Mar 30, 2012

Unintentional Pain

by Debra Erfert

It's amazing how a single, destructive phone call from a stranger can jerk you from your happy life and put a stranglehold on your thoughts. But that is what happened last week when out of the blue a woman I didn’t remember called me on a Sunday evening and told me I had hurt her feelings—three years ago.

Three years ago? What? 

As I listened, I was amazed at the anger I heard seething in her soft voice as she struggled to remind me of a meeting we had attended together. I only recalled parts of that meeting, and then only vaguely. It was a Relief Society presidency training meeting, and we were in the “break-the-ice-get-to-know-each-other” part. I was very uncomfortable being there to begin with because I’m debilitatingly shy, and, as usual when I am anxious, I joke around to cover up my feelings.

Forty-nine-year-old Sister Grudge (I gave her a secret name in case you happen to know her, and boy, would that really come back to bite me if she found out about his post,) took the flippant remark I made very personally. What I thought was a silly joke wasn’t to Sister Grudge, yet she didn’t say anything to me about it then, nor the next day when she saw me in the cultural hall of the church setting up for someone’s wedding reception “with a Dr. Pepper in my hand,” as she pointed out.

I quickly knew two things: one, she judged me about drinking a soda with caffeine, and she was very, very mad at me for making a remark about how “little” she was. Yes, I said something to the effect that she was small, or little, I can’t be certain because it was three years ago, and I can’t rely on Sister Grudge’s memory because over time a person’s anger can morph memory also. Let’s get back to being small or little. I am danged near 6 foot tall. Everyone is smaller than me! Or at least 95% of the female population is shorter than I am, so I was making more of a self-deprecating joke on my height than anything else, and if she had said anything right then, I would’ve been able to explain it from than angle. Or, she must’ve seen the smile on my face when I said the stupid remark. I wouldn’t have said something so silly without smiling, but then I don’t remember that either—the whole time-lapse factor thing again.

I apologized to her over the phone. I pretty much begged her forgiveness and tried to explain that I didn’t say it intending to insult her, but it was a stupid mistake on my part if it came across to her like that. I apologized six times. But I could tell she was still angry with me, even after three years when she suddenly spewed out, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”

I know I should’ve stopped her right there and scolded her like an impudent child, instead—  

I apologized to her again, with tears in my eyes that time.

By the time the phone call was over, my insides were so twisted, the pain I felt was very physical. I cried as I explained to my husband what the call was about. He came in on the last part, and had heard very little. I rarely see him incensed, like he was then. But we talked things through, and he rationalized her poor behavior on low self-esteem. I knew as much. Sister Grudge had told me she had issues with that growing up. I had apologized to her again.

So when does my obligation end?

I never intended to hurt Sister Grudge’s feelings in the first place, yet I accidentally did with a careless remark. Did I sin? She made me feel as if I had. This woman didn’t drop out of the church, blaming me for her inactivity. No, she is a leader in one of the auxiliaries. Before bed that night I prayed to Heavenly Father for his forgiveness, too. And for His help in Sister Grudge’s healing. But that didn’t help me sleep that night, or the next night, or the next night, or for the rest of the week. I couldn’t turn my brain off. Her words kept running through my head, and the words I should’ve said to her kept running after them. 

I said something that hurt Sister Grudge’s feeling, no doubt, but it wasn’t on purpose. If Sister Grudge’s intention was to inflict the same pain she’s been harboring for the past three years, then she did a mighty fine job. It’s been almost two full weeks since that unexpected phone call, and I will still lay awake and “rewrite” what I should’ve said to her after she told me she hates me.

In D & C:61 verse 2, it says, Behold, verily this saith the Lord unto you, O ye elders of my church, who are assembled upon this spot, whose sins are now forgiven you, for I, the Lord, forgive sins, and am merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts;

I know I am forgiven, if not by Sister Grudge, then by Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ’s atonement.

Now Sister Grudge needs to be forgiven of the pain she intentionally inflicted upon me with her bitter words when she deliberately picked up a phone and called me.

Does she even know it?


  1. What a horrible experience for you. I'm so sorry you had to go through it. You can't do anything to help such a negative person. She has obviously held on to her poison, slowly nursing it, and making it grow inside her. Finally it popped and she spread a little in your direction.

    You can't do anything to help her. The only thing you can do is forgive her. Yep it's your turn to forgive. You've already started by praying for her. Once you've forgiven her, you can let it go.

    I was always the tallest kid in my class and dreamed of being shorter. My daughter is the shortest kid in her class and dreams of being taller. This woman took a flippant remark you made (from your perspective not negative and maybe even complimentary because you probably look on being short as a good thing.) and twisted it. She took her own insecurities and put your face on them. Her negative attitude toward you has nothing to do with you, as much as her own negative self-esteem.

    I've been fortunate to see the world from a taller person's perspective (I'm average height now. I was an early bloomer) So when my daughter showed signs of negative self esteem in regards to her height I realized she just wanted to fit in. It's all I ever wanted. I made her height a positive thing and told her she is the perfect size for her. Sometimes we call her Pixie sized but never in a negative way.

