"So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." (Romans 14:19)
Have you ever inadvertently inflicted pain on someone else, someone you love? The answer is, of course you have. We’ve all inadvertently (or otherwise) been the source of someone else’s pain.
I remember once when Zeke (our 20-yr-old) was a baby and I had just changed his clothes or diaper. As I was getting him dressed again, I began to snap the shoulder snaps on his onesie. One moment everything was fine, a split-second later, he was red-in-the-face screaming and crying. I had no idea what was wrong with my little guy, but I all I wanted to do was finish dressing him so I could pick him up to comfort him. I was having trouble with one of the snaps, so I hurried even more, pressing the snaps harder between my fingers. He screamed and cried louder. Hurriedly and all the more determined to get the thing snapped, I squeezed the snap harder still. The result was escalating pain. At that moment I was horrified to realize he was being tortured by me. He was screaming and crying because of ME! The snaps I’d kept squeezing harder together would not close because I had the skin of his left shoulder between them. I was the source of his pain! Inadvertently, yes! But I was inflicting severe pain upon someone I loved.
Several pieces of this scene translate into tools we can use when discovering that we’re the source of someone else’s pain:
First: Stop doing what you’re doing. When I discovered I was causing my son pain I stopped. I realized I’d had some of his skin between the snaps and that I was hurting him, so I stopped right away. When you and I realize that what we’re doing is a source of someone else’s pain—a loved one, a friend, a peer, an acquaintance, or even someone we may not know—we must stop doing whatever it is that’s causing them pain. You might discover it on your own, they may tell you (depending on age, they might even scream or cry 😊), or an outside voice might come from someone observing what’s going on and mention it to you. The point is that awareness should bring it to an end.
Second: Comfort the other person. When I discovered I was causing my son pain I comforted him. I immediately picked him up and I soothed his shoulder the best I could. I couldn’t believe what I had done. Frankly, I’m surprised there’s no scar there today. Pain brings discomfort. The level of pain inflicted carries with it a corresponding level of discomfort. My son was only a baby at the time, and it was easier to comfort him in that moment than at other times in his adolescence or since as a young adult when I’ve failed him and inadvertently inflicted pain upon him. The same is true among all of us as adults; we can’t simply pick up another adult and soothe them from [physical/emotional/relational] pain we’ve caused. Oh, if it were only THAT easy! It’s going to be different when we’re dealing with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, still, maybe it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it. After all, we are “members one of another” according to Romans 12:5.
Again, Romans 14:19 says,
“So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
What it is that will provide comfort for someone when we’ve been the source of their pain? What is it that we must do to prevent scars or heal them?
Third: Express your sorrow. When I discovered I was causing my son pain I pleaded my sorrow to him. As a baby, did he have any clue what I was saying? Nope! But he did understand the action of my love. He knew my sorrow because it was expressed not just by my voice (words he didn’t understand) but by my affection and by my repentance (I stopped doing that which was his source of pain and I picked him up and held him til the pain subsided). God’s Word talks about a sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). While that refers to salvation, I think we can apply it here too. When we’re the source of someone else’s pain, its not enough to simply say we’re sorry. Our sorrow over hurting someone else must lead us not only to stopping, but it has to lead to reconciling with them. Taking full responsibility for our words or actions (sometimes they’re inseparable) is part of godly sorrow.
When Carol and I were first married we attended what was essentially a small group for Marriage Ministries International. Someone in the group quipped that there were 12 words that we’d have to get used to saying: “You were right. I was wrong. Please forgive me. I love you!” If I recall correctly, I think the husbands were taught we’d have to get used to saying them if we wanted a happy marriage. I jest, but there’s truth in those words that we’ve both actually kept handy for nearly 26 years now. Here’s some key advice in expressing your sorrow when you’ve been the source of someone else’s pain. DO NOT just say sorry! DO tell them you know exactly what you did that hurt them. Take full responsibility for it! Plead sorrow and use these words EVERY time: “Will you forgive me?” If you’re the one who’s been hurt, and someone is admitting their wrong and asking for your forgiveness, use these words EVERY time: “I forgive you.” Say it! You’ve probably noticed some who are utterly uncomfortable using these words. Well, make it your practice anyway! Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on. Remember, express genuine sorrow and take full responsibility for doing whatever it was that was the source of someone’s pain, and let the action that follows do the convincing: “…fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus said,
“If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that you brother has something against you [i.e. you probably hurt him], leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
Also, in the next chapter, right after the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught this about forgiveness:
“For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then you Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15).
These verses teach that we are to treat others the way God has treated us.
Rest assured I was careful to never pinch my boy’s skin between the snaps again. Nonetheless, I have been a source of pain to him in other ways. To be fair, he’s done the same. I’m human. He’s human. We’re all human, and there have been plenty of times when each of us has inadvertently been the source of someone else’s pain. And maybe they’ve been the source of ours. Yet, we have this God-driven love for one another, a supernatural love, which not only prompts us in the Spirit of Christ to reconcile, but He’s also given us the above tools, and many more, to work through the pain and continue on in healthy relationships with one another.