The Other Side of Offense – Life Lessons from “When Calls the Heart”

Abigail Stanton confronts Henry Gowen after he returned her investment, with interest, even though the stock had plummeted. PC: Crown Media, LLC

It has taken Henry Gowen and Abigail Stanton at least five years to truly develop a friendship. Throughout their history, when Abigail invested in Henry by sharing a freshly-baked scone or a warm meal in a cold jail cell, the overture was met with harsh words and offensive actions. When Henry reached out with advice or concern, Abigail recoiled from past hurts and broken trust. So, in Sunday’s episode of When Calls the Heart, Henry hands Abigail ten dollars, deceiving her by doubling her most recent investment. Why the dishonesty? The little lesson hidden in the folds of the investment section of the Hope Valley News is this: offense causes us to build walls around our hearts and to shut people out. A loss of a financial investment could have offended Abigail, causing her to retreat from this hard-won friendship, and Henry Gowen would do almost anything to keep the return on his investment.

When my husband and I were dating, we went through an adjustment in communication. Like many couples, we came from different upbringings and our families communicated in dramatically different ways. There was one term in particular that Hubby used that offended me. It was worse than the four-letter words teenagers fling around the basketball court. It was worse than the emotionally-charged language that spews forth when your foot meets a Lego that’s been abandoned on the living room rug. The word was…communist. When I said I liked to eat spinach, he called me a communist. When I voiced my distaste for cheese that squirts from a can, that loathed “c-word” sent angry prickles down my spine. And he just didn’t get it. Why would one little word offend me so deeply? For a while, I tried to ignore it. It was just a word, after all. Eventually, though, it became too much. That’s when I discovered that the repeated offense appeared to me as a disregard for my feelings. If he loved me, if he really cared about me, he’d know that the offensive term would irritate me and he’d just stop, right? His use of the term caused me to question his feelings for me, and made me feel as though my investment in our relationship would be rendered void.

“There’s always risk” in investing, Elizabeth observed in response to Abigail’s thoughts about investing with Henry Gowan in Sunday’s episode. Initially, Abigail, nervous and fearful, only handed Henry a couple of dollars to invest on her behalf. When Henry saw her reluctance, Abigail asked him, ‘Well, how much would you suggest?” Henry replied with, “Whatever you’re comfortable with.” Abigail really just wanted “a little guidance.” Her fear of loss made it difficult for her to give freely. Then, when Henry discovered the investment folded, instead of sharing honestly and openly about the loss, he lied to Abigail and handed her an amount double her initial investment. This time, it was his own fear of offending Abigail that caused him to lie. This perceived offense – even one that never truly existed – could have driven an emotional wall between the two friends, but the most important aspect of this plotline is in the step Abigail took at the end. Rather than becoming angry at the dip in her finances or turning a cold shoulder to Henry for delivering another lie, Abigail confronted him with the truth, expecting an honest explanation. In love, and with an overflowing of grace, she returned his money and explained that she “knew the risks…nobody’s perfect.”  In those words, she shared a much deeper realization: trusting anyone who has hurt us or offended us comes with risks of future hurt and loss. In those moments of truth, both Abigail and Henry gained so much more than they lost. A few dollars is a drop in the bucket when compared to the repaired fracture in the friendship they’ve spent 5 seasons trying to overcome.

In Proverbs 19:1, God reminds us that  “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” While some offenses are intended and others are the result of our own imperception, our response should be the same. When God tells us that we should overlook offense, the text does not mean to ignore it. In truth, it means to look past it – to look beyond it. What is on the other side? Is there a truth that we need, one that will make us stronger and better? Is there a love and trust that resides on the other side, waiting for us?

While it is true that the ones we love the most also wield the greatest power over us, we must also remember that the love and connection doesn’t crash like a poor investment. When we can approach our offender with a perspective that sees the other side of hurt, we choose to invest in what lies on the other side. However, when we choose to only attack, second-guess, and point fingers in an effort to avoid feeling the hurt the offense has caused, we invest in an increased distance or a higher wall that it might take years to overcome.

Personally, overlooking offense has become my barricade – my fortress against hurt. It is easier to “brush it off,” to dismiss painful words and deceitful actions, than to confront them. What I am now learning is that my definition of overlook has significant holes in it. I’m forgetting the part about what lies beyond. If true love, faith, and hope are on the other side of the offense facing me, the only way to get there is to look over it – to observe it and find out the truth about its origins. This will be much harder said than done. It took all my courage to tell my husband that calling me a communist was hurtful. At first, he didn’t understand how deep that tiny hurtful word could cut into me, but when we both chose to look over it – to put more value on the love that lay on either side, the offense and the offensive word disappeared. Maybe it’s time to start investing in building some bridges that look over other offenses in my life, instead of dismissing them like automatic debits from my emotional bank account.

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