So Many Assume

I saw a sign at the coffee shop:

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Indeed. How often do we make an assumption of someone without knowing the truth of their experiences, struggles, and dreams?

Maybe you’re assuming something right now. Such as, “Isn’t she a writer? Doesn’t she know this isn’t proper English?” Yes. Yes, I do. But it’s the quote I saw at the coffee shop. If I change it, it’s not a quote. (And by the way, it’s attributed to Anonymous, so I didn’t fail to give someone credit. I simply don’t know who gets the credit. Maybe the person didn’t want to take credit because of the poor English usage. Oh, wait. There I go, assuming.)

Assuming helps us make sense of the world. It’s a useful tool for helping us categorize all the sensory information we come in contact with every day. But a tool can be misused. We can be wrong.

The disheveled child coming to school doesn’t necessarily have a neglectful parent. Some kids can look pretty rough by their own efforts in the short ride to school. And maybe a family member is in the hospital and someone who doesn’t have much experience with kids’ hair helped out in the middle-of-the-night crisis. And the clothes they threw in a bag were the dirty ones the kid threw into the clean clothes pile the day before (because we don’t always fold clothes when we take them out of the dryer). And the kid had an emotional meltdown when told to wash her face after the chocolately breakfast cereal mishap, and who wants to make a kid even more upset after the rough night she’s had, and…

You get the point. You don’t know the story of the couple at the grocery store, or the new co-worker, or the clerk at the convenience store. You just don’t know.

Of course, some assumptions help us help others. We reach out with a smile or a helpful hand or a question as to whether or not they want us to call for help, because their body language tells us something isn’t right. But we’re not always helpful because of our assumptions. Sometimes we’re judgmental.

We assume. We assume we know. But we don’t know.

And we can’t always know. We won’t always know. But we also don’t have to let our assumptions run wild. We need to keep them in check and refrain from sharing them except in situations that might help someone.

Otherwise, our assumptions will likely hurt someone, including ourselves.

Context Matters

static1-squarespace-comI do not sit with the worthless or associate with hypocrites. I hate a crowd of evildoers, and I do not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence and go around Your altar, Lord, raising my voice in thanksgiving and telling about Your wonderful works. (Psalm 26:4-7)

People might use these verses to justify haughtiness, judgment, or isolation, but these verses also contain thanksgiving. Claims in these verses are only in the context of our humble relationship with and dependence on God. We take our frustration to Him. Yes, it involves other people, but we only isolate ourselves from others in the context of drawing closer to God. In my experience, that often eventually concerns attempting to draw closer to others as well, as He directs. Even when we don’t understand, we can be thankful for whatever ways He guides and trust His wonderful works.

Conditions of Deliverance

097a4e3Joshua said to the two men who had scouted the land, “Go to the prostitute’s house and bring the woman out of there, and all who are with her, just as you promised her.”(Joshua 6:22)

“The prostitute.” Not the former, reformed, or repentant prostitute. Just “the prostitute.” Insert any other label that you want. The definition is likely the same: behaving outside of God’s will…but not exempt from His deliverance.

We must remember this as we share God with others we identify as being outside His will. They are worthy of deliverance. And they don’t have to jump through our hoops of behavior and change in order to receive His mercy. He knows their path better than we do. If He’s willing to meet them right where they are and bring them to a new place, even if they don’t change every way that needs to change, can’t we extend the grace and mercy and patience? After all, He’s delivering us despite our obstinance, too, including our inflexible approach to others.

Chill, Christian

Cat_Ready_To_PounceChristians can be relentless.

Perseverance can be a good thing when it’s well-directed, when we persevere in faith. But faith that is on constant battle mode, like a cornered badger, reveals a stressed, anxiety-laden faith instead of a faith marked by trust in God. We can be convicted with an urgency to stand and speak up, but that’s very different than sinking our teeth into someone or foaming at the mouth to pounce.

