Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of a battle that I didn’t ask for and certainly didn’t want.
Without going into all the details, I found myself face-to-face with a ‘mud-slinger’ – the kind of person who (when they feel threatened) throws every accusation they can think of, in order to deflect attention away from their own misdeeds. There’s several different words for this kind of behaviour, but the most commonly used is gaslighting.
The term apparently originates from a 1944 film called Gaslight. The film is all about a sneaky, deceptive husband who’s trying to cover up a murder by secretly dimming the gaslights in the house, in the hopes of throwing his wife off the scent and convincing her that she’s the one going crazy. I’ve never seen the movie (must watch it!!) but I’ve definitely encountered people who exhibit this kind of manipulation.
In my own situation, at first I didn’t twig what was actually going on. I had offered (what I thought was) a gentle challenge to this person and all of a sudden I found myself in the full beam glare of an attack on my personality.
What on EARTH?
I was momentarily blinded by the ferocity of it all. Is that how people really saw me? How had I not known? Maybe I was a terrible person after all and I’d spent all my years living in blissful ignorance?
Although I’d taken a few heavy blows and my confidence was teetering, my instinctive reaction was still to fight back. No, that’s not true, I heard myself saying. You’ve got it wrong. I’m not like that. I would never do something like that.
But all this seemed to do was aggravate the situation even further. The more I tried to explain they’d got it wrong, the more the accusations kept flying. As the adrenaline provoked by grave injustice poured through my system, I could feel my heart pounding and bile swirling in my guts. I’m definitely not an explosively angry person. I can’t recall ever really shouting or losing my cool in an argument, but here I was, slowly being goaded into a volcanic eruption.
But then one night as I lay in bed tossing and turning and endlessly chewing over this crazy situation, I believe God spoke to me. The words instantly cut through my fevered mental gymnastics and I found myself immediately hushed.
If Jesus can remain silent in front of his accusers, so can you.
I knew this must have been a reference to Jesus standing before Pilate, just before his execution. The story is found in Matthew 27:11-14.
“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor.”
(Matthew 27:12-14 NIVUK)
Now (just to clarify) I’m not even remotely comparing what I was going through to the horror of what Jesus was facing (thought I’d better make that clear!!) but the point was that if Jesus could say absolutely nothing in the face of the vilest untruths, then how much more could I do the same in the middle of my own, way less serious situation.
I honestly believe that in that moment God gave me a strategy for handling the situation.
I no longer needed to fight back. I didn’t need to defend myself or put the person ‘right’.
The truth is, I’d done nothing wrong. Sure, I could have handled my emotions better at the beginning but I had not done any one of the things I was being accused of. I knew that my heart and motives were right and I also knew that if by chance my motives were wrong, that God would nudge and convict me.
From that point onwards, in my next encounter with this person, I said very little. When the accusations came, I sat quietly and allowed the person to finish. And I was completely amazed at the effect of not fighting back. All of a sudden my accuser didn’t quite know what to do with themselves. Their words faltered a bit, they looked surprised and even when they probed, trying to elicit some kind of response, I just kept thinking back to that horribly unjust, cruel moment when Jesus said nothing. Knowing he could do that in the face of his own impending execution gave me all the strength I needed to nod, to smile, to acknowledge that this person had a viewpoint (that I didn’t share!!) but ultimately to say very little.
I’d like to say that the relationship was completely transformed but alas, it wasn’t. However sometime later we were able to find some mutual ground and it was possible to hug and part company on reasonably amicable terms. I honestly believe that if I’d kept on fighting and defending myself, this story would have ended very differently.
If you’re caught up in a situation like this, silence isn’t always the best tool, but in this particular life episode, the story in Matthew was a stark reminder to me that if Jesus could do it, then so could I.