Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation when you thought to yourself, “I need to remember this? Or “I think I misunderstood what was being said?” I had a conversation like that last week. A friend, a former parishioner, called to ask me what I thought about a particular issue. He had attended a meeting where what he thought was going to happen and what had happened did not coincide. So, he was asking me for clarification. As we discussed the issue, he said, “Wow. I have misunderstood what has been said. I think I have missed the point of what is happening.”
Misunderstandings and Missing the Point
At that moment, I thought to myself, “I need to remember this.” I had just read an article that said misunderstanding was the cause of 90% of all conflicts and my friend was in the midst of an inner conflict. He was trying to gain a clear understanding of what he was hearing. Because what he thought he knew and what he was hearing did not line up, he had a false impression on what was going on. By his own admission, he was missing the point.
As a leader, you deal with misunderstandings on a weekly, if not a daily, basis. The misunderstanding usually shows up either as mismatched expectations or unspoken expectations. You hear that someone was in the hospital and that you did not visit them, yet no one had informed you of the hospitalization. Or someone takes something you said in a sermon personally, as if you were talking directly to them. Or you realize that you could have shown more compassion, or you missed the intent of something that was said, or you misinterpreted something that happened.
Leaders Address Misunderstandings.
Misunderstandings happen all the time. Effective leaders have to deal with misunderstandings. How you respond reveals who you are and who you are is how you lead.
As I reflected upon my conversation with my friend, I thought of scripture, which usually comes to mind when I misunderstand or miss the point of something.
Read Romans 5:8
But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (CEB)
Misunderstandings as Missing the Mark
Misunderstandings happen. One of the greatest misunderstandings is regarding what God has done for you and for me in and through Jesus. How you understand God’s love and God’s grace shapes how you lead. It affects your relationships and how you respond to misunderstandings and to conflict.
You and I are sinners. No news there. But your understanding that you are a sinner and how God responds to your sin is not only news but good news. The word for sin in Greek means “failure” as in “failure to hit a target” when throwing a spear or shooting an arrow. It was used for missing the road or for failing to meet one’s plan or hope or purpose. So, missing the point or misunderstanding the point is closely related. I don’t need to remind you or myself that neither of us have lived up to who God has created us to be. We have missed the target.
The New Testament on Misunderstandings
In the New Testament, the word describes our condition. It means to be “under the control” of missing the point. So, living under your misunderstanding, as if your misunderstanding is the truth, is sin. You are missing the target.
With this in mind, Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus, in Roman, to encourage them. He writes, “God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” In other words, while you have been missing the target, missing the point, and misunderstanding, God has been loving you just the same. In fact, the proof of God’s love is made known in Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross.
By God’s action of love, you and I are reconciled to God. Now, don’t misunderstand this. God was not reconciled to us. Through Jesus, we are reconciled to God. The cross did not overcome God’s hostility to us. God is not hostile toward us. God is not alienated from us. The cross has overcome our hostility toward God, our alienation from God. Most of us never think of themselves as hostile to God. Even though we say we love God, we miss the target and miss the point when you do not show God’s love in our lives by loving one another.
Missing the Point
We miss the target and miss the point when we think we understand that God’s love in Jesus is just for us and not for others. The good news is, even with that misunderstanding, God still loves you, just as you are. God’s love is so great, that it does not leave you the way you are but assists you in becoming who God created you to be.
Paul writes, “You are at peace with God,” which means you are no longer at war with God, no longer alienated and hostile, no longer under the threat of God’s judgment. Because of God’s love for you, as seen and experienced in Jesus, you are the object of God’s well-being; you are becoming who God created you to be.
That action on the part of God makes you an instrument of love and hope for the world. Being a recipient of God’s love frees you from deciding who you will love. Here is one of our great misunderstandings. You and I do not produce love by our own efforts or affections. The truth is God’s love has been poured into us. You and I love because God first loved us.
God’s Love for Us
I spent most of my first 24 years of life trying to prove to my dad that I was worthy of his love. He was my hero. I wanted him to be proud of me. And I wanted to be like him. Although I do not remember a time when he put pressure on me to perform, I worked at pleasing him. He was a better-than-average athlete. He played football and basketball in high school and basketball in college. Because I wanted to be like him, I played football and basketball in high school. Always seeking his affirmation at the end of each game. He was a contractor. He built houses, churches, hotels, and libraries. As a teenager, I took friends around the community to show them the buildings my dad built. I was proud of him, and I wanted him to be proud of me. The only thing he said to me was, “You need to learn to lay brick. Because if what you choose to do in life doesn’t work out, you can always lay brick.”
At age 24, I was a student in seminary and a pastor of two small congregations. One day, unexpectedly, my mother called me and asked me to come to the house. She had something to discuss with me. When I arrived, she explained that the man who I called Dad, and who I had worked all my life to prove to him that he could be proud of me, had adopted me when I was 9 months old. At that moment, the reality of God’s grace came rushing into my life. My dad had chosen me to be his son, had given me his name and loved me from the beginning. He didn’t care whether I played football, basketball, or ever laid a brick. He already loved me and accepted me. All I could do was accept his love for me. My relationship with him grew deeper and more meaningful after that experience. I began to understand his love for me.
I had missed the point of his love. But I learned that his love for me was just like God’s love for each of us. God shows his love for us, because while we are still sinners, while we are misunderstanding his love and missing the point of loving others, Christ died for us. God has chosen you to be his beloved daughter and son. God has claimed you and given you a name. God already loves you and accepts you.
Loving and Leading in the Midst of Misunderstandings
As a leader, you have been set free to love others in the midst of misunderstandings and conflict. Because of God’s love for you, even while you have missed the point, you can show love and compassion for the people around you. You have been set free to love the people entrusted to you just as God in Jesus loves you.
That is what Paul wants his readers to know. That is, his message is to each of us. You are free to live in God’s love just as God has created you to live. You are free to love others as you have been loved. Remember, you are God’s beloved, chosen to love and lead in the time in which you are living. Accept who you are because who you are is how you lead.
O God, thank you for your love that is greater than my understanding. Fill me to overflowing so that every person I meet will experience your love and acceptance through me. In the midst of misunderstandings and conflict, let me be an instrument of your love and peace. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the love of Jesus. Amen
Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where did you experience misunderstandings today? How did you respond? Who helped you with your misunderstandings? How did you experience God’s love and grace in the midst of misunderstandings? Give God thanks for the wisdom you received to discern and understand. Give God thanks for the opportunity to become more who God has created you to be.