I had a really, really weird and uncomfortable conversation with our lovely Filipino nanny Violeta (who is, very sadly, leaving Japan to return home on April 15th). She has been having some problems with her church that she’s been attending the last two years, and has had to leave the church over some serious issues. We were talking through some of her hurts, when she mentioned that I had said something at Christmas time which had validated her feelings of being “controlled” at her church. She said that when she walked in the door from an all-day Christmas party this past December, I had uttered the words. fellowship animal to her. And that she had felt like that was a good description of how she had been treated at church, like an animal. She had also shared this with someone at her church and it got around to her pastor, who apparently hates my guts (I KNEW IT!).
Well, at this point, I had to stop her: “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, VIOLY??? I WOULD NEVER SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT!” Now if you know me well, then you know that I tend to say too much and too quickly (Jesus and I are working on this!), and sometimes I hurt people with my thoughtless, quick words. But you see, I had never said this, I was 110% sure! And in fact, the phrase sounded absolutely ridiculous to me, I hadn’t even known about these control issues at their church, and had never thought any such thing either! I knew without a doubt that I couldn’t have uttered this! I was just appalled that she was so sure that I said this or passed it along to a dozen other people. But Violeta was vehement that I had indeed said it, and that her memory was clear and that her English had not failed her in this instance. I was just as vehement (and burning red frustrated!) that I had never said that (or thought it!) and that this must have been a misunderstanding. But she was just insistent that I did, and then began to feel like I was calling her a liar. To which I repeated over and over that I didn’t think she was lying (I could tell she believed that I had said it!), but that I thought this was a situation where she misunderstood the words I said. Which made her feel like I was calling her unintelligent for her lack of understanding English. Goodness gracious! Needless to say, we both got very heated, and very quickly things really escalated–our first “fight” in two years of living together.
Finally, she insisted that I call my mom in Oklahoma because my mom was there when I said it. So I did. It didn’t take long once my mom and I put our heads together (thankfully, one head wasn’t red-hot!) to figure this thing out:
When Violeta walked in the door from her all-day party, I smiled and said, “Hey you party animal, you!” This seasoned ESL teacher made the mistake of using an idiom, and one which was interpreted with much offense. Just as quickly as we had gotten upset, we sorted the thing out, and all is well in the Cash household. But I’ve been thinking about this for two days now.
How many times have I said something and it has been interpreted completely differently than what I intended? My stomach churns as I recall even a few times I HAVE been confronted by brave souls on their interpretation of my words, only to discover it’s not what I had said/meant at all. Remember that childhood game of telephone, where a message gets passed from ear to ear, and ends up being something completely different than what had actually been whispered? I can think of one heartbreaking instance in particular that has (at least temporarily) ruined a relationship with a brother, partly because I uttered something stupid that could easily be misunderstood, and partly because he was too hurt by what he thought I’d said to (for)give me the benefit of the doubt upon explanation. My heart hurts and my stomach turns when I think about this:
How many people out there hate my guts because of something they think I meant by something they think I said, after it had been passed from whisper to whisper in their mind? How many times have I formed an opinion about someone based on my misunderstanding of what they said or meant? Should I go to this pastor to vindicate myself? (No, I’ve prayerfully decided in this instance.) How many enemies do I have out there? And do I need to try to convince them that I’m really not that bad? (Can’t. Won’t.) How do I sleep at night knowing that I have unfairly-acquired enemies out there? (David did. Jesus did. So must I.)
Oh, I could be tortured by these things if I were not a slave already to the One who sets me free (daily, even momentarily) from such thought-captivities.