Back before everyone had cell phones, I had to drive to visit a parishioner who lived way out in the country. I had only driven on the main road through the area where she lived, so after several turns, I was lost. I started looking for a place to ask for directions and saw a gas station, where several men were gathered around the front door. I assumed they were from the area and would know how to get me back to the main road. As soon as I asked, “How do I get back to 74?” one of the men gave a quick series of directions involving big trees, large rocks, lefts, and rights. Frantically I dug in my purse for a note pad on which to write. He finished his spat of directions and looked blankly at me. Now with notepad in hand, I asked, “I didn’t get all that. Could you tell me again?” He tilted his head and asked, “What do you need a map? I already told you.” I saw the other men were amused by my predicament so I made a hasty exit. Once in the car I could not shake my surprise at what had happened. I had not expected the rude words.
Recently, I was working on a ministry project with someone with whom I had only worked once or twice before. Together, we laid out the plan for the project, and then, I noted a discrepancy and commented, “Why don’t we re-think this part?” With head down, she snapped, “I don’t think so.” I thought that maybe I could clarify my concern, so I made my suggestion again. She looked me in the eye and said, “This is the way I do it.” Her tone and finality were clear. I thought we were working together, and I was there to offer ideas. I did not know that she had already decided how it was going to be done and that my opinion was unnecessary. I was surprised by her rude words.
I fretted about this encounter for several days. I wondered how I missed the clues that my role was not what was stated. I wondered what I could have done differently. Then I remembered the sage advice of my field education supervisor at Mercer Medical Center. He told me, “When you enter a hospital room, offer your gifts. If the person refuses, or clearly does not want your gifts, then wrap them back up and take them to the next room.” He taught me that not everyone can receive the gifts you offer, and when rejection is encountered, it is not a reflection of your gifts. Rejection is a reflection of the other person’s inability in this time and place to receive your gifts. I had forgotten his advice and had fretted over my gifts being rejected. Even though I was hurt by the rude words, I was glad to be reminded that my gifts fit in some places and not others, and that is okay.
I imagine rude words will always surprise me, but I hope to remember the words are not reflections of me but reflections of the person who offered them.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.