The Interrogation Lamp or the Hot Seat – 2 Corinthians 7
I’m not sure which one I prefer less: to confront or be confronted. To be the one holding the interrogation lamp, or to be the one in the hot seat. I’m a peacemaker by nature, and the whole thing makes me sweat a little bit, just thinking about it. I’ve been known to rationalize away my responsibility or pass the buck to someone else, so it has taken me a lot of years – and more to come, I’m sure – to lean in to conflict and find the truth in confrontation.
When I was growing up, we had a rule for note-writing in our home: “If your words are affirming, write them in a note. If your feedback is critical, don’t write it down. Either way, the person will read it over and over.”
This is an axiom I have tried to bring with me into adulthood. But what happens when you can’t weasel your way out of the conversation, and – worse yet – you have no route of communication except to write the words down, to be read over and over again?
In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul has written to the Corinthians after a painful visit to their church. While he was there, someone publicly insulted him, demanding proof that Christ was speaking through him. Paul was insulted and discouraged, but he was even more hurt that his friends and fellow believers heard the verbal attack and did nothing to support him. Paul had planned to come back for a visit, but instead he wrote a letter to the church. He rebuked them for not coming to his aid, demanded that the individual who had challenged his authority be punished, and he expressed his deep sorrow over the church’s lack of support.
Can’t say I blame him, really. And actually, I’m learning as I look at his perspective.
When his rightful authority had come under question, when his friends allowed his name and character to be defamed, Paul stood to lose so much – not the least of which were his relationships. I know myself and my insecurities; there was a time in my life when I would have been tempted to cut my losses, set my heart free, and walk away. But Paul doesn’t place his humiliation on a pedestal, and he doesn’t even let the injustice of his tarnished reputation stand in the way of what he needed to do. His relationship with the church – the congregation – mattered most. So he lay his heart out on the parchment.
When the Corinthians read the letter, they were hurt, but by then the words had been said. They were out there. Paul was filled with regret, even though his words were true. I can see this scene from both perspectives: Paul’s and the church’s. A confrontation may hurt my feelings and my pride, but that doesn’t make the words any less true or necessary. I know that discomfort of confronting someone I love, especially if it is not received well. In the same way, it’s pretty natural to experience pain and to feel hurt when someone confronts us about wrongdoing. The important thing is what we do with that pain.
As one who must speak up, do I try to erase the conversation? Sweep the words under the rug and brush away the awkwardness, pretending the problem wasn’t really important enough to address in the first place?
As one who must come to terms with a mistake, do I embrace the superficial pain of pride, feel sorry for myself and chalk it up as one more person who doesn’t understand me?
Again, I confess I’ve fallen into both of these patterns.
Here’s the beauty of the Corinthians, though: when the church had some time to look at the letter – and they read it more than once, no doubt – their sorrow began to take root with a seed of change. When they looked past their hurt and embarrassment, the Corinthians next felt remorse, and then the remorse grew into repentance. Remorse in itself isn’t enough; it only acknowledges the wrong. Repentance goes further, seeking to rectify the wrong and mend the relationship.
God, may I learn from the examples of both Paul and the Corinthians. May I have the confidence Paul showed to boldly step into the awkwardness, that my most important relationships may reach the sweetness of reconciliation on the other side. In the same way, may I have the patience and courage the Corinthians showed, as they didn’t allow their pain to deepen into bitterness and resentment. When conversations are hard, I ask for grace that I may embrace maturity and wisdom, that the fruit of change may be mine.
Tricia Lott Williford’s great loves are teaching, writing, and her two young sons, Tucker and Tyler. She collects books, words, and bracelets, and she pushes the boundaries of ‘widowed, single mom.’ Tricia speaks at events and retreats all over the country, and she writes daily on her blog, TriciaLottWilliford.com.