Graceful Assumptions

We are, it seems, conditioned to expect the worst. Perhaps it’s a subconscious defense mechanism, protecting us from the pain of disappointment. Maybe it is the natural outworking of fear and its power over us. Or, it could be that as fallen and broken human beings, we just have an inclination toward negativity. Whatever the reason (or reasons, as there are probably many), we live in a culture that expects and looks for the worst. The messages are screamed at us every day from all directions. Doomsday is upon us by natural event or human destruction, inevitable war and violence will continue to escalate, society will certainly collapse if the wrong political party is elected, and McDonald’s is poisoning the world with food that’s not really food.

There may well be elements of truth in the declarations of the doomsayers, but this bombardment of negativity and pessimistic expectation shapes us, whether we recognize it or not. It colors and distorts our perception of life, the world, and others. It not only steals the joy of living, replacing it with the fear of what could be; it also destroys any sense of real community and connection. You see, the other side of this ugly, negative coin of expecting the worst is that we also assume the worst about others. It is an assumption that fractures relationships, blockading any sense of belonging with the cold, lonely wall of mistrust.

Those of us in the church are not immune. Shaped by the fearful and divisive culture that surrounds us, our first reaction toward others is far too often an assumption of the worst. And our assumptions give birth to accusations, and accusations manifest themselves in attacks.

Someone speaks a word to us that just doesn’t sit right, and we assume that they intended to insult and hurt. With our assumption as justification, we take our offense, carry our anger, and slander them in return.

Our hard work seems to go unacknowledged, and we instantly believe that no one sees or appreciates what we do. In response, we resign from our efforts and take a seat in self-pity, sharing our perceived slight with anyone who will listen.

A leader fails to perform in our eyes, and we jump to the conclusion that he or she is incompetent, lazy, or unfit. Rather than serving as a source of encouragement and help, our assumption drives us to look at everything they do through a negative, critical lens.

A person disagrees with us or holds an opinion contrary to what we believe, and our defensive assumption is that surely they cannot be a real Christian and think that way. So, we derisively dismiss them with the appropriate label – liberal or fundamentalist, pagan or self-righteous, heretic or Pharisee.

Assuming the worst about those around us does not build the bridges of relationship; it burns them. It prevents us from listening, understanding, and working for reconciliation. And it will always keep us from being the kind of community God has called us to be. Each of us, in all of our weakness and failure, has received from Christ an abundance of grace, mercy, and peace. What we have received is intended to flow out from us as well, defining the life, relationships, and culture of this body of people we call the church.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

I cannot help but wonder if we, at times, are more governed by the spirit of the accuser than we are the Spirit of grace and peace. If I persist in assuming the worst about others, if I cannot give them the benefit of the doubt, if I insist on instantly judging their heart and motives, then the culture of grace and peace will remain nothing more than a nice idea that is never realized. And, sadly, that looks much like the world around us.