It’s not impossible to be kind, patient, gentle, and loving when confronting people and issues. All of those things (and more) are fruit of the Spirit. If our faith-filled lives and our interactions with others don’t include the fruit of the Spirit, we have a problem. When we’re known more for our relentless attacks more than we are for the character of God, we need to chill and take a look at ourselves and our faith.

Dealing with a Surprise Attack

imagesHave you ever received a surprise slap during a conversation? That experience when you feel a judgment, accusation, or confrontation comes out of nowhere?

Sometimes, you know it’s coming. It’s been brewing for awhile, waiting for just the right time and situation to spew forth. You can brace yourself for it. But when it catches you by surprise, it’s difficult to receive. Instead of responding, you might react…by lashing out, justifying yourself, or shutting down.

How can you prepare ahead of time for something you don’t know is coming? How can you remain sensitive to the possibilities of the relationships around you without taking everything personally? How can you take on a new perspective, one that takes you into consideration (after all, you’ll have quite a time completely ignoring your own perspective) but also widens the scope?

Sometimes, when people attack, accuse, or judge you, it’s not as much about you as you might think. Sometimes, they’re struggling through their own stuff, and you’re available at the time. Something you do or say reminds them of what most irritates them about someone else, or themselves. Perhaps you’re a safe sounding board, and even though you wish they’d take a less aggressive approach, they need to process out loud without a lot of interference. They might be questioning some things on their own, but they’re not quite ready to get personal with their questions. In fact, for the time being, they might have built up walls of protection to resist any personal reflection, because it’s just too daunting to face. It’s easier to examine and interrogate someone else’s life than their own.

You might never know the exact reason for the slap, and in the moment, it might not help a lot anyway, unless you’re willing to quietly use it as a motivation to stay engaged and be compassionate. Confronting the reason when emotions are already high will likely make the situation worse. Besides, your assessment of the situation might be wrong.

The bottom line is, someone is taking jabs at you, and you want to jab right bag and accuse, attack, and judge. So…do you? Should you?

Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “Is there some truth in what she’s saying to me?” Pause before you get defensive. Maybe God wants you to learn something about yourself that you would prefer not to face, especially from “that person.”

Ask yourself, “How can I honor God in my response?” If you’re able to calmly assess that it really isn’t about you, why take offense to it? Why not help the person process? Give her respect. Ask her questions to help her clarify what she’s thinking. Let her express herself, while responding in a kind way (kind, not as in becoming a doormat for people to walk on, but as in honestly engaging in caring conversation).

Sometimes, people seem to wrestle with themselves and others when they’re actually wrestling with God. What seems personal is…but it’s more about a personal relationship with God than something between you and the other person. Of course, God uses relationships to grow us, so pay attention. Do it His way, and you’ll grow toward Him and honor Him. How you respond is about your relationship with Him. Let Him determine what you need to take as personal. He’s not surprised by the slap. He saw it coming…and He also saw how you’d handle it and use it to trust Him.

Pay attention to God along the way. Then, when you’re faced with a surprise, you’ll be as prepared as He intends you to be. You have what you need…or rather, WHO you need. Trust Him through the situation. Honor Him with your response.

The Seesaw of Unity and Harmony

11.11.14 Jericho fruit stand owner and friend
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Unity is being in agreement or becoming one. Harmony is living at peace with others. The two seem very similar, and sometimes, they are. Other times, they differ. They’re like a seesaw, where one sometimes becomes heavier than the other, but they’re connected, united through that one crossbar that holds them together.

What do you think of when you hear the words unity and harmony in the same context as Israel? Most likely, you don’t see much connection, but there is. There are many people living in harmony with each other. Sometimes, they’re united and sometimes they’re not. Some people living in harmony with each other are doing so, most likely, because they’re very similar to one another. But that’s not always the case. There are also many people living in harmony who are definitely not united. They’re not similar to each other. If they met each other on a battle field, they would face each other from different sides, but in daily life, they don’t face each other. They work and live alongside each other. They help each other.

