"For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand." (Acts 7:25)
"A Misunderstanding". I'm sure we've all experienced that. In fact, I'm sure we've all experienced many misunderstandings in the course of our lives. Just a few days ago, a good friend misinterpreted something I'd said to him. He texted something to me and I texted something to him. Things became just a bit tense in our relationship. As I thought about it, I realized the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Within twenty-four hours he got in touch with me. We had a really good talk. In the end, all was resolved. "It was a misunderstanding," he concluded, and I affirmed this: "Yes, it was a misunderstanding".
I wish it was always that simple! About eight years ago I experienced what I still consider to be a very painful and traumatic misunderstanding. I learned some things from it, but it's still upsetting to think about.
I had a friend that I will call "Gilbert" who was over ten years older than me. Gilbert died after experiencing a number of health issues. I had visited him just a few weeks prior to his death. At that time, we had a great visit. He urged me to come back and see him again soon. I did call him once or twice after that and asked if I could visit but he told me he was much too sick and just not up to having visitors. It was not long after that when I heard the news of his passing.
Gilbert was one of the most complicated people I've ever known. He had a brash and intense personality. Very few people were neutral or indifferent about Gilbert. People either absolutely loved him or just couldn't stand him. Gilbert had been a public figure, but on a small scale. (The kind of guy that just about everyone in a certain Boston suburb was very familiar with, but who was pretty much an unknown more than a couple hundred miles from home.) I'd known and had dealings with Gilbert in many different circles and situations. He did some great things in his life. He raised money for the needy. He inspired a number of people to do things they never thought they could do. Some of these folks went on to do truly great things.
In the early 1990s, Gilbert's life completely fell apart. He and his wife divorced and he married a younger woman. He moved far away from New England. He got involved with some business he never should have gotten involved with. He committed a serious crime and ultimately was incarcerated. In time, he was released from prison. He divorced his second wife. He found work. After a number of years he moved back to New England. I mentioned that people either loved him or couldn't stand him. Now, after his return to New England there were a number of individuals who had deeply loved Gilbert at one time and who now couldn't stand him.
It's not easy to talk about the period in my own life in which everything fell apart and during which I was suicidal. During that time, Gilbert truly became one of my closest friends. Gilbert was a passionate kind of guy and he passionately wanted to help me. He passionately wanted to see me become mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy again and to ultimately become a successful person in life. That's why I took his decline in health and his death so hard.
I wrote what I consider one of the most powerful posts I ever put on my blog. It was about Gilbert, just hours after I'd learned he died. I knew there were a number of people who could see nothing good about Gilbert. In my post I wrote very frankly about his failures and his imprisonment. But I also wrote about how he had saved my life. (I truly believe he saved my life during that suicidal time.) I wanted folks to know he should not be defined by the failures in his past but by the wonderful person he became during his final years.
That post brought a tremendously positive response! People emailed me saying my post completely changed their feelings about Gilbert. People thanked me, saying my words had helped them to see Gilbert very differently; to forgive him, to truly love and esteem him again. I felt so good about this! I felt this tribute to Gilbert was one of the finest things I'd ever done in my life! I began to ponder it all. I mused that Gilbert's family would probably contact me, thanking me for what I'd written. I figured they'd probably ask me to speak at Gilbert's funeral - perhaps to read my blog post during the funeral service.
A few hours later I was driving along and a call came in on my cell phone. It was from Gilbert's son. I was ecstatic!
"I understand you wrote and posted a frank piece on your blog about my father." he said.
Enthusiastically I affirmed I'd written it.
"I want you to take that piece down!" he said bluntly. "We're getting all kinds of questions and comments about my father's past. It's very upsetting. Take it down!"
I could barely get a few feeble words out of my mouth. "Well ... yes ... I will ... I will remove it".
I have no words for how distraught that call made me. I did remove the post. I seriously considered keeping a copy just for me, but I did not. Ironically, that weekend I was scheduled to be the "M.C." at a special public prayer gathering for the MetroWest area. I should have backed out of that commitment. I did a terrible job running that prayer service. I was fumbling, distracted, incoherent, not helpful, and I made a total fool of myself. In forty years of ministry that's by far the poorest job I ever did in a public speaking situation. I was so upset about what happened, I just couldn't function.
I almost did not attend Gilbert's funeral. I thought maybe his family would hate me and maybe I would not be welcome. But I did attend. I actually had mourners at the funeral home coming up to me and asking, "Did the family ask you to take that blog post down?!" I said they did, but I downplayed it.
I thought about that this week for some reason.
Wow. That was the greatest situation of a "Misunderstanding" I've ever experienced!