    I hope all my ramblings made sense. In the end, we choose how we take other people's comments. They can't make us sad or angry. We let them make us sad or angry. Sister Grudge chose to be angry. In the words of Indiana Jones: She chose poorly. Now you get to choose how to react to her words. I'm willing to be you'll choose wisely. :)

  2. I'm sorry, Debra! What a stressful situation! I agree with Janice. You have done all you could to make amends, and all that remains is to forgive her in your heart for deliberately hurting you. If she wants to hate, that's her choice, but don't let it be your problem. Forgive her and forget it (which I know is a lot easier said than done--I'd be just like you, going over and over it in my mind and wishing I'd handled it differently). It sounds like she's struggling with pain that has absolutely nothing to do with you, but chose to vent some of it on you. Don't hurt yourself by dwelling on it. Pray for comfort--for both of you.

  3. Wow--how sad is that. I'm so sorry to hear that you had to go through that. It's obvious to me as an outsider that she had issues before you made the comment. I think you did all you could to help the situation. Maybe for your own conscience, dropping off a goodie at her door with a note would help you feel better as well as her.
    My daughter is also very tall for her age. At 18 and 5' 11" --everyone else caught up but she had to contend with those negative feelings and I nipped that right away when they rose up. Now she loves being tall.
    Have a wonderful day and know you are a chosen daughter of our Heavenly Father. : )

  4. @Janice, I was always the tallest girl in my schools. I was taller than most, if not all of the boys, too. I'm sure I was made fun of for it, but I don't remember the jokes about that. I do remember being kidded about being too skinny. Boy, do I wish I still had that problem now. You're right, Sister Grudge chose poorly.

    @Stephanie, I believe I have begun to forgive her, but the forgetting will take a long while to do. There are so many things that I see or hear, or read, that remind me of this situation, and I hear her words all over again. And yes, I wished I had handled the phone call differently. Hindsight can be so frustrating. Thank you for your prayer. I think Sister Grudge and I both need it.

    @Valerie, I dare not have anymore contact with her. When I asked her why she didn't stop me in the church hallway and tell me her feelings as late as this past month, she told me that she didn't "want to make a scene." I can't image making a scene with anybody, let alone at church. Sigh . . . no, I won't be contacting Sister Grudge. If my repeated, sincere apologies went unheeded, then nothing I can do or say will make any difference in her life. Not even chocolate.

  5. I've always been the shortest, so I would have laughed my head off. I've always been uncomfortable with RS meetings so I make stupid jokes, fortunately for me half of them are not "gotten." Debra to save everyone involved, let me just say this just happened to me, only it was a guy from way back when who recently checked back into my life only to get vehemently upset when I ventured a comment about something. It hurt me so much to think I had hurt him so badly; and my apology was not accepted. I wish I could tell you, you will get over this, but you won't. You are obviously someone who cares as am I. The only words of advice that helps me came from my very own sister. One day, you will get a chance to sit down with this person (maybe Spirit World) and have an honest, caring moment. Treasure that "second" opportunity. I do. It helps.

  6. @Terry, I thought I had that "second" moment when I apologized a half dozen times. I mean, I was sincerely opening my heart up to her, yet she could then turn around and use those terrible words at me. I was truly confused, and in retrospect, don't want any further contact with her. She put my life in such a state of chaos and turmoil that even the thought of seeing her (if I knew what she looked like) in passing will make me shrink. I know now I didn't deserve her wrath, and seeking her out just to put myself through that again--just doesn't make sense. And besides, my husband won't let me. I think he fears for my sanity.

  7. Yep just wait; the moment will come, but maybe much much later. For now, turn the corner. Not everyone is going to forgive us when we ask for it.

  8. This has been on my mind ever since I read it a few days ago. I too am taller than most women and painfully shy. I often say silly things to cover up that shyness and end up sticking my foot in my mouth instead. I don't see anything wrong with what you said to the lady, whatever problem she had was with herself and not you. I'm truly sorry she spoke to you in such a way. That would have devastated me. I'm completely shocked by the way an active member of the church treated you.

  9. I'm late in reading this and responding, but I'm so sorry you had to experience such an upsetting ordeal. I hope you will take some comfort in knowing that we're all behind you.

    You unknowingly hurt someone and appologized sincerely when it was brought to your attention. Sister Grudge WILLFULLY harmed you by using such awful words and anger.

    Coming from a grown woman, I wonder if she isn't mentally troubled--depressed, bipolar, etc. I know from personal experience that people who suffer from bipolar disease can often say something in a rage that they have know recollection of later. The chemicals in their brain get so out of whack they are unreasonable. I'm not saying this is the case, or even that it excuses anything if it IS the case, but it might help you to heal to understand that this sister MAY not be totally aware or in control of her thought process or actions. It helps to keep things less personal.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you.


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