When We Feel Misunderstood by Others

I left a conversation recently with that stinging emotion that I always try to avoid: I’d been misunderstood. Misread. Misinterpreted. Few things bother me more.

One of the vey hardest things for the human heart is when we’re misunderstood. I’ve been guilty of going to all kinds of lengths — even too far at times — to avoid it. I love the assurance of being known and always want my motives to be understood, not misread. And when a conversation goes sideways or a statement gets turned on its head from what I intended, it usually results in a scrambling on my part to bring needed clarity. Occasionally, I’ve even left altogether too much on the table — spilling unnecessary details and confessions — just to come to a place where I could walk away with a sense of having been accurately understood.

Being known, not just for what we do but for the motive and heart behind what we do, is a profound ache within us all — a God-given desire. Few things are sweeter than when we feel deeply understood by someone, after years of life and history and relational effort.

Yet what happens in the times and in the relationships when we miss each other? What do we do when — even for all of our well intentioned labors in communication — our best attempts fall short, due to our weakness and limitations?

We have to turn to Jesus here. That ache that throbs when words have nosedived and explanations have miscarried their message, He alone ultimately answers.

And His understanding of us is unsearchable.

When I felt that sting recently, I knew there was no way of fixing it. Though sometimes it’s possible to go back and amend the false perceptions and interpretations of others, at other times, it isn’t — and this was one of those instances. To return to the conversation and try to patch up the holes was to do more harm than good; I had to just bear the unwanted ache. And turning to Jesus, I realized — or rediscovered — something that surprised me with its sweetness: He KNOWS me.

In that moment, it was as though I could see Him searching me from top to bottom – from the outward parts where words were spoken, down to the deepest most inward places. With unmatched perception, He identified where ideas and motives had been wrought, where personal circumstances had left their mark, where pain had impacted — seeing with precise clarity every single aspect of what makes me who I am today. He surveys me — top to bottom  — with every aspect, good and bad, in mind. He weighs me instantaneously with honest scales, evaluating according to incalculable grace and blinding truth (Job 31:6). All of His assessments are right.

As I watched, His gaze stretched all the way back to the fashioning of me in my mother’s womb – the wiring, the frame, the personality, the uniquenesses that He desired to form – all was known and accounted for (Ps. 139: 13-15). Deeply. Intimately. Intricately. Utterly. And then all the way forward, through my life, His eyes scanned. Every day had been recorded (Ps. 139:16). Every circumstance and trouble taken account for. Every motive of every word and action, known. Even my future desires, accounted for.

Not a single aspect of my existence is misunderstood by Him. Never once does He tilt His head in inquisition at me, wondering where I’m coming from. He guesses at nothing. Even when I misinterpret myself, His perspective is impeccable. Every point of pain and every swelling with joy, He remembers. Every point of confusion or burden of discouragement, He recalls. If ever I feel unknown, His knowing of me is enough to not only answer my ache for understanding, but overwhelm it (Ps. 139:6).

I am known and understood by God.

As David said,

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance;in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Ps. 139:13-16).

More than any man that’s ever lived, Jesus knows what it feels like to be misunderstood. Never was one so misjudged as He was. Never has there been an individual with actions more misinterpreted and words more misconstrued. And though His every word and actions did not possess a single note of sin – of brokenness or mixture – He knows deeply what it is to be wrongly evaluated. And He has intimate compassion for and fellowship with me here. He both soothes my ache of being misunderstood by His compassionate solidarity, and answers this ache by the unrivaled, intimate knowledge He has of me.

To be misunderstood by others is unavoidable and inescapable, limited and broken as we are. Yet, even in the times when words fail to bridge the gap, when relationships limp along with half-truths and lingering question marks, in Jesus, we find full answer to our gaping desire to be known and understood.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139: 23, 24)!