We often draw a line between what we see as opposing groups of people. Does the opposition exist? Absolutely. Does it exist among every person in those groups? Absolutely not.

It’s not just about Israel. I’m sure you can think of several lines of opposition right around you. Or, watch the news, and you’ll recognize even more. (On second thought, don’t watch the news. You’ll likely just end up firming up the lines of opposition you already believe, perpetuating the allusion that unity and harmony don’t exist and aren’t possible.)

Sometimes we find unity without harmony. We agree on something, but we can’t seem to live at peace with each other because of the things we disagree on. Sometimes we have harmony without unity. Despite being different, we agree to respect each other. There are times we have neither unity or harmony and, rarely, we have both at the same time.

Back and forth, up and down, the seesaw goes.

Sadly, what often happens is…we reach for the ground and try to keep our end of the seesaw down, making others squirm in discomfort as they try to use their leverage to reach the ground and make us squirm instead. We struggle for control and power. If we’re in control, we can keep others in whatever position we want, or walk away and let them fall to the ground. Then blame it on them for not being prepared.

That’s not unity or harmony. And it’s not respect. It’s not compassion or love. It’s not mercy, forgiveness, or grace.

But that makes sense, doesn’t it? All those things are of and from God, and when we try to take control, we’re not doing things His way. Whether or not we think we’re in control, we’re not.

If we check God’s perspective, we will realize He doesn’t expect us to always live in unity or harmony in this world. Should we strive for it? Absolutely. It honors Him when we do. But peace doesn’t come without struggle. Unity doesn’t come without acknowledging our differences and, therefore, the need for unity. Harmony doesn’t come from ignoring issues.

Look around. Take an inventory of your assumptions and prejudices. Work through them. Get to know people. Will it make you vulnerable? Probably. Will you get hurt? Perhaps. But as you reach out in God’s leading and timing, you’ll set aside your need to be right, to be in control, and in the process, you’ll hurt less people, including yourself. Let’s face it: Hurt isn’t always physical. What kind of damage are you doing to others and yourself?

Unity and harmony are difficult, but they’re worth the sacrifice, humility, and effort.

Stop the One-Up Game

Comparison demolishes. Why can’t we encourage each other where we are instead of trying to validate ourselves by proving ourselves as more as another’s expense?

Work-from-home moms versus corporate moms. moms

Single women versus married women.

Women who have children, struggle to have children, or choose not to have children.

Women who earn six figures versus women on government aid.

Women who regularly work out versus those who don’t.

Women who cook their own meals versus those who eat out most of the time.

Women who eat organically or are vegetarians or cut carbs or drink caffeinated drinks or…any other food choice.

Women who cut coupons versus those who focus on things other than getting the best deal.

Women who organize well versus those who live in an “organized” mess.”

Women who live in a city, small town, abroad, or in the country.

Women who go to a community college, university, trade school, or other option.

Women who have work through baggage and are moving on versus those who seem stuck.

Women who make friends easily versus those are more comfortable keeping to themselves.

Women who serve in the limelight throughout the community versus those who serve in the quiet, unnoticed places.

The list could go on and on.

I’m not saying there are no standards toward which we need to encourage each other. There are. They are God’s. But we so often misrepresent God’s standards by emphasizing what we most want to emphasize. We get culturally-stunted, filtering everything through our own communities and personal experiences, so if someone chooses to do something outside what we think is the norm, we get defensive or offended. I’m not talking about right and wrong. I’m talking about the personal freedoms God gives us. Personal freedoms that really aren’t ours; because they come from God, they are God’s gifts, which means we need to use them within His will. And God’s will always, always includes other people. We don’t get to do what we want to do because of our own preference. We choose differences because God made us different. We’re unique, yet we’re connected…to God as well as to others.

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

We have a responsibility to honor God in our own lives as well as in our relationships. Comparison isn’t part of that responsibility. God is just, and He will take care of all the comparing that needs to get done, and it will be comparisons to who He intends us to be, not who we expect ourselves or others to be.

Stop the one-up game. No one wins.