something. After studying scripture prior to her call, I had on my armor of God, and replied that I’d eaten something that made me retain water, and I soon ended the call. I don’t know what it is, other than a satanic spirit, that makes people lash out and hurt others, while withholding the opportunity to engage in discussion. I pray that God continues to protect you and me, and others who have similar experiences.
And what if the badgering and betrayal continues? And worse yet from a family member that you love? I found that boundaries and a new, more distant relationship is necessary, for myself but also for the relationship to become more positive. It’s really hard and not what I would choose, but the change makes things better.
Thank you for this. I had a dealing with someone who was very difficult – I knew I had to have an interaction with them so I was really praying and seeking God’s help beforehand. The person started the conversation in a very accusatory, loud fashion and I felt attacked and started off defending myself. I again realized I have a lot to seek God’s face and the Holy Spirit’s guidance for in these situations. Thanks for sharing.
Lesley Boyer says
Thank you so much for your post. I have been deeply wounded by the words of someone recently and while I never said anything in response I felt anger. However, as I prayed for this person and asked God to give me peace as well as healing and peace for them, I felt His peace and as I continue to pray for this person I have forgiven them and continue to pray for them. I believe in prayer and God is faithful. I continue to pray for reconciliation and I thank God for His peace He has given me.
Michelle Reyes says
Thanks for sharing, Trina! And praise God for his mercy and grace. Thanks for highlighting the importance of prayer and God’s ability to help us forgive and reconcile. We need that reminder daily!!!
Great post! It helped open my eyes on a personal level, not realizing I have become a way that I hate of others. I’ve unknowingly slipped into a horrid way and don’t know why it even happened. Thank you for this post! 🙂
Michelle Reyes says
Thanks, Julia, for sharing. We sometimes respond in hurt in the same ways folks have hurt us. May God make his presence known to you today and may you experience his love and healing. Praying for ya, sis!
Thank you Michelle for these timely words. I have been “keeping my mouth shut” for most of the last few years as the culture around us has gotten more and more toxic. I just pray my silence isn’t interpreted as agreement – what I’m actually doing is offering the hurtful people up in prayer for Our Lord to change their hearts.
Mary-Frances – a grandma in NJ
Michelle Reyes says
I’m with you, Mary-Frances! Silence is sometimes how we cut through the toxicity of our current cultural moment and the knee jerk reaction to cancel and shame anyone we disagree with. There certainly is a time for speaking up too. But we can do so in love and with grace and gentleness. Thanks for sharing and for modeling the peace of Jesus through prayer!
Karen Knowles says
Linda R Killian says
Your words were like “apples of gold” to me this morning. I needed to read and absorb this in order to prevent me from my original plan of confronting this morning, with people in my work, responsible for an upsetting situation that is affecting me in my job role with an important customer of mine. Thank you. This was timely!
Michelle Reyes says
Oh, Linda, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. I praise God for his timing and providence. May he equip you and strengthen you with wisdom for how to navigate that difficult situation at work in a way that is honoring to both you and the other people involved. Praying for ya, sis!
Ada Orie says
This is an excellent post. I appreciate you reminding us to depend on Jesus and not ourselves when confronted by violence. Words are painful and there is never a justification to return evil for evil. This is The reminder all of need to today. We cannot and should not bow down to the world’s ways. We are children of God even when we do not all agree. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Michelle Reyes says
Amen, Ada! We need Jesus. Oh, how we need Jesus. Jesus never returned evil for evil, but chose to respond to evil with good. That is my prayer also.
Karen Knowles says
Michelle, thank you for your post this morning. I believe you did the right thing in that situation since it would have probably done more harm than good. We tend to want to defend ourselves when we are attacked, but remaining quiet and praying for the person is usually a better choice.
Michelle Reyes says
Thanks, Karen. There are certainly times when we need to explain ourselves and speak up. But I’ve also learned that there are times when the best thing to do is guard my mouth and let the words someone says just slide off me. And, yes, prayer!!! There is probably a lot less we will regret in our words and actions if we stop first and pray. Thanks for sharing.
Mary Carver says
Michelle, I’m so inspired by your restraint. To not respond in any way to that painful email took such strength! Thank you for sharing your difficult experience with us and encouraging us to be peace-makers.
I recently faced this same situation. Someone close to me hurled some very hurtful, disrespectful words at me. After the initial shock of what she said wore off I chose to walk away. Although she apologized to me, she has some deep issues with me that after many years of asking myself why, I have decided I can’t solve her problems or issues. I can’t make her happy because she is not happy. I love her and would do anything for her but I will not confront her, I will not engage with her on her insecurities. What I will do is continue to pray for her and hope that she find peace and happiness in her heart.
Thank you, Michelle, for this reminder to all of us.
Love casts out all fear. Love conquers all things. Jesus commands us to LOVE….the greatest commandment!
It takes courage to love. It is selfless. As humans, we are selfish. It’s easy to be selfish. But as we hold onto Jesus, THE WORD, we can become closer to being selfless. It’s a struggle until the day we die or Jesus returns for us.
May The Holy Spirit touch all of our hearts as a constant reminder of how to love one another daily. HIS LOVE will change the world!
Very helpful article, however I was looking for the resolution, but found none. How did you handle the matter?
Susan Ashcraft says
The resolution was in not responding, but forgiving and refusing to rise to the hatred that the initial email spread.
Actually, I think it should be responding to violent words and actions. Many times we must remind ourselves “What did Jesus say on the cross? ” “Father, Forgive them-they don’t know what they are doing”. Because I have “been there-done that” I know that is not easy to do; but Jesus gave us the best way to deal with all our hurts. Blessings everyone!
Janet Williams says
Thank you Michelle. I pray I always remember AND pass along to my grandchildren about “making space for each other”
Our women’s study is right in the middle of Romans. So many wonderful and peacemaking reminders!
Have a blessed weekend sisters \0/
Susan Ashcraft says
What an excellent, wise and uplifting article! Yes, it is incredibly difficult to remain silent when ugly words are spoken, but your wonderful article reminds us that love is ALWAYS the right answer. Thank you so very much for sharing these important and inspiring words! Blessings to you and your family.
Beth Williams says
So sorry you had to read all that. People in the age of social media spew their opinions all over the internet, texts & emails not caring who it may hurt. We aren’t always going to agree on everything & that is alright. Just go with the flow. I’ve been in several churches that only take communion once a month-whilst my current church does it weekly with a communion meditation before. There are other denominational differences but that doesn’t stop me from going to their church or being friends with them. My philosophy on that is “I don’t care what you think of me. For it was God who created me this way.” Jesus modeled the perfect way to handle violent words & that is with saying nothing. Often times that is just what I do. I believe if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. So I will sprinkle my words with honey & God’s love.
diane thiel says
THANK YOU. I appreciate your wisdom. I add BE STILL AND KNOW I AM GOD…
Gods blessings to you all
Dawn Camp says
Michelle, I’m amazed by the courage it took to hold onto your response and allow the Lord to defend you. I’m sorry for the hurt that email caused and you’re right, the sender clearly wasn’t interested in personally engaging with you or they would have come to you in the first place instead of talking behind your back. Your message of forgiveness can be hard but is so necessary!
Eloise Brown says
This author and article verify something I read just today. It is good to know what to say or do…It is more important to know when or if one should say something or do something. The choice made here deciding to do nothing–WISDOM.