“Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood!”
In a purple robe clinging to His freshly made wounds and with spittle dripping down His bloody face, He could’ve transformed that Crown of Thorns into pure jewel-laden gold and smote His enemies with the blink of an eye. King of the Jews indeed… but He didn’t.
One of my favorite things to meditate on throughout the Sorrowful Mysteries is just how often Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be misunderstood. Pilate couldn’t probe Him. The soldiers couldn’t break Him. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. He lived who He was very clearly and very transparently, but never made it His mission to make sure every single person understood His every single word. Nor did He ensure that every heart would be converted to His message.
Today, so many of us are crippled by the perceived need to make ourselves understood to the world. It’s something I’ve fought for years. If we are newly converted, we want to shove all our conversion books on everyone we know. If we send our kids to public school, or private school or home-school, we feel defensive and want everyone to know how carefully we’ve considered our choices. We need to explain why we go to the Latin Mass or the Ordinary Form Mass. Or why we dress the way we do or why we eat this and not that, making sure everyone knows that we don’t normally allow our children soda and cookies, but it’s a special occasion. Or that your house isn’t normally this messy but, what are the chances?!… your visitor showed up on laundry day. Oh to strengthen those tongue muscles by just. keeping. silence!
And then there’s the whole other, though related, pity the develops when we misspeak and spend so much faithful energy trying to explain what we really meant or backpedalling to make sure people don’t get the wrong idea about what we were trying to say. (Oh how I know this one well…)
Don’t misunderstand me (!), I think clarity of expression is critical in our world. And I think we need to be responsible in the perceptions we create to others with our choice of words, dress, lifestyle, etc. But we can not become slaves to the god of living in the other’s minds. And I think it’s sad that we feel the need to rationalize all our decisions to our pretend jury and explain ourselves over and over to our pretend judge. Somewhere inside us, if we are being honest, it’s clear that desires to explain and defend ourselves result from a misplaced need to be valued and respected by the other person. This is human and understandable. But we are called to something greater and it often comes at the price of losing human respect…
The truth is, we will be misunderstood. It’s a guarantee if you are living life they way you are supposed to be living! The best speakers, the best writers, the best communicators… all of us will be taken for acting hateful or self-righteous or harboring ulterior motives. For those who take great pains to be articulate in expression, this is a painful cross. But how absurd to think we can be greater than our Master!
There are a couple people in my life to whom I have sincerely wanted to create a particular impression. I admit it. God forgive my pride, but I wanted these people to think I was thoughtful, intelligent and holy. Invariably, He has allowed circumstances to be such that I am always somehow presenting the most foolish, inane, regrettable parts of me in front of these people. I accept it now. It keeps me humble to know that I can’t escape the fool inside of me apparently just clamoring to get out.
But the real pain comes from those whom we love the most. Our spouses. Our children. Our parents, siblings and close friends. Sometimes we do or say something to these dear ones and it causes confusion or hurt or anger. Sometimes they think we’ve deliberately tried to offend them or they misinterpret our motives. And sometimes no amount of defense or pleading or explaining can make it better… and we ache to know that we’ve been yet again, misunderstood.
We can not control what people will think of us. We can only be authentic and hope to live with a consistent ethic of life. It’s not our job to change the world or to convince others about how sensible we are or intelligent we are or thoughtful we are, not even those who know us best and love us best. Sometimes, despite pure motives, despite holy motives, we are asked to suffer the great tragedy of being misunderstood. Our job in life is not to control perceptions, is not to change minds or win converts like trophies on a shelf. It’s not even to be understood. People will hate you. And they will misunderstand you. And that’s okay. We have a One Man audience to please and He knows our hearts and will count all those moments as roses laid before His throne…
Why should we defend ourselves when we are misunderstood and misjudged? Let us leave that aside. Let us not say anything. It is so sweet to let others judge us in any way they like. O blessed silence, which gives so much peace to the soul!
—St. Thérèse of Liseux