Relationships are messy. If you have spent any length of time in ministry, you know that at some point personalities will clash, misunderstandings will happen, and feelings will be hurt.
Some women seem to have a talent for hurting others. Like a bull in a china shop, they charge forward leaving a trail of relational wreckage in their wake. As women’s ministry leaders and pastors’ wives, we will inevitably encounter women who wound us and others. These encounters can leave us feeling rattled and exhausted.
When I have struggled to lead women who wound me, it helps to remember that God has brought these people into my life for a reason, and that I need them as much as they need me. But it’s not always easy, so if you find yourself gritting your teeth each time you engage women who wound, these six principles may help you find your way forward:
1. Remember that your ministry is not about you.
When leading women who wound, it’s important to remember why we are laboring in ministry to begin with. We serve so that the body of Christ will be built up in love (Eph. 4:16), not because ministry gives us a sense of self-fulfillment or an avenue to reach our personal potential.
It’s easy to let criticism wound us when we’ve nursed a ministry project from infancy to completion. It’s like our baby, and when our work is criticized, it can feel like we are being personally attacked. But God would have us hold ministry successes and failures with a loose hand because our work is not about us.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, an eighteenth-century Scottish pastor wrote, “I need to be made willing to be forgotten.” I’ve often used this list as a test for my own heart:
- Am I willing to be overlooked and forgotten by people I minister to?
- Do I need to be affirmed and made much of?
- Is it enough that God sees my work and my reward is in heaven?
2. Overlook an offense whenever possible.
Love covers a multitude of sins, and one of the best ways we can love people is by overlooking insensitive comments. The world says we need to stand up for ourselves, but God’s Word says overlooking an offense is our “glory” (Prov. 19:11). There are times when it is right to be angry, but most of the offenses that provoke us to anger are not worth fuming over.
When Jesus was reviled, He “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus shows us by example that we can endure being wounded because God sees and will judge justly. When we overlook an offense we don’t forgo vindication; we defer it to a later date and entrust it to a better judge.
3. Believe that God will use her sin for your good.
I have a theory that God brings difficult people into our lives when we need them most. Time spent with a difficult woman can feel like an afternoon spent rubbing up against sandpaper. It’s not pleasant. But sometimes we need those difficult encounters to rub off our rough edges.
Each wound is an opportunity to grow in sanctification. Like peeling back the layers of an onion, with each confrontation God exposes new sin in us. When I’m reeling from a wounding comment, I find these soul-searching questions to be beneficial.
- Am I too sensitive to criticism? Why? If God accepts me in Christ, why do I long for the approval of others?
- Have I taken on too much? Do I need to humble myself and ask for help?
- Have I made my ministry too much about me? Perhaps God is asking me to loosen my grip on a particular ministry project or goal.
There’s a reason Jesus told us to take the log out of our own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in someone else’s (Matt. 7:3–5). Yes, they may be sinning against us, but no doubt we also have sin to address in our own hearts.
4. Develop empathy for her.
As challenging as it may be, as leaders we need to develop empathy for difficult women. Sometimes people haven’t had a chance to develop the life skills they need. They haven’t learned to empathize or be aware of other people’s feelings. Sometimes they’ve had challenging situations in their past that make it hard for them to relate to people. Often they are relationally impaired, and they are hurting because of it.
As cliche as it sounds, we need to take a walk in their shoes. When we begin to understand why difficult women act the way they do, it softens our hearts and makes it easier for us to love them.
5. Confront her sin when necessary.
When a woman shows a pattern of wounding speech, our tendency is to avoid her or placate her. But she is not helped by our silence. If she has gossiped, slandered, or falsely represented someone, gentle confrontation is an important next step. Matthew 18:15 tells us that if someone sins against us, we should confront them privately. (And hopefully it will not need to go further than this!)
Confrontation is hard, but Matthew gives us incentive to engage with a wounding woman. If she listens to us we have “gained a sister.” I remember a time when a friend confronted me about something I said that hurt her. I was grieved by what I had done, but so thankful that she gave me the opportunity to apologize. It would have been easier for her to shut me out, gossip about me, or jump to conclusions about my motivations. But she didn’t do any of this. She came to me privately, and with great gentleness and humility she explained how I had wounded her. When she confronted me in this way she gained a sister, and I’m thankful to call her a friend today.
6. Remind yourself that God’s grace is at work in her life.
When I’m struggling to love my sister, it helps to remember that God is at work in her life, too. She is more than her sin patterns. She is an eternal being whom God has loved, redeemed, and forgiven. He is working in her life even now, making her fit for heaven. It may be hard for you to see her virtues, but one day you will stand beside her in glory, worshipping God for all eternity.
We don’t know all the reasons that God allows people who wound us in our lives. But if you feel raw or defeated by the sinful words of others, take comfort in the fact that God will judge justly. He doesn’t require you to fix everyone’s problems or secure a positive outcome. He simply requires you to be faithful. One day—maybe sooner than you think—He will return, and those wounds will be a faint memory surpassed by the greatest joy that you have ever known.