Assume the Best
“Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” 1 Cor. 13:7 (CEB)
At Origins, when we talk about being interested, exploring and engaged in the lives of the people right in front of us, ultimately we’re talking about how to tangibly display the love of God to our communities. But the hard reality about sharing love with everyone is that not everyone is easy to love. The only way to share love as the Bible describes it – a love that puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things and endures all things – is to approach every relationship with grace, and the easiest way to share grace is to assume the best of everyone you meet.
During jury selection, an attorney once took some time to describe a scenario to make sure the potential jurors understood the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” The attorney asked the candidates to envision a person in their life who embodied all of the following qualities: she asked them to envision the person who was the most trustworthy; most reliable; most respected person they knew; the person who always had the best attitude and best intentions in every situation; a person they would call on if they needed help. Assured that each juror had someone in mind, the attorney asked them to think of the most heinous crime they could imagine – something that would even make them feel gross to consider. She then asked the jurors to imagine receiving the news that the trustworthy person they had identified had committed that unthinkable crime.
The attorney went on to describe what the jurors already knew, that if that person was accused of that crime, they would find it hard to believe. They would initially dismiss the reports as ridiculous and would feel sorry for and want to defend their friend because there would be no doubt in their mind that their friend was innocent. And even as further evidence and facts made their friend’s guilt undeniable, it would only be after exhausting all possible explanations and every possible excuse that the jurors might finally be willing – reluctantly – to admit that their friend was guilty. “This,” the attorney explained, “this is what it means to believe someone is innocent until proven guilty. You have to assume the best until you have every reason to believe otherwise. Can you do that?”
While we aren’t called to be jurors in the daily affairs of the people around us, we can still learn an awful lot about how to treat others from the attorney’s illustration. We’re often too quick to judge and size people up before all of the facts are available.
If we’re to show the kind of love 1 Cor. 13:7 describes, then we’re going to have to “put up with all things” by leaving room for the fact that we don’t understand the whole context. If we’re going to “trust in all things,” then we’re going to have to learn to be vulnerable with people who may not have earned it yet. If we’re going to “hope for all things,” then we have to believe others are capable of greater things than we imagine. If we’re to “endure all things,” then we can’t sweat the small stuff.
Simply put, if we’re going to demonstrate the love of God, we’re going to have to assume the best of the people in our lives.
This week, make an intentional effort to assume the best of every person you interact with.
While this week’s rhythm might play out differently for each of us, if you feel yourself becoming frustrated with someone, stop and examine what you know to be true about the situation. But review the facts with the suspicion that the person had the best intentions for doing what they did or said – that possibly you’d make the same decisions under the same circumstances. If you can’t figure out why the person is acting the way they are, then it might be worth an inquiry.
“Help me understand” is a productive phrase in any confrontation, it demonstrates a posture of learning and humility. When you begin a conversation with this phrase, you’re implicitly communicating a belief that the person had good reasons for doing what they did, but that you’ve interpreted their actions in a negative way.
Often our posture exposes our feelings before our words do. For that reason, if you know you’re going to be communicating with a person who has frustrated you, pray before interacting with them and ask God to help you love them – to assume the best of them.