If only we could discern the heart and mind of people. Did that friend mean to hurt us or was it unintentional? Did mom and dad really know what they were doing hurt me deeply, or were they just too busy dealing with their own issues to truly notice? Is that professor truly mean and unfair, or do they have more benevolent purposes in their demands? Is the grocery clerk just rude or is there something else going on in their lives that is occupying his/her mind?
If only we could be like Jesus, of whom the Apostle John wrote: “He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” (John 2:25) We wouldn’t have to speculate or assume. If only we could get inside people’s minds and hearts, life would be so much less complicated.
Yet, that is not realistic for this life. We will always be somewhat in the dark even with those closest to us. There will always be a gap of ignorance. The question is, with what will we fill that gap? Many of us fill it with negative assumptions, or with bitterness and resentment. I am definitely guilty of the former, and sometimes have been as well with the latter. I believe most of us are.
Social media has definitely amplified this tendency. People are quick to assume and judge people without really knowing all of the facts. The Twitterverse is exceptional at piling on people who are held up as poor examples of a human being. Guilty until proven innocent is the underlying mantra. But the truth is that there are always gaps between what we have heard or believe and what is really true. And even if true, were there underlying circumstances which led to the terrible behavior?
When I was a teenager, I remember being mad at my dad for something and being out in our backyard blowing off steam. Our elderly neighbor, Cecil, saw me and called me over to the short fence that separated my parents’ property from his. He listened to me vent and responded in a way that helped me fill in the gap between my anger at my father’s behavior and his life. He reminded me of my dad’s upbringing, that he was orphaned as a young boy, and that he had to quit school after 6th grade in order to go to work and help support his extended family. He really hadn’t had much of a childhood and had no parental figures to guide him. In other words, he wanted me to understand my father’s background in order to understand why being a father was such a struggle for him. This wisdom is something I have sought to apply to my life and to pass along to students who are having their own struggles with imperfect parents.
But it is wisdom that is applicable far beyond our immediate families. It applies to all relationships, from intimate to casual. It is wisdom that can fill the gap between our hurts and frustrations, and what is in a person’s mind and heart that is unknown to us. It can be reduced to one beautiful word: grace.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) This is such a challenge for me because, by natural bent, I am a negative thinker. It is what often fills the gap when I am at odds with others, whether in minor or major ways. I naturally want to assume the worst rather than view things through a more positive lens. Yet, this is exactly what grace requires and what needs to fill the gap.
Think of someone who was rude to you, who treated you unfairly, or even hurt you deeply. What is true of that person is that he/she was created by God and loved by him, which also, at worst, gives them a trace of nobility. And have you always lived rightly? Would you want every single wrong thing you have done, small or great, held against you without a show of grace? The right way to view those with whom there is conflict is they should be shown the same grace as we have been shown by the One who is perfect. To show such grace is pure, is lovely in the Lord’s eyes and is admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise. And it fills the gap between our hurt and what truly is in the mind and heart of the other person.
We can never be like Jesus and know the attitudes and motives of people; yet it is entirely within our power to extend grace regardless of the offense. It is what the Lord continually does for us; it is what he desires us to do as well in our relationships with others. It is what can fill the gap.
© Jim Musser 2019 All Scripture references are from the New International Version.