Assume the best

What does it look like to assume the best of someone?

A couple of years ago I ended up at a conference on marriage. 🤷🏻‍♀️ I didn’t mind because you can always learn something. And there was one thing that was said that has stood out to me ever since: Assume the best of them.

Assume the best of people who love you whenever there is a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, hurt feelings, or hurtful words.

This is hard. But it can spare so much bitterness and resentment.

Assuming the best means not automatically assuming that someone does things the way I do them.

It means verbally asking questions instead of making silent judgments.

It means thinking of every possible viewpoint.

It means trusting that the other person had kind intentions.

It means believing that they tried their best and didn’t mean to hurt me.

It means saying to myself, “What that person did was hurtful to me. But I know that they love me, so I will assume that they had good intentions. I will communicate with them about this rather than make assumptions and judge their intentions.”

(If you wanted a little glimpse of how my brain works, there it was.)

What else? How are we different when we assume the best of someone? How are our relationships different?

Communication

There has been “I’m sorry,” “Can I ask you a question?” and “I don’t know what you mean.”

I’ve heard “Please forgive me,” “You need to know…” and “Can we talk about this?”

In the past year, it feels like I’ve been drinking from a fire hose when it comes to learning how to communicate — and there have been plenty of opportunities to put it into practice as well.

Sometimes I marvel at the fact that we humans ever communicate anything with any success.

Even within the same language, words are understood in different ways by different people; we use actions and intonation and imply things; we assume others understand.

Let’s not even talk about what happens when you add in a second language or move communication to typed words on a screen, removing voice, facial expressions, and body language.

In the best of situations, we try to explain something well and might be misunderstood. In the worst of situations we purposefully use words for harm. Things are said and left unsaid and both ways we hurt each other. Assumptions are made based on incomplete information and resentment is born.

We share space (literally and metaphorically) with other humans constantly.

Sometimes we rub one another raw, leaving a trail of hurt. And sometimes we breathe into one another a breath of life, the voice of God, the peace of His presence, the connection and wholeness of relationship that was always meant to be.

How do we create sustainable, life-giving, compassionate, and honest relationships?

I am convinced that intentional, clear, and kind communication is the foundation. In the push and pull of relationships, the give and take, the ups and downs, the needs and gifts, understanding the other’s perspective and communicating my own is essential.

This means asking questions, listening, assuming the best of someone, and seeking to understand how the other person processes and communicates.

And it means asking forgiveness, bringing up awkward conversations, asking what needs to change, and putting the other person before myself.

This is work but something tells me it’s worth it.

I need people

Too much or not enough for other people, that’s what we are, or at least that’s what the little inside voice tells us.

“Tone it down, they think you’re too much,” and later I hear, “Get it together, they think you’re not enough.”

And out of self-protection, we fight that inner-conversation with “No, it doesn’t matter what other people think of me!” That’s partly true, but we’ve made a virtue of not caring about other peoples opinions when the truth is that it does matter what people think and say to us. It’s both-and. It doesn’t matter and it does.

My true identity is not based on another person’s opinion of me. I am who I am — beloved of God, free, secure, and redeemed in Jesus Christ — despite a person’s judgment of me. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what they think of me and it shouldn’t matter. My deep identity, peace, and joy should never be shaken by someone’s opinion of me.

But precisely because my identity is sure, I am free to allow myself to let people speak into my life. If I’m sure of my identity, I can simultaneously heed what other people say to me but not be wholly dependent on their opinions. My secure identity frees me up to calmly and gratefully listen to a dear friend who tells me that I’m in the wrong.

If my identity is secure, the opinions of other people will never wreck me, and their words will be valuable to me.

In fact, I need people whose words do matter to me, I need people who can speak into my life, and I need people to have some kind of authority over me. It matters that I listen to the people I trust. It matters that I show all of myself to a few chosen, close, trusted friends or family, and trust them with some authority in my life.

woman wearing gray jacket
(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

I have to stop being an authority-hog in my own life. So often I live as the queen of my own life — a kingdom in which I make the rules and what I want matters most. We create our own guidelines, based on nothing other than what we want or feel at the moment. No wonder we have fights and abuse and wars.

I need to be changed – deeply, from my guts to my skin, and I need God to do it in me. I need something outside of myself, something objective that I return to and listen to even if, at times, it contradicts my desires and flighty feelings. Otherwise I’m just living as the self-enthroned queen of my own life where I make the rules and standards of right and wrong and change them whenever I want.

I don’t want to be the queen of my own life. I don’t want to because I want to be selfless, I want to love people, and I don’t want to steal glory from my Jesus Christ.

If I don’t want to be queen of my own life, I need other people. Other people will never define me, but I do desperately need them.

I need trustworthy people in my life who are brave enough to speak to me when I’m straying, who remind me of my true identity, who know how to encourage me, and who love me enough to speak truth to me even if it’s hard. I will give them the right to confront me when I err, to cheer me on, to hold me accountable, and to ask me the hard questions.

And only because I rest in my unshakable identity, the things people say are no longer earthquakes that wreck the foundation of my soul. Instead, the words I hear from people will either be life-saving and life-changing or simple opinions that don’t even ruffle my feathers.

When I don’t care what people think, I lose my capacity for connection.
When I don’t care what people think, I miss out on valuable wisdom.
When I am defined by what people think, I lose my willingness to be vulnerable.
When I am defined by what people think, I will never know who I am in Christ.

“If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tight rope, shame-resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality check the criticism and cynicism.” Brene brown

bravery to feel sad

No one really talks about the bravery and strength required to be sad. Probably because we feel ashamed of tears and we’ve been taught to carry on and hurry-away from all the “negative” emotions. 

A few months ago, tired of the same emotions surprising me in my heart, I purposed to process, write, and let myself cry if need be. I told a friend that I gave myself an evening to just feel the sad feelings that I knew were there and she said, “Feeling things sucks, and I am so glad that you always choose the hard and brave way.” 

Sometimes the best thing a friend can do is walk you through the appropriate emotions for what you’re dealing with – not to hit you right away with a rallying cry to get back up on your feet, but instead to validate where you are, cry with you in your pain, then later encourage you onward to health and joy regardless of mountains or valleys.

Resilience doesn’t necessarily mean immediately getting back on our feet. Resilience is not hardness. Resilience is a perfect combination of strength and tenderness. Resilience does mean standing up.. after we’ve walked wisely through the valley and summoned the strength and bravery to feel our hearts break. 

If we aren’t truly feeling grief, anger, heartbreak, joy, and gladness at their appropriate times, we aren’t truly identifying the bad in life as bad and the good in life as good. Call bad bad and good good. Be brave. Be sad when you need to.